Fixing the playoffsBy
It’s cold outside. With the temperatures in New York hovering at an unseasonable 40 degrees and the ever-present wind chill making it much, much worse. As the wind in New York howled, as Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, as the Philadelphia Phillies downed the Tampa Bay Rays in a disjointed and prolonged World Series, winter finally settled upon the baseball world.
For the Yankees, this winter promises to bring change, and we’ll get to that over the next few days, weeks and months. Tonight, let’s bury the baseball season.
The last few weeks have been a trying time for many baseball fans. We’ve seen a lot of starts and stops in the playoffs. We’ve suffered through a series of mostly dull games that, outside of a seven-run Boston comeback on a day that seems like it was ages ago, left little to the imagination. While there may only be one October, this October, for the vast majority of baseball fans, failed to elicit much excitement.
For the most part, national baseball writers have focused on the World Series. Jeff Passan’s Tuesday column about the indifferent reaction to the World Series is indicative of the prevailing views. Between games that normally start too late, one game held to 10 p.m. due to a rain and another — the clincher — suspended mid-inning because Bud Selig failed to read a Doppler forecast, this World Series came off as irrelevant to baseball fans outside of Philadelphia and insulting to baseball purists.
But the truth is that this problem extends well beyond one boring World Series. This year, it extended back to a postseason that really laid bare how badly MLB sells its baseball soul to the networks. It started with five-game sets that take seven or eight calendars days to play, followed by seven-game series spread out over 10 days. Do teams really need three days off over seven games? Do we have to sit through a 2-2-1-2 format for a seven-game set and a 1-1-2-1 format for best-of-five series?
Now, while the playoffs aren’t as far gone as the baseball writers would have you believe, this format seems broken. Allow me to humbly present a few suggestions for fixing what should be the game’s crowning tournament.
First, excitement for the World Series and the playoffs has to begin well before October. It has to start with FOX and TBS’ broadcasting schedule. While New York, Chicago, LA and Boston offer big markets, baseball — and good baseball at that — exists outside of the major media markets. While it may not be in the best interest of FOX’s bottom line to broadcast the games between Tampa and the Twins, these games should be on national TV as part of an effort to promote the game of baseball. If Bud Selig and the owners didn’t negotiate contracts with FOX and TBS that allows for the national TV rights to promote the best interests of the game, then they have failed at their jobs as the game’s gatekeepers.
Second, Bud Selig has to retain more control over the postseason schedule. It simply isn’t doing anyone any favors to have sets that don’t make sense given the daily nature of the regular season. During the season, teams don’t play a game, have a day off, play another, have another day, play two, have a day off and then play again. This isn’t hockey or basketball. In baseball, the teams play every day, and the same should hold true in October. If the sport needs to schedule travel days for the Anaheim-to-Boston trips, then play a 2-2-1 set. Everyone else should be able to survive on one or no days off.
Breaking up the series simply curtails fan enthusiasm. If fans get into a game only to have to wait 48 hours for the next, they simply grow impatient and disinterested. Again, the network suits might like it, but baseball’s overall national popularity should transcend the wishes of a few rich executives.
Third — and this point is related to the second one above — start the games earlier. There is no good reason why a game between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia should start at 8:30 p.m. I understand that West Coast fans can’t see the games if they start much earlier, but an East Coast-dominated World Series will draw predominantly East Coast fans. The supporters in these two towns can’t stay up until midnight or later to watch a game, and forget about the kids.
When the Yankees were in the World Series throughout my years in high school, the games would start between 8:08 and 8:17. Over the last few years, FOX has inserted a creep into the broadcast, and for once I’m not talking about Joe Buck. Every year, the first pitch is later and later. This practice should end. Games should start at 7:30 p.m. local time. I doubt ratings would dip that much if at all. The game should be more accessible for the fans.
Fourth, in a rather dismaying exchange, Bud Selig expressed his desires for more October day games but says that the networks flat-out said no. This is a completely wrongheaded approach to baseball. If Selig wants day games, if everyone else wants day games, if no one wants to sit outside on a cold night in 38-degree weather, then schedule some day games. While FOX is well within their rights to say no — they did, as David Pinto points out, after all, pay for night games — baseball should hold the line the next time they can and demand day games from whoever is paying. Again, it’s for the good of the game.
And finally, I can’t leave out good old New York. In the annals of American society, New York holds a special place these days. While for a few months in 2001, Americans rallied around New York, we’re once again the city too good for the rest of the country. Everyone hates us, and that’s the way we like it.
To that end, the playoffs need the Yankees. It’s no coincidence that the Yankees draw the highest TV ratings; baseball fans need someone to root against as much as they need someone to root for. When that someone to root against is also from the country’s most arrogant and insufferable city, even better. Baseball shouldn’t root against the Yankees.
Now, granted that final point is a rather contrived conceit. I want to see the Yankees in the playoffs every year no matter what, but there is some truth in it. The Yanks are a draw. But the playoffs should be a draw no matter what. If they weren’t exciting this year, if they’ve gotten less compelling as time marches on, then something is wrong not with the games or with the fans but with the system. It’s time to fix it.