Strike One: This Bud's for Who Dept.
Bud Selig continues to tell people he's "hopeful" of adding two wild-card teams to the postseason menu next year.
Well, it's a fun idea. But increasingly, the reaction we get when we ask folks around baseball about that possibility can be summed up in one word:
Now normally, when the commissioner of Planet Baseball wants something, he tends to get his wish. So this could very well happen. But if it does, it won't be as simple as the commish has been making it out to be. Here are just some of the hangups:
• The regular-season schedule for 2012 is set, finished, poured into concrete, enscribed on schedule magnets from coast to coast. That schedule was designed to work with the current postseason format, not the new expanded-wild-card format. So the season once again will end on a Wednesday. Which means the Division Series was supposed to start on Friday and all the other postseason dates would fall into place from there. But if you drop even a one-game wild-card showdown in both leagues into the mix, it screws up everything. We'll get into why in a moment.
• There was a reason baseball was planning to change the wild-card system and realign the sport at the same time. If there is suddenly going to be a whole new massive incentive to finish first -- to avoid being dumped into that one-game wild-card nuttiness -- then the idea was to make all the changes, from fixing the schedule to league and division realigments, simultaneously. If both leagues and all six divisions are exactly the same size and every team in a division plays basically the same schedule, you can tell those wild-card teams: "You had the same shot to finish first as everybody else. So you got yourself into this wild-card mess." But if we're going to play another year with divisions of different sizes and shapes, and schedules that vary widely, those wild-card teams have a right to grumble very loudly. And I'm not sure how our man Bud is going to answer them when they say they weren't dealt a fair hand.
• This would be a great excuse to bring up one of the commissioner's least favorite baseball terms: November. The 2012 World Series is already scheduled to end on Nov. 1 if it goes seven games. Dropping an extra wild-card round into the mix would almost inevitably push the postseason deeper into November. Better keep those parkas handy.
• Have we mentioned yet that baseball has never negotiated a TV deal that would include an expanded postseason? Not that there won't be somebody who's interested in televising it. But just thought we ought to bring it up.
• And that brings us back full circle to where we started -- with a schedule that doesn't fit either the postseason format or the wishes of baseball's beloved TV partners. Remember that the regular season ends on a Wednesday. After that, there has to be a one-day window reserved for Thursday, to make room for possible tie-breakers and/or makeup games. Has to. Why? Because the odds of a tie-breaker game go up dramatically under this format. In the past, if two teams tied for first place but both would make the playoffs, they didn't have to play an extra game just to determine seeding. But now, if one team gets stuck in a one-game win-or-go-home survivor showdown and the other doesn't, it would no longer be fair to consult some tie-breaker chart. They'd have to play it off for first place. So that wild-card round can't realistically begin before Friday. And that's trouble.
• Why is it trouble? Let's plot it out. Even if baseball wants to keep the rest of the postseason on schedule and start the Division Series on Saturday, it would then have to play four LDS games Saturday and four more Sunday -- competing against college football one day and the NFL the next. Sounds like a recipe for a ratings disaster, doesn't it? It also might mean that, say, the Red Sox could be stuck with finishing their season Wednesday in New York, flying home to play a tie-breaker game to decide the AL East on Thursday, getting on another plane to someplace like Anaheim to play the wild-card survivor game Friday, then jumping on yet another charter to start the Division Series in, say, Detroit on a Saturday. And that would just be their reward for WINNING. Does this sound unworkable yet?
• So, in other words, the only sane format for an expanded postseason is just to push everything back a day or two or three. But then you get into the issue of forcing first-place teams to wait around for three to five days before they kick off their postseason. And you have TV networks that have plans to air LDS, LCS and World Series games on certain specified nights next fall -- but now would have to blow up those plans. And that could lead to a troubleseome issue baseball has been trying to avoid in recent years -- namely, having the World Series start and end during the weekend, which runs headlong into competition with football and is bad for ratings.
So does everybody get the picture yet? It sounds so simple when the commissioner utters the words. It sounds so easy just to add one team in each league to the October mix. But when you actually try to make it happen, you keep asking yourself the same darned question:
Is it worth all THAT aggravation just to get this fun started next year?
And you can bet a whole bunch of people are asking that question of Bud Selig pretty much every day.
Strike Two: Bobby, Ralph and Casey Dept.
You want to know our first thought when the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine? Here goes:
How many men have ever done what he's about to do -- manage in Boston AND New York?
Well, we looked it up. (Of course, we did!)
In the last 50 years, it's been done by just one other man -- Ralph Houk. He managed the Yankees from 1961-73. Then he managed the Red Sox from 1981-84.
If we go back 70 years, we drag in only two other managerial legends. One was Casey Stengel. He managed the Mets from 1962-65, the Yankees from 1949-60 and the Boston Braves/Bees from 1938-43. (And before that, from 1934-36, Stengel managed in Brooklyn. So nobody specialized in that Boston/New York thing more than him.)
And, finally, there was Joe McCarthy. He managed the Yankees from 1931-46, then managed the Red Sox from 1948-50.
If you want to travel way back in time, then we can drop names like Bucky Harris, Rogers Hornsby, Frank Chance, Patsy Donovan and George Stallings on you. They also did this, in an age slightly before Twitter. But you get the picture.
And the bottom line is this: Bobby Valentine will be the first man in history to manage both the Red Sox and Mets. Woo-hoo. What does he win?
Strike Three: 62 and Counting Dept.
Finally, one more tidbit on the Red Sox: By our count, it took them 62 days to make the long journey from Terry Francona waving goodbye to Bobby Valentine saying hello.
Holy schmoly -- 62 days to hire a manager? Yikes.
Just so you get a feel for how long that is, you should know that
• Ted Williams once got 92 hits in a span of 62 days (in 1949).
• David Ortiz once hit 26 homers in a span of 62 days (in 2006).
• Wade Boggs once reached base 132 times in a span of 62 days (in 1985).
• Nomar Garciaparra once gapped 28 doubles in a span of 62 days (in 2000).
• Pedro Martinez once struck out 133 hitters in a span of 62 days (in 1999).
• And Dick Radatz once threw 68 1/3 innings and faced 271 hitters in RELIEF in a span of 62 days (in 1964).
In other words 62 days is a long, long, long, long time, just to pick a manager. Don't you think?
Shameless Book Plug Dept.
Yes, it's that time again -- time for those annual holiday book plugs. So if you're a Philadelphian, or even just passing through, you should know I'll be signing copies of the new paperback edition of "Worth The Wait" -- and "The Stark Truth" -- tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m., at the Barnes & Noble Oxford Valley in Langhorne, Pa. It's the first stop on this year's edition of the annual Philadelphia Sports Book Signing Extravaganza. And this time around, we've got our greatest lineup ever. Among the honored guests: Sal Paolantonio, Ray Didinger, Mike Missanelli, Glen Macnow, Jim Miller (of ESPN book fame), Randy Miller, Reuben Frank and more! So please come see us. Always a fun night. For more info, click here.