Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Postseason Fatigue

We remember the 1964 World Series. A back-and-forth battle between the last remnant of the 40-year Yankee dynasty and a well-built well-balanced Cardinal ballclub. Mickey Mantle's last World Series homer (it won  Game Three) and Whitey Ford's last World Series appearance (he lost Game One). The emergence of Hall-of-Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. Four close games out of seven, with Gibson barely surviving the complete-game finale and sending the Bronx Bombers into a decade of darkness.

It was great. It was memorable. And it was over on October 15.

We awoke this morning here in Virginia to a crisp, beautiful 43-degree day, and as we set out on our daily constitutional, dog in tow (or towing, depending on the circumstances) we wondered what the air temperature and wind-chill factor (wind-chill factor?) in Boston might be at about 9 PM tonight, or whatever time the player/coach/groundskeeper introductions complete and the automobile/ED/beer commercials pause long enough for Jon Lester to throw the first pitch to Matt Carpenter and kick off this year's Fall Classic.

Pardon us, please, if we sound just a tad jaded. Since the regular season concluded on September 29, there have already been a total of  32 postseason games played over three weeks: the two wild-card showdowns, eighteen in the division series, and twelve in the league championship series. If the World Series goes the full seven, the 2013 baseball season will wrap up sometime around one o'clock n the morning of November 1.

All things considered, by today's standards it's a fairly short postseason.

Other than the participation of the Cardinals, the 2013 World Series has little in common with the '64 Classic. Then, the games were played in the daytime, in accordance with baseball tradition, and the television and radio networks contracted to broadcast the games covered them in a manner similar to news coverage: wherever and whenever the event may be, we'll be there and we'll bring it to you. Nowadays the games are scheduled according to the wishes of advertisers, whose dictates are carried out by network executives.

The mindset has changed, perhaps irrevocably. It's no longer considered a privilege for FOX to carry the World Series and for Toyota to advertise during the games; instead, it's deemed a privilege for baseball to have its championship games branded by FOX and affirmed by Toyota. Lord knows, we're not curmudgeonly enough to blame advertisers or TV networks; it's baseball's executive leadership (or lack of same) which has slavishly prostituted its unique product as just another form of entertainment, the equivalent of "Dancing With the Stars" or "The Voice."

So we can whine all we want about games starting in prime-time and ending on raw, icy midnights in Boston or Detroit or New York, at a time when two-thirds of the kids on America (you know, the kids that will grow up to be baseball fans, or not) are fast asleep. It's been this way for all sports since "Monday Night Football" and it's unlikely to be reversed.

But if the genie of homogeneity can't be put back in the bottle, perhaps he can be fooled a bit. Is there a better way to handle baseball's crowded postseason derby? Stay tuned; we're sure to come up with a proposal that will infuriate millions.

Jim Leyland stepped down as manager of the Detroit Tigers yesterday. He's about to turn 69, he's managed three different teams to the postseason, reached the World Series three times, and won it once. If there is one thing we've come to recognize over 50 years of baseball fandom, it's that success tends to follow certain managers wherever they go, and that trend seems even more pronounced in these days of thirty major-league teams and the expanded postseason. We wish Jim Leyland all the best, including a Cooperstown honor during his lifetime... By contrast, the Dodgers' Don Mattingly has no reason to step down, and it would be a major blunder for the Blue Meanies' ownership not to rehire him. He did a great job... As you all know, Dusty Baker was let go by the Reds after their late-season stumble. While Dusty's tactical decisions tended to be maddening, his ability to motivate players remains unquestioned. Success followed him not only in San Francisco and in Cincinnati, but in Chicago as well, however briefly. Yet when you never win "The Big One," it seems your career is marked by your close calls; in Dusty's case, those would be "Felix Rodriguez" and "Steve Bartman." Twenty years with only two certifiably bad seasons; that's a mighty good record. Vaya con Dios, Johnnie B... Speaking of stepping down, Tim McCarver is retiring as a broadcaster after this series. Annoying to many, his love for and knowledge of the game always shine though even in his most extreme attacks of logorrhea. Three years older than Jim Leyland, Tim McCarver was the catcher for that '64 Cardinals championship team and hit the game-winning homer in Game Five of that Series. We wish him well, and we wish his former team all the success over the next week.