Musings about Baseball and Other Stuff
So just a few weeks after I post my idea about how to balance the interleague schedule, comes this bombshell which would render the whole point moot. Baseball America, a well-respected publication in its 37th year of operation, has reported that there’s a “building consensus” that expansion by two teams will happen in the near future. (The most likely expansion cities are Montreal and Portland.)
Expansion itself is not that surprising. It’s been 20 seasons since the league has expanded, the longest stretch since 1962. There’s plenty of talent out there from all over the world. Portland is the 26th largest city in the U.S. and is home to an NBA franchise; they could certainly support a big league baseball team. Montreal? They couldn’t hold on to the Expos, but then again, the Expos suffered from inept management and played in a terrible facility. I suppose we could give them another shot with a new downtown stadium.
Exactly where the new teams would be, though, is a small detail compared to the proposal of what a 32-team MLB would ultimately look like. The idea centers on creating four divisions of eight teams each, based on geography:
EAST – Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington.
NORTH – Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, both New Yorks, Toronto.
MIDWEST – Both Chicagos, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas.
WEST – Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle.
The first – and most jarring – thing you notice here is that there is no National League and no American League. This has a few different implications. One is the Designated Hitter.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of the DH. But I’ve grown to accept it, mainly because it affects only half the league. But one assumes that the proposed new format would mean the DL would be implemented league-wide, something the players’ union has been after for decades. There’s no need to go into the whole well-worn argument here, but it makes me a little sad to think of certain aspects of the game, strategic and otherwise, that will be lost to the dust-heap of history once the pitcher’s spot in the batting order is gone for good.
Then there’s the playoff format: The four division winners would move to the postseason. The next eight teams with the best records, from any divisions, would pair off in four one-game wild card playoffs for the right to face the division winners in what we now call the LDS. Seeding would be based on regular-season records, meaning any two teams – even two teams from the same division – could potentially square off in the World Series. Weird. Since 1901, the AL has played the NL in the World Series. That would no longer be the case. It’s a lot for this traditionalist to wrap his head around.
My first instinct was to argue that we could still have four eight-team divisions while keeping the leagues intact:
AL EAST - Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto.
AL WEST - Anaheim, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Texas.
NL EAST - Atlanta, Cincinnati, Miami, Montreal, New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington.
NL WEST - Arizona, Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis.
However, the new proposal is designed to reduce the number of miles traveled over the course of the season. My alignment would probably create more miles, not fewer, especially in the NL West. I suppose this could be alleviated by shifting some teams from one league to the other. But I also suppose there’s a point at which you have to give up and just go with the flow.
Not to mention that this is all just talk at this point. The article cites a “building consensus,” without naming names or giving any specifics about what the term means here. It points out that this plan is “one proposal,” but mentions no other proposals. There's also no indication of exactly when any of this might go down.
So we don’t know what the future holds. Like I said, I’m mostly a traditionalist. But I also realize that change is inevitable, and not all change is bad. Baseball will go on, in one form or another, and it will still be the greatest game on Earth. Will I still be a fan? You betcha.
I haven’t been on here in a while, but as this year’s playoffs get underway, I got to thinking about what it takes to make it to the postseason.
The MLB regular season is a grueling grind – 162 games over the course of 6 months. Off days can be 2 weeks or more apart. This is actually part of what makes Baseball so great; there’s nowhere to hide. At the end of this long and exhausting ordeal, you can bet that the teams we see playing in October are truly the best the game has to offer.
Or are they?
Division titles are hard to come by, it’s true. But they would mean a lot more if every team in each division had to take the same path in their quest to win it. They don’t, because the powers that be still value the money to be made from regional interleague rivalries over the fairness of a truly balanced schedule.
It took me a while to warm to interleague play, but now I’m a fan. I got spoiled growing up in a market with two big league teams. I’ve been to plenty of Cubs games and White Sox games over the years, and though I didn’t keep track, I’d venture to guess I saw every team in both leagues play in Chicago at some point. But I get that fans in, say, Pittsburgh, might get excited to see the Red Sox or Yankees come to town. Kansas City fans may look forward to a Dodgers game. This is great for the fans and great for the game itself.
However, the interleague schedule, as it stands now, doesn’t fully live up to this potential. The divisions rotate every year. The NL Central, for example, played games against the AL East this past season, the AL West last year, and will face the AL Central in 2018. That’s fine, but because of regional rivalries, the rotation doesn’t go far enough.
Take the Cubs. They played in Boston this year, but the Red Sox didn’t visit Wrigley. They hosted the Blue Jays, yet never traveled to Toronto. Why? Because they had to get in the annual home-and-home series against the White Sox, that’s why. The White Sox were among the worst in the league this season, and the Cubs took 3 of the 4 contests. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ closest divisional rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, are assigned the Minnesota Twins (335 miles away!) as their annual “regional” matchup. The Twins are a playoff team and swept the 4 games against the Brew Crew in August. (Yes, the Cubs ultimately won the division by 6 games, but had it ended up closer, these unbalanced matchups could have had a greater impact.)
It just makes sense to have every team in a division play the same number of games against the same teams. I’ve done the math, and it really isn’t that hard. If we assume every series to be three games (there’s room to mix that up within the division), a 162-game schedule contains 54 series – 27 home and 27 away. Here’s how to do it:
10 interleague series: 1 home, 1 away, vs. each of the 5 teams in one division (rotated each year) in the opposite league.
20 inter-divisional series: 1 home, 1 away, vs. each of the 10 teams in the same league but different divisions.
24 divisional series: 3 home, 3 away, vs. each of the 4 other teams in the same division.
Voila! 54 series, and a perfectly balanced schedule – and it really isn’t that big a departure from the current format.
The barrier to this plan is, of course, money. Cubs/White Sox, Mets/Yankees, A’s/Giants, Dodgers/Angels – those games are guaranteed sellouts, and the teams and the league are likely not willing to give up that gate revenue.
But who knows? Years ago, when the NL had 16 teams and the AL had 14, I proposed on my old blog that one NL team should switch leagues to make two 15-team leagues. I was skeptical that everyday interleague play (until then reserved for a few weeks in June and July) would be accepted. But it happened! So maybe one day my balanced schedule will become a reality as well.
And those crosstown rivalries? We’d still have ‘em; just every three years. Wouldn’t that make them all the more exciting?
No matter how much Baseball you've watched in your lifetime, every now and then you're going to see something you've never seen before. For instance, during Spring Training this year, in what looked like some sort of bizarre cold-war flashback, players and umpires wore forced to the ground by a swarm of bees:
And then just last week, the Athletics' Kendall Graveman pulled off this nifty 1-unassisted double play:
I love this play for a lot of reasons. The art of the rundown seems to be getting lost these days. Graveman did exactly what you're supposed to - run directly at the baserunner, and don't make the throw until you absolutely have to. Turns out he didn't have to at all. Then, he had the presence of mind to not only notice the runner breaking for third, but also managed to get to him by leaping over the guy he'd just tagged! This is just plain fun to watch.
So keep going to games; keep watching on TV. If you ever start to think you've seen it all... you'll be wrong.
“Gee, I wish I could spend less time at the ballpark,” said no baseball fan ever.
Still, I suppose I understand the rationale behind Commissioner Manfred’s desire to speed up the game of Baseball. While relaxing in the stands and enjoying the deliberate pace of the greatest game in the world is one of life’s most sublime experiences, it is true that watching a long, drawn-out game on TV can sometimes be a rather tedious affair. (This is probably due more to the terrible way most networks choose to cover the game, but that’s a topic for another day.) And it’s from TV that the league makes most of its money, so it isn’t hard to connect the dots.
But if you want to pick up the pace of play, there are ways to do it, and ways not to. Less time between innings? Yes, please. I would be all in favor of a rule requiring hitters to stay inside the batter’s box for their entire at-bat, and pitchers to stay on the mound. Constant adjusting and re-adjusting of batting gloves and helmets is silly and unnecessary. Pitchers then feel the need to step off the mound and pace around for a while every time the batter re-sets after having stepped out. It’s not a cat-and-mouse game, it’s just annoying. Umpires need not grant time whenever a batter raises his hand, especially when the pitcher has already begun his delivery.
A pitch clock, though? No, never. Clocks have no place in the game of Baseball in any way, shape or form. It just isn’t part of the lexicon. You might say that a basketball game is at 2:41 in the third quarter, but in Baseball, you say it’s two out in the bottom of the sixth. Outs are Baseball’s currency, and are how you keep track of the game. It’s unique, and dare I say a bit elegant.
Which inevitably brings me to the new intentional walk rule. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the days of a catcher standing there with an outstretched arm while a pitcher lobs four outside balls are over. Now, the manager signals to the home plate umpire, and the batter simply goes to first. I saw it happen last night in the Cubs/ Cardinals game, and it was jarring. Just didn’t seem right.
I heard somebody say, “Pitchers no longer have to go through the ritual of throwing four outside pitches.” But here’s the thing – it wasn’t just a ritual. Those were four actual, live pitches. The ball was in play. Wild pitches, passed balls, and stolen bases were all on the table. Or a batter reaching out to poke at a pitch that didn’t get quite far enough outside. Or the famous fake-out Rollie Fingers pulled over on Johnny Bench during the 1970 World Series. Sure, things like that didn’t happen very often. But they did happen.
So I mourn the loss of a little bit of Baseball’s unpredictability, all to save an estimated average of 14 to 35 seconds per game. Gosh, whatever will I do with all that extra time?
As much as I dislike the intentional walk rule, it isn’t nearly as cockamamie as another change that is being tested this year in a couple rookie level A-ball leagues. When a game goes into extra innings, a runner will be placed on second base at the start of each inning, in an effort to get the game over faster. I can’t even begin to describe how much I despise this idea, and I shouldn’t even have to explain why. Let’s hope it dies a quick death in the minors and never sees the light of day at the MLB level.
I don’t want Baseball to stagnate. Some rule changes are good. I’m on board with replay review, for instance. But other things are better left alone. Will I get used to the intentional walk rule in time? Maybe. But then again, after 44 years, I still hate the Designated Hitter. (Also a topic for another day.)
So Long, Silver and Black
The big news here in the Bay Area this week has been the overwhelming approval (31-1) of the NFL owners for the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. A lot of folks around here are not happy.
As a relatively recent transplant to the area, I admit to having very little emotional attachment to the Raiders – or to the 49ers, for that matter, who, despite playing 52 miles away, purport to represent the city in which I live – but I still think this sucks. Raiders fans are some of the most passionate in all of sports, and they’ve been burned twice now. They lost their team to Los Angeles in 1982, only to get it back 12 years later. Most forgave that time, but surely many will not a second time.
It’s easy to be cynical about pro sports teams. Guys paid a lot of money to wear a uniform compete against guys paid a lot of money to wear another uniform, and we’re supposed to care because one of those uniforms happens to have the name of our city embroidered on it. Next year a lot of those guys will be wearing a different city’s name.
But there’s more to it than that. Sports teams create a sense of community; a shared experience. A local news report featured a Raider-themed bar in an Oakland neighborhood, where many friendships have been forged over a shared passion for the team. The Raiders were a triangulation point to bring people together, and how could that be a bad thing?
I suppose that bar will still show Las Vegas Raiders games on Sundays, and some folks will still get together to watch, but I imagine it will never feel the same. Fan sentiment has ranged from “I’ll back the Raiders wherever they play” to “I will never watch another game or spend another dime on them.” The move is still at least one, and possibly two, seasons away. It will be very interesting to see what happens to their usual sellout crowds in the meantime.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was the only No vote at the owner's meeting. He said, "My position today was that we as owners and as a League owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted." It's tough to say whether Ross is the only one who gets it or the only one who doesn't get it. Of course, this is all about money. On the one hand, it’s hard to fault a business owner for making a decision that will help the bottom line. On the other, that business owes its very success to the loyalty of its fans, and taking their team away is a just plain shitty thing to do.
People are saying that the Raiders will have a hard time growing a local fan base in Vegas (the same thing they’re saying about the new NHL team), and maybe that’s true. But when going to a pro football game becomes one more thing to do in Sin City, people will come.
Al Davis and the Raiders will be fine. But a lot of people in Oakland will be hurting over this for a long time.
Another Season in the "Other" City by the Bay
Today’s the first day of Spring and less than two weeks to Opening Day. And two days ago, I officially began my fourth season as a member of the Oakland Athletics team.
After moving to San Francisco and needing to find a job, I was looking through some postings on Craig’s List and came across something called “Oakland Athletics Event Staff.” Intrigued, I sent an application and, long story short, I got the job.
The position has evolved a bit over the years. I’m now known as a “Guest Services Ambassador.” Essentially, though, the main objective of the position has stayed the same: to make attending an A’s game the best experience it can be for our fans. We staff the information booths, answer questions, give directions, write out first-game certificates for kids, pitch in taking tickets or ushering when necessary, and a number of other little things to be the jacks-of-all-trades on game day.
And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had while getting paid.
There’s nothing like the buzz of a Major League ballpark on game day, and I’ve yet to get tired of it. Most folks are in a good mood – they’re at a baseball game, after all – and those that aren’t, well, part of the job is to turn that mood around by fixing whatever has them upset. It’s very gratifying. The best part of the job? Handing a random kid in the right field nosebleed seats a genuine MLB baseball, just because I can.
The team has been struggling the past couple years, but there’s new management and a palpable sense of optimism this year. Plus, we’ve been told that an announcement regarding a new ballpark in Oakland will be coming soon. I think it’s going to be an exciting season.
I’ll be honest; the money’s not great. But I’m fortunate that my other, more lucrative job is flexible enough for me to keep this one. It’s convenient (public transportation can get me from my house in SF’s Sunset District to the Coliseum without my even having to cross a street), and for a Baseball geek like me, there’s no better place to be. As a direct employee of a Major League ball club, every season I sign the same arbitration agreement and drug-testing policy that the players do. It’s silly, I know, but that makes me grin every time. Actually, so does just walking into the stadium to start my shift. I hope that never goes away.
If you’re ever in Oakland and want to catch a game, I’ll hook you up!
Welcome to the all-new BaseballTrips.net!
Well, not really all new. It’s mostly the same content from the old site, copied and pasted over to this nicer, more professional-looking (and much easier to edit) home. Except that, due to a malfunctioning external hard drive, I’d been unable to make any changes to the old site since 2011. I finally got off my duff and did something about that, and here we are. I hope you like the new look.
As you navigate through the site, you’ll notice that many of the pages document when we visited a particular venue and little else. We plan to remedy that. We’ll dig up old photos, write some new comments about our experiences, and little by little, you’ll start seeing a lot more content here. Please bear with us; it’ll be a slow and gradual process. But we hope you’ll pop in every now and then to see what’s new.
Those of you who remember the old site may recall that I kept a blog over there too. While setting up this new site, I meticulously copied every entry and re-posted them here, one by one. An instant archive, if you will. Then, when I finally shut off the old site and transferred the domain here, all of those entries somehow vanished in the process. And stupid me didn’t save copies elsewhere. So, unless I’m somehow able to resurrect that aforementioned dead hard drive, it’s all lost. I was pissed off about that for about a minute, but then figured all I can do now is make a new start. It’s a new site with a new look and a new blog -- a blank slate. I hope to make the most of it.
My past track record, blogging wise, included several short bursts of enthusiasm in between long periods of inactivity. I’m not going to pretend I’ll be here every day forever, but hopefully this time around I’ll put in the effort a little more consistently. And a bit of feedback and comments from you, dear readers (if I have any) will help me stay engaged. Thanks in advance.
Spring is here, the Cubs are the reigning World Series Champions, and I’m finally rebooting BaseballTrips.net. Life is good. See you at the ballpark!