Friday, October 29, 2010

More MLB Playoff Teams? When Are You Gonna Play the Games, Bud?

Major League Baseball wants its playoff cake and eat it, too.

Commissioner Bud Selig, The Man Who Destroyed Division Races As We Used to Know Them, is at it again. Selig wants more playoff teams, and he wants them now---as early as next season. The players union has indicated that more post-season teams in 2012 might be amenable.

"We haven't abused our allotment," Selig told reporters this week. "We only have eight out of 30 teams make the playoffs."

Selig points to the NFL, which has 12 of its 32 teams make the playoffs, and the NHL and NBA, which each allow 16 of their 30 teams into the post-season party. Then he looks at MLB and sees but eight out of 30 teams qualify, and apparently Bud wants some of that playoff action for his sport, too.

This isn't a debate about whether there should be more playoff teams in baseball. Sadly, Selig and his owners squashed that like a bug when the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, which has since rendered a lot of divisional races as moot as a Brett Favre retirement announcement.

No, the ship has sailed that allowed intelligent discussion about the pros and cons of a Wild Card, which reared its ugly head again this year in the American League East when what should have been a heart-pounding, nail-biting race between the Yankees and the Rays instead turned meaningless, as both teams made the playoffs.

It's too late to save the division race as we once knew it.

The focus of the argument now is, if Selig wants more playoffs, then he has to give somewhere else.

Namely, the length of the regular season.

The World Series will once again drift into November this year. Thank goodness the Texas Rangers are hosts this weekend. MLB is playing with fire. Heaven forbid the day when the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies meet in the November Classic. Can you throw a curveball with mittens on?

Selig wants more playoffs, but when are you going to play the extra games?

There's even talk of extending the divisional series to a best-of-seven, too.

Just how many days does Selig think October has, anyway?

Additional playoffs will have to mean either: a) a reduced regular season (thus cutting into each team's gate); b) starting the season earlier; or c) schedule more honest-to-goodness doubleheaders (NOT the day/night ones, either; I'm talking the old-fashioned Sunday afternoon twinbills).

It's the lesser of two evils, to begin the season in March as opposed to having the World Series end in mid-November. At least a March start will allow for as many games in the first week or two to be played either indoors or in warm weather climates.

Have as many northern-based teams play out west or down south or in Toronto as possible, beginning around March 24 or so. This may mean some teams will play their first 6-10 games on the road, but so be it. Everyone gets 81 home and 81 away, so it all evens out eventually.

I'm guessing that more playoffs in MLB would mean two more teams in each league qualifying, creating an NFL-like system of six teams in each league participating.

That scenario would likely give the top two divisional winners, by won/lost record, a bye in the first round. Then the other four battle it out---the third divisional winner and the three Wild Cards---with those two winners facing the bye teams.

I'm not wild about any of this, and one reason is that getting a bye and waiting a week or so to play your first playoff game seems unnatural, after playing 162 games with little rest. I can't help but wonder if this would inadvertently penalize the best teams, who would have to begin the playoffs cold against a team that just got done playing a series.

The only way this scenario could be avoided would be to add four playoff teams to each league, so that no one gets a bye. Now you'd have 16 out of the 30 teams making the playoffs. Kind of makes a 162-game season overkill, to eliminate less than half of the MLB teams.

Can you imagine five Wild Cards per league?

However he chooses to implement it, Selig can't keep everything else status quo. He can't start in early-April, play 162 games, extend the DS to a best-of-seven, and add playoff teams. The World Series would bump up against Thanksgiving.

I'd like to see Selig try to convince perennial bottom feeders like the Royals and Pirates that they should give up some home dates in order to make the regular season shorter, so Bud can add playoff teams and lengthen the DSs.

Bud Selig has already destroyed the traditional pennant race. Now he wants to emulate the other three majors and add to his post-season invite list.

I don't like it, so the least he can do is compromise elsewhere.

Selig wants his cake and eat it, too. I hope he chokes on it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

No Joke---The Texas Rangers Are in the World Series

It's time for another World Series. Time to take attendance.

In the National League---San Francisco Giants? Check. Lineage of the old New York Giants---the franchise of Ott, Mathewson, Hubbell, Mays, Durocher and Irvin, then later in San Francisco: McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda, all those Alous. Here's your pass---good luck out there.

Now to the American League.

Hey, is this someone's idea of a joke? Who goes there? The Texas Rangers?

The Texas Rangers?

I'm not laughing. This may as well be the World Serious. No time for gags.

Texas Rangers, please have a seat. Where are the Yankees, tied up in the back room? Were the Red Sox too busy? Heck, give me the Oakland A's---or even the Angels of Los Angeles/Anaheim/Southern California. Let's make it an intra-state Series.

What happened to the Baltimore Orioles? I hear Boog Powell is ready to club another three-run home run while Earl Weaver steals a smoke in the runway.

Really, stop fooling around here. The Texas Rangers? Aren't they the team that got their asses kicked by a bunch of dime beer-consuming fans in Cleveland back in 1974? Manager Billy Martin was running around the field at Municipal Stadium wielding a bat, trying to keep the drunks off his players.

What's tradition with the Rangers? They came from Washington---first in war, first in peace, last in the American League. Ted Williams was the Rangers' first manager; he lasted one season before he realized he didn't look good in cowboy boots.

The Texas Rangers? In the World Series?

Where's Allen Funt and that hidden camera? OK, you got me good. I wasn't ready for that one. Nicely played.

How could the Rangers be in the World Series? Their all-time greatest team includes Buddy Bell and Pete O'Brien. Is this the Rangers' reward for being the first team to schedule Sunday night games? Hey, it was only because it was too damn hot to play during the daytime---let's not go overboard here.

Didn't Nolan Ryan just pitch for them a couple of years ago? He went from the mound on a Friday to the president's office on Monday, I hear.

The Texas Rangers, showing up to the World Series? To actually play in it?

Is this like when they elected Carrie as Prom Queen? Are they going to dump pig's blood on them just before the first pitch in Game One?

The Rangers, trying to take cover on Dime Beer Night in Cleveland, 1974

No teams named after a whole state should be in the World Series---isn't that a rule? The Minnesota Twins did it three times and the Arizona Diamondbacks once but I hear someone had some photographs.

The Texas Rangers. They didn't even win a post-season series until this year. Hell, they hadn't even won a playoff game at home, period, until this month, and that was in the second round. There ought to be a law against such a fast track to the World Series.

With the Giants all the aforementioned names come to mind. With the Rangers, I keep thinking of Billy Sample and Steve Buechele and Jeff Burroughs. I stop and try again and all I can come up with is Joe Lovitto and Jim Sundberg and Dean Palmer.

Yeah, I know they had the Rodriguezes Pudge and Alex, but they both beat it out of town.

This is the franchise that won 94 games in 1977, but it needed four managers to do it---all managing within a week of each other.

Frank Lucchesi was fired on June 21. Eddie Stanky was brought in and he managed one game on June 22 before he got homesick and quit. The Rangers then turned to coach Connie Ryan and he managed six games. Finally, Billy Hunter took over a week after Lucchesi's last game and guided the Rangers for the final 93 games. The name plates were made from dry erase board.

Two of the Rangers' first three managers were Ted Williams and Billy Martin. Whitey Herzog was in between. Three big names, and that was the problem---they were bigger names than their players.

Until the Rangers won the ALCS the other night, the proudest night in franchise history was the night Nolan Ryan beat the stuffing out of young whippersnapper Robin Ventura on the pitching mound, when Ventura charged Ryan after being hit in the back with one of Nolan's fastballs.

Someone should have told Robin that he got lucky with a medium-speed fastball in the back; if Nolan wanted to, he could have killed him, right there in the batter's box.

So it's not a joke then? The Texas Rangers are really here to play in the World Series?

Ohhh....I get it. This year's Series is going to bleed into November and they needed a warm weather state.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tigers' Campbell Was No Showman But He Found His Sucker Anyway

Phineas Taylor Barnum was a born showman. He was placed on this Earth to sell tickets, fill houses, and count receipts. He was the Columbus of show business—P.T. discovered acts, and freaks. Sometimes they were one and the same.

Barnum had a wonderfully simple explanation of how he was able to become a millionaire with traveling shows that featured lizard boys, bearded women, and the “Feejee” mermaid (a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish).

How did ole P.T. do it?

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” he said.

And a whole bunch of them, apparently, paid admission into Barnum’s shows.

Jim Campbell was as far removed from P.T. Barnum as a human being could get.

Campbell was the Tigers’ general manager from the early-1960s through 1983. He was a staid man with a bald head and a round face and he said “Hell” a lot.

“That was a hell of a game.”

“Hell, I don’t know.”

“Hell, we’re real happy.”

Campbell was as much of a showman as sardines are a dessert. He wanted his team to make money, no mistake about it. He just didn’t want any pomp and circumstance in the process.

Campbell once closed the centerfield bleachers at Tiger Stadium for weeks, because there were too many beach balls being batted around up there. He abhorred the bashing, rock-and-roll music played at ballparks. Campbell was an organ guy.

Campbell lived and died with his Tigers, 162 times a year. There was a ten-game losing streak that caused him to lose so much weight, he looked like he had a disease.

But there wasn’t any showman in Campbell.

Still, he found himself a sucker anyway.

Forty years ago this month, Bob Short, the owner of the Washington Senators, dialed up Campbell. Several discussions later, Campbell fleeced Short so badly that if it had happened on Wall Street, the SEC would have begun an investigation.

Campbell not only wasn’t a showman, he had a great disdain for the malcontent, for the miscreant. Rocky Colavito, Hollywood handsome and a basher of home runs, once tested Campbell with a contract holdout. Rocky might as well have had a staring contest with a statue.

Campbell won; he signed Colavito but traded him out of Detroit forthwith.

So by October 1970, Campbell had had his fill of one Denny McLain.

Two years prior, Denny was on top of the baseball world. He won the MVP, the Cy Young Award, and 31 games, pretty much with two pitches—a fastball and a curve. But it was a very fast fastball and a very curvaceous curve.

Denny flamed out in the World Series in ‘68, but he came back to co-win another Cy Young in 1969.

But in 1970, Denny started to go sideways.

The warning signs had been there. Even when he had success on the diamond, Denny flaunted team rules. He jetted across the country, playing the organ—during the season. He engaged in shady financial practices, once involving some of his teammates in a failed paint business.

There were whispers—more like shouts—that Denny had also got himself involved with some mobsters. He gambled freely. He commiserated with bookies. Rumor still has it that gangsters stomped on Denny’s foot late in the 1967 season, knocking him out of commission while the Tigers were embroiled in a tense pennant race.

Denny was a free spirit and he marched to the beat of his own drummer and Jim Campbell hated that.

In 1970, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for the first half of the season for the gambling and mobster allegations. Then Denny doused a couple of sportswriters with a bucket of ice water. Later, Kuhn suspended him again for carrying a gun in violation of his probation.

Denny had turned into a full-time pain in the ass and won all of three games in 1970, so when the Senators’ Short showed interest in acquiring McLain, it was all Jim Campbell could do to not choke on his own saliva.

On October 9, 1970, Campbell finalized the deal—one that was so lopsided that Campbell practically stumbled all over himself to phone it into the league offices before Short came to his senses.

For McLain, third baseman Don Wert, pitcher Norm McRae and outfielder Elliott Maddox, Campbell had coerced Short to cough up third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, shortstop Eddie Brinkman, and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan.

Campbell had gotten from the Senators: a starting left side of the infield, a young, up-and-coming starting pitcher, and a bullpen arm for McLain, an aging Wert, and two players the Tigers had no intention of developing.

Rodriguez, Brinkman and Coleman were productive Tigers for several years each. Wert went 2-for-40 for the Senators and retired. McRae did nothing; Maddox did slightly more than nothing.

And Denny McLain?

Denny battled manager Ted Williams and his own degradation of skills all summer. He won 10 games and lost 22. A year later, McLain was finished, performing horribly for Atlanta and Oakland before calling it quits. He was 28 years old.

P.T. Barnum was right—there really was a sucker born every minute.

Ironically, Campbell made another move that off-season that seemed counter to his persona.

Campbell fired manager Mayo Smith—he was nothing like he was in 1968, either—and replaced him with the volatile Billy Martin, who wasn’t the type of manager that Campbell normally fancied.

But Campbell felt the 1970 Tigers had laid down so badly for Smith—and he was right—that the players needed a fiery type to jump start them.

It worked, for a time.

Martin performed his magic and furthered his reputation as a manager who could make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. He guided his aging, creaky team to the 1972 American League East Championship, taking them within one run of the World Series.

By the next season, Martin’s bizarre antics wore thin on Campbell and owner John Fetzer, so Campbell fired Billy.

The GM wasn’t going to be anyone’s sucker.

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Champagne Allowed: LDS Winners Need to Tone it Down

I'm usurping Bud Selig on this one. I'm railroading the legislation through. I'm going to be judge, jury, and party pooper.

I'm starting the new rule, effective with the 2011 MLB playoffs.

NO champagne celebrations after winning divisional series.

That's it---record it, stenographer. Have it ready for my signature, forthwith. If I have to fly to New York and enter it into law myself, so be it.

There's nothing right with acting as if you've won some sort of championship, when all you've done is advance to your league's finals.

Yet every year since the Wild Card and, by extension, another layer of playoffs was added to MLB's post-season, we see the winners of the DS carry on to the hilt---the on-field pile, then the champagne-drenched locker room.


Can you imagine this kind of behavior in other sports?

Winning a divisional series in baseball is no different than surviving the second round in the NBA or the NHL; in all three instances, it means your team is in the Final Four. Nothing more, nothing less.

It's hardly cause to party as if it was 2099.

I'm not a homer here---I treat the Tigers' locker room party after they eliminated the Yankees in 2006 no differently. It was over the top, just as all the other post-DS celebrations.

It's funny, but if you look at old films from World Series celebrations of the 1940s and '50s, they were amusingly muted. The final out is recorded, and maybe the catcher leaps into the arms of the pitcher. In many scenes I've witnessed, there is a simple handshake. A handshake!!

Oh, there might be a few players slapping each other on the back and occasionally hugging, but there wasn't much to it.

And that was after winning the World Freaking Series.

Yet here we are today, with divisional series winners reacting as if they just found out that their tax rates were slashed to those of poverty level folks.

So what IS the proper way to celebrate a divisional series win?

Just as you do in the aforementioned NHL and NBA, after winning a conference semi-final series.

Some fist and chest bumps, a few slaps on the back, and a proud walk to the locker room, er, clubhouse.

That's it.

You wanna crack open a bottle at your locker? Then it'd better be pop or Aquafina. Or a beer, tops.

No lining the lockers with protective plastic. I don't want to see one Andre label. Same rule applies as it does for bats: no cork allowed.

You wanna kick it after winning the LCS? Be my guest; knock yourself out. You've won a pennant, after all. You have my permission.

But I'm taking a hard line on the LDS celebrations, my friend. There's a new party sheriff in town, and he's going to be raining on your parade, starting next year.

If only.