Usually in early October here in the desert as the temperature dips into the crisp 90s, and the leaves on the palm trees … well, stay the same color, the sports world is dominated by football.
But this last week, you’ve got to give it to Major League Baseball for producing some noteworthy stories that have penetrated the sports consciousness usually reserved solely for pigskin.
The A’s rally to win the West: Oakland’s stunning second-half run is the type of thing someone could make a movie about. They could call it “Moneyball” and it could be about a team maximizing its small payroll with a ragtag group of players that makes a surprising playoff run. Nevermind, it feels like one of those movies that’s already been done.
Except for the payroll part, this A’s team has very little in common with the Moneyball gang. The A’s lead the league in strikeouts and are more about home runs than manufacturing runs. They feature a great young starting staff, though, that includes … that one guy, the guy with the hat and the sorta skinny guy.
The one-game wild-card: I’m a fan of the new wild-card procedure. Not so much that an extra team makes the postseason, but that winning your division becomes that much more important. Before, the team with the best record in each league received very little reward for its achievement. Now it gets to host a team that already had to use one of its best pitchers to win the play-in game. A clear and deserved advantage.
The fifth team was very valuable in the National League this year for producing drama that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. Under last year’s rules the Nationals, Reds, Giants and Braves would have clinched their playoff spots with about two weeks left in the season, rendering the second half of Septemeber moot in the Senior Circuit.
Infield-fly gate: I’m glad the controversial play in the Braves-Cardinals game happened because I’ve had a general beef with the infield-fly rule since it was explained to me as a kid, and that is simply this — why don’t you have to catch the ball?
We all get the reason the infield-fly rule exists. So infielders don’t intentionally drop the ball to turn a double play or exchange a fast baserunner for a slow one. So the batter pops it up, the infield-fly rule is called, and the batter is out whether or not the infielder catches it.
How simple would it be to tweak the rule to say the ball has to be caught. I.E. once the infield-fly rule has been signalled by the umpire, if the ball is dropped (lost in the sun, or just botched) the batter is safe and the runners move up one base. Simple. The intentional-drop is taken out of play, but the defender still has to catch the ball. Simple. Logical. And easy to explain to a kid.
The five-game venue format: I know this is the only season the five-game Division Series is going to be the way it is this year, with the better team on the road for the first two and hosting the final three, but I can’t explain why it’s happening this year. No one is in favor of it, no one thinks it’s fair. And it’s completely unnecessary.
The last time I checked, teams aren’t taking horse-and-buggies to games. It would be perfectly possible and fair to play a game in Detroit one day and in Oakland the next, for example. We have jets.
The biggest problem with the format is monetary. The worse team is guaranteed two home games, while the better team is only guaranteed one home game and therefore one home gate.