Hoosier Jack on baseball's problems -- FJM edition

By Jason Wojciechowski on September 28, 2009 at 11:28 PM

Fire Joe Morgan never really picked on the low-hanging fruit of unread blogs and tiny-town newspapers. I, however, have no such scruples. (Also, I happen to live in the tiny town from whence the blog post herein ridiculed originated.) For your pleasure, then, here is "Why baseball is in trouble", by the esteemed Hoosier Jack, sportswriter and blogger for the Victoria Advocate.

Anybody know off the top of their heads who are the hottest teams in baseball right now as the regular season winds down?

The answer might surprise you. It's the Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins.

Didn't know, did ya? Probably because if you're like most people, you don't care anymore because the thundering roar of football season has drowned out the meow of the baseball regular season.

No, the answer surprises you because two of those four teams aren't in the playoff race. Although I will admit that football's thundering roar really hit hard last Wednesday, when ... oh, right, nothing happened.

Or, even if you're like me, and you DO care, you were forced to lose interest long ago because your team has been, for all intents and purposes, eliminated for months.

You were forced to lose interest? Really? The A's have been bad a number of times since I've been a fan, and Bud Selig has never once come over to my house and changed the channel to football because Oakland was no longer in the playoff race. Nobody forced you. You just don't care about baseball.

It didn't used to be this way. As I was growing up, even with football season rolling in, fans had a vested interest in baseball. The strikes happened and there have been slow comebacks, but it's not like it used to be.

You were born in 1984. You have not seen "strikes", plural. You have seen one strike. Singular.

More importantly, since when the fuck do you only have to be 25 to use the "back in the day" argument? You can't lament the old days when the old days were the mid-to-late '90s. And it wasn't better ten years ago! Football has been the country's biggest sport for a good long while now.

And unless baseball changes and adapts, it never will, or it might get worse.

It never will what? It never will change and adapt? It never will be like it used to be? Ok, here are the options:

1. "Unless baseball changes and adapts, it never will change or adapt, or it might get worse." Nobody would actually write that, so that can't be.

2. "Unless baseball changes and adapts, it will never be like it used to be, or it might get worse." This one at least makes some sense, plus it has the virtue of being exactly what you expect from a curmudgeonly, ancient, 25-year-old sports columnist: baseball needs to change back to what it was!

For one thing, there are too many teams, and far too little parity. A lot of that can be attributed to the financial organization of the sport. The owners allow large markets like New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles to dominate the free agent market with lavish contracts that get greedier by the year. While small-market owners cut costs in every way possible without regard for fans or the success of the team.

Too many teams! I thought the comparison here was to the thundering herd of mighty oxen that is the NFL. Which has 32 teams. Which is two more than are in MLB.

The lack of parity in baseball is, I agree, astounding. This year alone, the large-market Cardinals are triumphing over the small-market Cubs and Astros, the Tigers, still flush from their auto-industry bailout cash, are triumphing over the downtrodden White Sox, and the Rockies, from Denver, the media capital of the free world, lead the wild card over those plucky Mets.

That's without even mentioning that only 10 different teams won the NLCS from 1998 to 2008. Or that only seven teams won the ALCS from 2001 to 2008. This clear domination by a couple of elite teams is just driving fans in all the other markets batty.

Finally: I'm not sure "greedy" means what you think it does.

I look at about a third of the league and see a raft of teams that have not been any kind of factor for at least a decade, some for longer.

Well, that's easily verifiable, no? A third of the league. So let's find ten teams that haven't been a factor in a decade. Let's start with the teams that aren't factors this year: the Jays, Orioles, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Mariners, A's, Marlins (uncharitably), Mets, Nationals, Brewers, Reds, Astros, Pirates, Giants (similar lack of charity), Padres, and Diamondbacks.

The White Sox are out because they've been in the playoffs three times since 2000, and of course won the World Series in 2005. The Indians have been in the playoffs twice in the decade and came within a game of the World Series in 2007. The Mariners went to the ALCS in 2000 and 2001 (when they won a whopping 116 games) and won 93 games in 2002 and 2003. The A's have been in the playoffs five times since 2000, and lost four consecutive Game 5's from 2000 to 2003. In 2004 and 2005, they won 91 and 88 games but missed the playoffs. The Marlins won the World Series in 2003. The Mets went to the World Series in 2000, came within a game of getting there in 2006, and went down to the wire in 2007 and 2008. The Brewers made the playoffs last year. Houston has been in the playoffs three times, and the World Series once. The Padres went to the playoffs in 2005 and 2006, and then won more games in 2007 than they did in either of those two years. Arizona has been to the playoffs three times, and of course won the World Series in 2001. The Giants have been in the playoffs three times, and lost a World Series Game 7 in 2002.

I'll grant Hoosier Jack the Jays even though they've had three 86-plus win seasons this decade because they just haven't been that close to the playoffs. The Orioles are very clearly in the non-factor group, although for entirely different reasons than Hoosier Jack wishes they were: they spent tons of money for a number of years; they just happened to do it really badly. The Royals won 83 games in 2003! Ok, fine, that's a third team for the list. The Natspos were pretty good back in '93-'94. The Reds just suck. The Pirates suck worse.

So with all those teams crossed off the "List of Putridity", we're left with six teams, and that's being generous as to the Blue Jays. Six teams is not ten teams. (This wasn't even an attempt at funny. Sorry. Here.)

Even in basketball, the draft can turn the worst teams into contenders quickly, and the number of inept franchises in these sports is fewer than in baseball.

Really? Here's my list of NBA ineptitude: Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Washington, Minnesota, the Clippers, Sacramento, and Memphis. That's eight. That's more than six.

Also, the fact that drafting someone like LeBron James, Tim Duncan, or Dwight Howard leads to a near-immediate turnaround is one of my least favorite things about basketball. All it takes is one bad year timed right and suddenly you have a world-changing player on your team. You won't win championships without putting a good team around that superstar (hello, Cleveland!), but in baseball and football, you actually have to build a team to win. The A's weren't good because they drafted Jason Giambi, they were good because they drafted Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Eric Chavez, and Giambi, and signed Miguel Tejada out of the Dominican Republic. Nobody tanks in baseball because there's no point to it. That one player at the top of the draft is not going to be a game-changer all by himself.

And how about this time of year? Fans are forced to go through this month to two-month lull leading up to the playoffs while football has captured their attention? Even the fans of contenders have to be bored by the time the playoffs come around.

Right, tell that to the Yankees fans who read on the back page of the Post today that the Yankees clinched their division, while the Giants and Jets, both winners, were relegated to the inside pages. And as a 49ers fan, I can tell you that November and December is a two-month lull leading up to the playoffs in football as well. I'm usually more focused on the Lakers by that point. And Sacramento Kings fans are rooting for their AAA Rivercats every April.

So what to do? Fewer teams might be a good start. I could see the league being a lot stronger financially with about 20 teams. You might complain, but if the system won't allow some teams to be competitive, why have them at all?

Nothing you have written so far has established that the league is not strong financially. Everything you have written so far, including this paragraph, indicates that you have never actually read anything about the economics of baseball, including the legal (and thus economic) difficulties of contraction.

Fewer games? Definitely. If they do keep this number of teams, why not do what football did? Create four divisions and allow two wildcard teams. It's almost guaranteed to help parity and fan interest. And the game can do without the final two months of the regular season. Expand the playoffs so the season can wrap up in a reasonable time.

Ok, except for the Blue Jays, I don't think any of the teams listed above would have benefit from expanding the playoffs. The other five teams on the Horrible List have been fourth- and fifth- and sixth-place teams, even in bad divisions. It would have been the same measly 24 teams having a shot at the playoffs year after year.

Also, adding two playoff teams would not take up the two months you just chopped off the season. That's a lot of ticket sales and TV revenue flushed down the toilet to address this mythical boredom.

Finally, have you seen the NBA playoffs? They drag on and on and on. TNT's slogan for their NBA playoff coverage is "40 games in 40 nights", which, first, doesn't make any sense, and, second, is a biblical allusion to a flood that happened because it rained for a really intolerably long time. That's right, even TNT tacitly admits that the NBA playoffs are way too long, that we are flooded with playoff basketball, deluged with meaningless 4-2 series wins by a number five seed over a number four seed and even more meaningless sweeps by one seeds over eight seeds.

What DO you think?

You emphasized the wrong word.