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Baseball's playoff envy

I do these the night before, so if John Mozeliak and Albert Pujols were up all night negotiating the terms of an especially byzantine contract—one year, $200 million, with nine team options at $400,000 a piece, adjusted for Zimbabwean inflation—I stand corrected, but it seems as though no Cardinals-related news has broken or threatened to break. (Directly Cardinals related but not really news: Carson Cistulli digs up the lost [this is a polite word for apocryphal] film careers of Brendan Ryan and David Eckstein.) 

A fine time to remind ourselves that the Hot Stove League is only hot relative to our desire to watch the sports currently in season. 

Speaking of which, I'm a little wary of baseball's latest attempt to become more like those sports.

Commissioner Bud Selig's plan to expand baseball's playoffs to 10 teams gained a sense of inevitability after little to no opposition emerged during meetings this week with owners and general managers.

Selig said his special 14-man committee will discuss adding two wild-card teams when it meets Dec. 7 during the winter meetings in nearby Lake Buena Vista.

"We will move ahead, and move ahead pretty quickly," Selig said Thursday after three days of meetings concluded.

Baseball has a ways to go before it becomes like the NBA, where more than half the teams in the league make the playoffs and the regular season is disrespected by fans and players alike, but I'm disappointed to see the fetishization of the playoffs continue to make inroads in the last sport to have avoided it (outside New York.) 

What's terrible about this, to me, isn't that the playoffs aren't exciting and fun, although I'm not a huge fan myself. It's that, as you'll recall, baseball has a regular season that is 162 games long. That's a lot of games, as a fan of any other sport will tell you, repeatedly. For the sake of money, presumably, and the sports-fan-at-large—who, if he's talking about how long the season is or how few teams make the playoffs, will never be of a mindset to offer baseball his grudging acceptance—Bud Selig is attempting to make the major feature of baseball, its extraordinarily long season, slightly less relevant. 

This strikes me as a bad idea. It's like

  • VIDEO GAME ANALOGY: Developing Leonardo's Workshop in Civilization II and then doing a mad-dash toward the Automobile tech, or building city walls and then trading all the other civilizations the technology for siege weapons. 
  • BASEBALL ANALOGY: Inheriting the Colorado Rockies circa 2000 and lobbying for balls hit into the stands to be ruled doubles. 

Baseball is a slow game that develops over a slow season. Runs aren't just scored, they accrete on the bases—we're made to watch them develop. Teams don't blow a season with a bad game, or win it with a good one; seasonal narratives develop over weeks and months. And the best teams don't emerge in a five or seven game series, let alone a one-game playoff. Its famous records and moments are a testament to this—60 home runs, 56 games, a .400 average. Basketball and football stars have big games; baseball stars have big seasons. 

Baseball is not well-suited for a playoff tournament or a short series. Its management can either recognize that, and play to its strengths, or look longingly at the cultural cachet of the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament and illustrate to a broader audience just how poorly suited baseball is. 

(DVD Bonus Material: Further danup go-to analogies:)

  • WEIRDLY DATED POP CULTURE ANALOGY: Like casting Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a movie together as murderous terrorists who don't even consider falling in love at the end. 
  • 19TH CENTURY BASEBALL ANALOGY: Like signing two-way player "Parisian Bob" Caruthers and putting him to work as a designated pinch-runner. 
  • LITERARY ANALOGY: Like commissioning Saul Bellow to fill out a Mad Lib.
  • ALTERNATE LITERARY ANALOGY: Like commissioning David Foster Wallace to write up a grant application.
  • META ANALOGY: Like putting an Orange slice in your Fresca.
  • META-META ANALOGY: Like commissioning [famous author] to fill out a [tightly restrictive word game].
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS OPENING DAY COMMEMORATIVE ANALOGY: Like having the power to imbue objects with pieces of your immortal soul and then choosing to make one of those objects a snake that you then send directly at the heroes, increasingly vulnerable, to do your bidding.