Thursday, October 26, 2006

Greed and Bad Weather Have Ruined the World Series

There's a new book out called Reel Baseball: Baseball's Golden Era the Way America Witnessed It—In the Movie Newsreels (Doubleday, $29.95). The book compiles baseball stories from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, covering notable World Series, All-Star Games, and individual achievements like Johnny Vander Meer's two consecutive no-hitters, DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Maris's 61 home runs, etc. There's also coverage of funny and poignant moments in the game, from the appearance of midget Eddie Gaedel as a pinch-hitter in a 1951 game for Bill Veeck's St. Louis Browns to Babe Ruth's death in 1948 from cancer. There are lots of black-and-white photos in the book, and it's quite a nostalgic walk back into time.

The World Series accounts, in particular, are a swell reminder of the way things used to be—when the Fall Classic was truly played in the fall. The last Series covered is the exciting 1962 showdown between the Yankees and the Giants, and I noticed that the final game, Game 7, was played on October 16. Game 7 of the 1960 Series (Pirates-Yankees; the Mazeroski walk-off home run) was completed on October 13. The final game of the famous 1955 Series, when the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat their postseason archnemesis Yankees, took place on Oct. 4, 1955.

Today is October 26, and we haven't yet played Game 4 of the current Series. It's been raining in St. Louis. If the Series makes its way back to Detroit, it could snow by then.

Yes, technically speaking, the season of autumn extends well into December. By the calendar, this is still the Fall Classic. But is there anything more annoying, almost depressing, than watching baseball players competing for the championship of the entire world in a wind chill of 33 degrees? Baseball was not meant to be played while fans are bundled up in parkas, gloves and wool ski caps. The splendor—and maximum play-ability—of the game—is totally compromised under these conditions. It's just plain stupid.

It happens this way because baseball has seen fit to extend its playoff system. This makes some sense because the number of teams has expanded through the years. So I'm not really against the playoffs, per se, even though they are the reason the World Series gets played so frigidly late in the year.

The solution seems crystal clear. Baseball needs to reduce the 162-game regular-season schedule. It's way too long anyway, but its length in the modern era, coupled with the divisional and league playoff series, is the reason why we have to watch pitchers on the mound blowing chilling vapors out of their mouths while they try to pitch the most important games of their careers.

Baseball is the summer game. It's a warm-weather sport, meant to be played out-of-doors. That's part of why we love it. Baseball, sunshine, beer, short-sleeve shirts.

What's the point of doing something if you're not going to do it well? Major League Baseball ought to reduce the regular season. Get back to 154 games, as it was until 1961, or whatever number thereabouts works out well mathematically for scheduling.

It'll probably never happen, and greed is the reason. But someone with vision ought to spearhead the change. It would be for the good of the game. Isn't that what the baseball commissioner is supposed to uphold?

I won't hold my vapor breath.

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