Friday, October 3, 2014


Ever since the first "post-season" (a term we'd use to define a concept that began in 1969, when the simplest, most elegant form of baseball meritocracy was retired forever...) there have been tales of the unexpected.

These tales (or events, or occurrences...) come in two major forms:

1) astonishing performances by lesser-known, unheralded or downright maligned individuals;

2) stunning reversals of form by players of otherwise exceptional accomplishment.

(1969 gave us the New York Mets, with a series of indelibly improbable events. A list of these over the ensuing forty-six years that "the post-season" has existed would almost be lengthy enough for a book (and, in fact, might be already: we haven't had time to check.)

We have an example of each "form of astonishment" already in 2014--in a single game, Cardinals-Dodgers NLDS Game #1.

First, Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis, suffering through his worst offensive season, joined the ranks of 141 other hitters by collecting four hits. Ellis' OPS+ was 68 in 2014, which might qualify him for the lowest  in-season OPS+ amongst all those who've collected four (or more) hits in a post-season game. (Let's see...Ryan Theriot in 2011...85 OPS+; Willy Aybar in 2008...94 OPS+...)

Not the lowest--there's Jose Vizcaino in 2000, with four singles in the World Series (Game One) for the Mets, whose  OPS+ that year, in a season split between New York and Los Angeles, was a combined 58.

A. J. had a home run among his four hits yesterday, but it was not part of anything that he or the Dodgers could feel good about, as their ace of aces, Clayton Kershaw, suffered a shocking meltdown in the seventh inning, allowing St. Louis to stage an eight-run rally en route to a 10-9 come-from-behind win. (It was a game that instantly upstaged the roller-coaster ride in the AL Wild Card game, which only two days earlier had staked a claim as one of the post-season's most exciting and calamitous contests--though much of that was dependent on its "sudden death" nature.)

WHICH brings us to our other "random" thought (feel free, of course, to substitute "vagrant" as the adjective in that verbal formation). We are completely turned off by the concept of the  "sudden death" play-in game. Let's count the reasons:

--The so-called "meritocracy" of non-division winners "separating wheat from chaff" is semi-dubious in theory, but is beyond so in practice, since it's entirely possible that division winners can have worse records than the wild card teams.

--"Sudden death" is great for football. It might, in fact, be the reason why that game is such a good fit for the post-modern "lifestyle"--you only have to invest so much time in a narrative, and it's pre-programmed for you. (Notice how much of the new narrative style in television has found a way to insert this into its episodic structure.)

But it's not great for baseball. In the context of a game that has always resolved its post-season with a series of games, it's a false note, an overly manufactured excitement.

No team should be so marginal as to have a "one-and-you're out" in the post-season. (Getting there...yes. If a play-in for a wild card slot is needed, then that is the exception.)

Years (and years) ago, we concocted a radical plan for a post-season that revamped the entire structure into a "mini-season." It was decidedly radical, even having teams play across leagues as part of the journey to the World Series. It even permitted two teams from the same league (gasp!) to wind up squaring off in the Fall Classic. (Based on the nascent notion, already grasped with tongue defiantly in cheek, that the ultimate voyeuristic transgression that baseball could foist off onto its fan base would be to allow for a scenario where the Yankees and the Red Sox could face each other for all the marbles.)

Some twenty years after that foray into surrealist black humor, the idea still makes more sense than any other. Since the Edenic simplicity of the old days is lost to us forever, we need to do something much more creative with the post-season, something that mirrors (in a compressed way) the features of the daily game that make it unique.

We should celebrate that dailiness in a way that combines with the excitement of gradual elimination, but do so in a way that cross-pollinates the competition so that each team plays all of its potential opponents in the post-season.

We won't elaborate (read: belabor) such a process in specifics here. (We might return to it later in the post-season, however.) But such an approach is something worth working toward, even though its chances of adoption are slight (the world of baseball is glacial, except when it isn't: you have to catch lightning in a bottle...or, rather, a group of disgruntled billionaires at the right transport the game into a realm that takes full advantage of its possibilities).