Friday, May 28, 2010

Wherein I Will Bitch About Baseball

Major League Baseball is dumb. There really is no other possible logical position that an intelligent human being can take on the subject without falling into the class of people I call "Baseball Apologists." As you're all aware most people raised in the United States in this day and age are very adroit (possible misuse of SAT word alert) when it comes to arguing about anything that anybody else in the world has ever written about. They simply spout off the 4 or 5 most difficult to counter arguments (heck there's even an app for that) on the subject and generally leave the conversation feeling confident that they are still right. Baseball Apologists simply do this for baseball, saying things like "it's America's game" or "the small market teams just mismanage their resources" or "the DH is part of baseball" when trying to explain to you why you should care. Before I commence the random bitching, let me make something clear. I personally love to play the game of baseball (or as my excessive age now demands, slow pitch softball). I played for 10 years growing up, 9 of them as a starting second baseman and most hitting towards the top of the lineup (owed mostly to my excessive size) and gave up the ghost only when I ran out of youth league teams to play for (I was unable to play for my 9th grade or high school JV team because practice started 6 weeks before the swimming season ended) at the age of 16. So I don't actually think the game of baseball is stupid at all, but do in fact believe that virtually every aspect of the way business is done in the Major Leagues is completely idiotic. So here we go, in pseudo-random order:

1. Dividing the teams into two separate leagues that barely ever play each other is fucking ridiculous. Why on Earth would you ever do that? Because it's the way it's always been done? While that may be a true statement, it isn't really a good reason to keep on doing something. If you walked into your friend's house and he had a DVR ready box on top of his TV next to a stack of 5 VHS tapes and a VCR he uses to record and erase 15 hours of programming a week, would you or would you not think he was a complete idiot? The separation of MLB into two leagues creates a host of ridiculous problems.

2. The DH is stupid. Or maybe it's not. I don't really know, and I don't really care, but everybody in the league should use the same freaking rules. It's one league. If you want to have different rules, make two leagues.

3. The divisions are not balanced, and I'm not talking about talent. A lot of people don't actually know this, but could figure it out if they had ever bothered to think about it (which they haven't, for which I cannot fault them because the whole point of this tirade is that baseball is stupid and nobody should care about it all). Baseball teams play almost every day, which means there has to be an even number of teams in the league (just like the NFL....The NHL and NBA could actually get away with an odd number if they wanted to). But it's way worse than that. Because of the two league debacle, there needs to be an even number of teams in each league, and here comes the rub. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, a number which is decidedly not divisible by 4. So what do you do? Put 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League. Are you kidding me? Somebody actually decided that that was an acceptable solution when they did the whole re-organization thing sometime in the 90s? Really? So now there are 6 divisions in baseball, and 4 of them are "normal" in that they have exactly 5 teams in them (30 divided by 6 is 5, after all). But two of the divisions are "off", with the AL West having only 4 teams and the NL Central holding 6. Since 6 of the 8 playoff spots are awarded to the division winners, it's pretty obvious that the NL Central got the short end of the stick here, but the entire National League is also taking the worst of it, with 13 teams fighting for the single wildcard spot as opposed to just 11 in the American League. Does it really matter? I'm thinking that if you're a fan of an NL Central team for your entire life this imbalance will be likely to cost your team a championship. Over the course of 80 years an NL Central team will win the division about 13.333 times, where as a team from a "normal" division will win 16 times. Add in the the wild card effect I described above, which will cost you another 1 or 2 playoff appearances, and all of a sudden you've probably missed out on a banner. It's ridiculous.

4. A corollary of (3) is that the NL Central teams play an absurd number of games against the same 5 division rivals, which really doesn't help attendance at all. There's only so many times you can watch the Reds come to town before you start wondering why you never get to see any of the other 24 teams in the league. I don't know how the Major League Baseball schedule works (beyond the fact that the Sox and Yankees play every Saturday night....that much I understand), but it seems like it wouldn't be hard to make sure every team in the league (not just your half of the league, the whole thing) came to town for a series at least every other year. In the NBA every single team visits every other city every season. If you're a season ticket holder in San Antonio and you really want to see Lebron, guess what? He's coming to town this season! And next year, and the one after that, and the one after that, even if he changes teams! And the NBA plays half as many games! This is not rocket science.

5. The National League teams, specifically the Pirates, get screwed out of interesting (read: attendance boosting), inter-league games. It's obvious to see that if there are 16 teams in the NL and only 14 in the AL, the NL teams are going to play fewer inter-league games on average. But anecdotally it seems even worse than just that. The very first weekend of inter-league play in the mid 90s, big deal, super hyped, you've got the subway series and the White Sox playing in Wrigley and the Dodgers playing the Angels just everyone is super psyched that baseball is awesome. Who did the Pirates play that weekend? The Brewers, a division opponent they play something like 15 times a year. Two weeks ago when inter-league play happened who did the Pirates play? The Braves, a National League team, at home, ensuring that attendance was average at best when every other fan in the league was treated to seeing a team that only comes to town like once a decade or something ridiculous. And yes I know the Yankees went to Pittsburgh last year, there are 14 teams in the AL and inter-league play has been around for something like 15 years so I say to you "it's about damn time."

6. I have to throw this one in here just for completeness, but I don't even want to talk about it. Not having a salary cap is insane. Sure you can claim that the small market teams mis-manage their resources and blah blah blah, but if 2/3rds of the teams in the league had signed Jason Giambi to the contract he got with the Yankees (he was making something like $22M in 2007 when he hit .236 and drove in 39 runs in 83 games) they'd have been in financial ruins for a decade. The Yankees simply pay more for a replacement to fix their idiotic mistake.

7. Again this is just for completeness, but my guess is that over half the players in the league today have, at some point in the past, used a performance enhancing banned substance. This is a problem with actually all major sports (and even minor ones, Floyd Landis good grief you are an asshole), so I guess I can't hold baseball too accountable for it, but for some reason it just feels like it got more out of hand there than in other sports. Why can they not test? What exactly is the problem here? It's 2010, we have the technology.

8. The baseball regular season requires a team to play 162 games in about 180 days. Not counting the All Star break, teams usually get 2 or 3 off days per month, which puts a very real strain on the pitching staff and requires a team specifically to carry 5 quality starting pitchers, all of whom are of about equal importance. I won't even get into how the presence of the DH in the American League makes managing a roster much easier since you never need to pinch hit for the pitcher and therefore can choose to carry one less position player and one more bullpen guy because I can't really see why that's necessarily bad beyond my basis point that the league should use the same rules in every game. So anyway, regular season, 162 games in 180 days, big grind, gotta use 5 starters, 2 off days a month, yada yada yada. Playoffs? Completely different. They last about 4 weeks and at most your team will be asked to play 19 games. Of course there is down time between the series which gives an advantage to a team that wins quickly over one that needs the full 5 or 7 games, but there are also many off days within each series. Teams often have 2 or 3 off days not per month, but per week! What does this mean? That 5th starter, the guy who took the mound for you 32 times or so during the regular season? Give him a bus ticket, there's no way he's starting a game. The 4th starter, who similarly probably pitched 32 times or something like 10-15 percent of all the innings your team played for the season? He might get 2 starts, depending on how the off days fall and if he's a big downgrade from the number 3 guy. In short, the ideal roster required to have a successful winning regular season is drastically different from the one required to win games in the playoffs. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling can just win the whole thing, and that's that.

So that's about all I can think of to complain about, although I'm sure the comments that this will generate will spark some new ideas in my brain about how this wonderful sport has gotten to be such a disaster.


Captain R said...

I think there's some truth to the theory that the blog posts that go off-topic are the most interesting to readers.

Like your standard bad beat story, runner runner, yada yada yada. Yawn.

But I know next to nothing about baseball and found this post to be in your top 5. Awesome work!

Dave said...

You knew I'd reply, right? Let me address your points one by one. You will see that I am not an apologist:

1. Two separate leagues: I don't think this is that dumb, but it's really tied to points 2 and 3. If they NEVER played each other until the WS, that'd be cool. Adding interleague play was a nice (read: attendance-booting) decision, but makes the 2 leagues obsolete. I notice you don't really complain about the NFC and AFC, though, and with interleague, that's basically what we have.

2. DH: The DH is great. Not having the NL use it IS stupid. So, I guess your main point here is accurate. But there's very little more annoying than when you have runners on 2nd and 3rd, the 8th batter coming up, and 2 outs. They walk the 8th batter and pitch to the pitcher, who is always terrible. Lame. I want to see the best players play as much as possible. I don't want to see pitchers hit, and I don't want to see pitchers yanked prematurely for better hitters.

3. Unbalanced divisions: You are absolutely right about this. If I was a fan of an NL Central team, I'd complain about this every single day.

4. Unbalanced schedule: I can't quite decide if I like it or not. Teams play 18 games or so vs. their division teams, and 6 vs. other teams in the league. I' think I'd rather see something like 12-15 intra-division and 6-9 inter-division, but then the math probably doesn't work as well.

5. Stupid interleague schedule: Yes, you're right here. I'd say this is just an artifact of 3 and 4.

6. No salary cap: Of course. There needs to be a salary cap AND a salary floor to prevent teams like the Marlins and Pirates from simply pocketing their revenue sharing money.

7. Banned substances: This is one I disagree with you completely on. In baseball, using a PED is a scarlet letter, but Shawne Merriman finished 3rd in the defensive player of the year voting the same year he tested positive for steroids. Rodney Harrison is also a noted, well-loved cheater. NFL fans don't seem to care at all about PEDs, but baseball gets a huge black eye. Is it because of the statistics and history surrounding baseball? Probably that's part of it. Here's my solution: Legalize it. If a player is CONVICTED of breaking a law by the US Gov't, then they get a suspension or what have you. Otherwise, they can do whatever they want. There's actually very little hard evidence that using PEDs enhances performance significantly, although there's tons of anecdotal evidence that everyone likes to quote. And until we start banning players for extra-marital affairs, I don't want to hear a peep about "setting an example for the kids".

8. Playoff schedule: You're right about this one too. It's stupid.

Given all of that, it's still a great sport. Many, many sports have significant problems, and a lot of them are tied to the fact that they're businesses whose only real principle is making money, not fairness or any other abstract, idealistic concepts we fans like to believe still exist. Baseball has been doing just fine on the revenue front, and so don't expect to see significant changes on any of these issues any time soon.

Patrick said...

Why do you hate the Diamondbacks?

And all the games against teams in your Division lead to a very fair picture of who is better than the other reflected in the Standings, not some stupid Big-10 football thing when a team simply doesn't play the best team in the conference and gets a free pass into a BCS game because of their awesome record.

I always knew about the Division inequity thing, but never sat down and put numbers on it like you did, so that was nice to see for sure.