Recently I came across a piece by Frank DeFord, the eminent sports journalist who for many years has graced the pages of Sports Illustrated and the airwaves of National Public Radio and Home Box Office’s “Real Sports”. It’s not saying too much to count him among the most respected practitioners of his profession. I myself have admired and enjoyed his work for decades.
I guess I should not have been surprised at the thesis of his story: basically that baseball just isn’t as important a part of the national psyche as it used to be, and it should wrap itself up sooner so we can apply ourselves to the autumnal delights of college and pro football. End the season by Labor Day, reduce it to about 140 games, and increase the number of teams in the playoffs that should be tidily packaged by early October at the latest.
Mr. DeFord writes, “Like the dimwits who run college football, the fundamentalists will cry that this diminishes the regular season. OK. So what? Baseball is not an ecclesiastical calendar. It's an entertainment. Do you want to diminish the regular season, or diminish the whole sport? Because that's what the current arrangement does.”
Then last week while I was watching the Phillies and Braves showdown on MLB Network Tuesday night, Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz began talking about how there were few if any intriguing or even unsettled pennant races this season, the post-season runs too long, and really, wouldn’t 154 game season be just fine?
I can forgive Mr. DeFord his world-weariness, but I was very surprised at Messrs. Vasgersian’s and Smoltz’ sentiments. After all, these two aren’t generalist journalists of sport; they are baseball men, employed by Major League Baseball on its TV Network. I don’t mean that they should be “company men”, or follow any kind of official line, and certainly they are entitled to their opinions, but heavens to Betsy, they are just so wrong!
A week ago it did indeed look like most if not all the playoff spots were allocated and there was little or no reason to play out the remaining games. But then lo and behold, what happens, the Braves go into a tailspin, the Cardinals get hot, the Red Sox wheeze onto the brink of collapse, the Rays streak, and the Rangers and Angels are separated by a thumbnail. We are two weeks until the end of the season, and what seemed like forgone conclusions a week ago are now delicate matters that hang in the balance. In a shorter season, none of that would happen.
I hate to disagree with Mr. DeFord and I certainly don’t regard myself as a “fundamentalist” in any way, but the regular season IS an ecclesiastical calendar (or part of one as I have pointed out) and you tinker with it at your peril. So here’s to the teams scrambling for October, and their fans in St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Southern California, Texas, Atlanta and Boston who will have much to sweat about over the next, last desperate games.
Here’s the link to Mr. DeFord’s story: