The Dog Days. The ancients bequeathed us this term because during this time of year, typically the hottest, stickiest, most uncomfortable stretch of summer weather, they noticed that our star Sol rose in tandem with one of the brightest objects in the winter night sky, the star Sirius, named “The Dog Star”. Thinking that Sirius added its heat to that of Sol, these weeks were termed, appropriately enough, “The Dog Days of Summer.”
In baseball The Dog Days refers to something particular and characteristic of this segment of arc of Championship Play. We are beginning the final third of the season, and The Dog Days is the “first half of the final third.” Besides the torpid weather, teams are just getting tired. Key players are getting hurt: Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox, and Martin Prado of the Braves. Scores are lopsided and disproportionate, 18-4, 15-3…pitchers are getting tired. Teams are looking to bring up fresh arms, if they are lucky enough to have them.
The Dog Days begin right on August 1, denoted by The Trade Deadline. While August trades can and do happen, players must now be moved through waivers, as I discussed in my last article. They will end on September 1, right around Labor Day, at a time when around 30 games remain, and pennant races are decided in earnest.
“Pretenders” and “contenders” separate themselves in August. Teams that have overachieved heretofore are often exposed. Underperforming habitually successful teams often assert themselves. Some of the doormats begin to find the role of “spoiler”, which adds zest and relish to otherwise dismal campaigns.
The baseball season is a marathon, a grind, a slog. It is a war of attrition. Players, even great ones, wear down. Arms get tired. Bats get slow. Concentration wavers. It is a time when clutch performances and extraordinary efforts add luster to reputations and help teams reach towards the objective of the post-season.
These next four weeks will prove decisive in at least a few of the divisional races. In the pre-1969 world of Major League Baseball, when only two teams advanced to the World Series, pennant races were often over by the end of August (if not sooner), and attendance in many cities would flag as a result. Today, with six divisions and two wild-cards, interest in more cities holds for longer. In fact, about now we can start talking about the “Wild Card Division” in each league.
Cy Young Award winners, Most Valuable Players, Rookies of the Year, Batting Champions, Home Run Kings…The Dog Days will inevitably define who those people will be.
Relax and enjoy. Have a cold drink. Listen to game on the radio. Watch one on TV (there are so many opportunities these days!). The Dog Days will soon give way to the cooling breezes of September when Crunch Time arrives.