Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game
“September Song”, lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, music by Kurt Weill (as recorded by Frank Sinatra, April 13, 1965)
So here we are gang approximately 130 games in the books, five months down, one to go and the most exciting baseball of the season is before us. The Dog Days are past, the waiver-wire trades are complete, call-ups from the bushes have arrived to swell dugouts like overloaded lifeboats, reputations will be made, and hearts will be broken.
Nothing compares to September baseball. The daily drama is compelling as the leaders strive to maintain their status and jockey for position, the contenders try to elbow their way in, and the also-rans transform from doormats to spoilers as their players fight for next year’s jobs.
The importance of each game, each pitch, and each play becomes almost excruciating. If Major League Baseball has done anything right over the past fifteen or so years, it has been to create enough potential opportunity for post-season play to keep fans from half its cities engaged and interested.
Despite its inequities in payrolls and revenues, MLB has produced a surprising and admirable competitive balance in the first decade of this century. In the NL, only the Nationals, Pirates, and Reds have failed to appear in October, and this season the Reds are well on track to win their division. In the AL, even more amazingly considering the presence of the plutocratic Yankees and Red Sox, only Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City and Texas haven’t been asked to the dance, and little can stop the Rangers from crashing this year’s party.
Fans of long tenure will tell you there is little about today’s game that is superior to the game from five, six, or more decades past, but believe me, when there were only two eight-team leagues and the World Series was the only post-season there was, at most four or five teams remained in contention by the calendar’s turn in Meteorological Autumn. This is much, much better.
Can the Atlanta Braves who were post-season perennials return in Bobby Cox’s valedictory season? Can the proud Phillies, bolstered by their two Roys, endure the indignity of injuries to their superstars to take another shot at a World Series? Are the revived Reds going to make the Queen City proud? Can the Cardinals claim what they feel is their birthright? What about those astounding Padres, picked to finish last and leading the entire NL? How about the Giants, bolstered by aging sluggers but suddenly finding their vaunted pitching taking on water? The Rockies, talented and feeling like they can go on a month-long winning streak? And the Dodgers, themselves wanting to give Joe Torre a parting gift of a final post-season appearance? Can they find the stuff they need to win? And do I need to mention a scintillating Triple Crown duel between the brilliant first basemen Albert Pujols of St. Louis and Joey Votto of Cincinnati?
The American League has its own share of compelling storylines, as the Yankees and Rays thunder down the stretch, each capable of winning 100 games while the Red Sox gamely try to stay in the hunt while, like the Phillies, licking their wounds from their missing stalwarts. The Red Sox start every season with the objective of winning 95 games, and this year they may in fact do it, yet find themselves on the outside, looking in.
In the AL Central the Twins are inaugurating their splendid new ballpark with what looks like another divisional crown while the White Sox have not thrown in the towel. In the West, the Rangers look like they will claim their division title this year, although the Athletics and habitual champion Angels might yet have some say in the outcome. Keeping baseball on the radar screen in North Texas as high school, college, and the NFL start will be no mean achievement.
I love it, I really do, and I hope you have as much fun as I will.