Baseball, A Personal and Biased Perspective

“A hotdog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz” — Humphrey Bogart
I’m not sure just when I became a fan. In truth, I don’t think anyone ever chooses to do it. I don’t think anyone ever woke up on a Saturday morning and said to themselves, “Today is the day I learn something about baseball.” Baseball isn’t like that. Baseball, it seems to me, chooses you.

I know this: most of what I learned about baseball is thanks to my dad. And I suspect that most baseball-loving people over the past 100 years would say the same thing. Baseball is like your great-grandfather’s pocket watch handed down to you with care. A kind of inheritance, if you will, from your father, grandfather, uncle; often – but not always – a male authority figure.

Baseball fans are a unique breed. While your average baseball fan can discuss the finer points of the game in great detail, the real love the sport engenders in the avid fan is not easy to define. If you spend any time around baseball, it seeps into you in a hard-to-explain way. It’s a connecting thread in the linens of one’s life. Somehow, game by game, inning by inning, it gets in your blood, and once you’ve got it there’s no cure. Once really exposed to baseball, it will be, for now and always, a wonderful infection, deeply ingrained in your psyche. If all of this metaphor talk about baseball sounds maudlin or overly-sentimental, you are not a baseball fan. But don’t worry, there’s still hope for you.

My first exposure to baseball, as I mentioned, was thanks to my dad. Specifically, via the games we would go see played by Portland’s minor league team, the Beavers. I suppose I was about eight or nine when I saw my first game. I don’t recall the score or who the opposing team was. Maybe surprisingly, I don’t even remember whether our beloved Beavers won or lost. Being so new to the game, I didn’t understand strikes, balls, outs, steals, or anything else that seemed to be happening in some odd mixture of quiet, deliberate order counterbalanced by sudden, riotous chaos. There were cheers, boos, some running, some dust kicked up, some ball throwing, even some stealing (when my father said that a runner stole 2nd base, I recall pointing out the obvious: “No he didn’t. It’s still there.”)

I didn’t know any of the players, and couldn’t tell the catcher from the mascot. I really had no idea what was going on down there on that huge green and brown expanse. I was a baseball newborn, seeing, hearing, smelling the myriad of sensory experiences unique to this bizarre game for the very first time.

I can only recall aspects of the game that really don’t have anything to do with sports or statistics.

I will never forget my first sight of the baseball outfield as we entered the stadium, almost blindingly green. I remember the foreign bittersweet smell of beer. I remember the loose crackle of peanut shells under foot. I remember the musky smell of sod and moistened dirt, and of course, the tantalizing scent of hotdogs, and salty popcorn. There is a perfume to a baseball stadium, and it can be found nowhere else. I remember the crack of a 33 ounce bat against a five ounce leathery sphere that sounded like a gunshot echoing in the stadium while the players took batting practice before the game. Most of all, I remember the ever-present noise of the fans, like an ocean, sometimes a quiet drone, sometimes a raucous tidal wave of cheers or boos interspersed with yells of “Get your glasses on, ump!” or, “He’s gonna bunt!” or, “Pull that pitcher, he’s done!” None of this made any sense to me whatsoever.

Although I was a small boy, experiencing a hundred utterly alien and weird things on that day over 30 years ago, I was overcome with an unexpected feeling – not of being in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar place, but of being at home.

I know that this experience of mine isn’t unique. In fact it’s almost a cliche. Talk to anyone who loves the game and they will likely have a similar story to tell. But while baseball has not been my life’s passion, my appreciation of the Grand Old Game has reached a point with me where I have no choice but to look a little deeper at this odd phenomenon and explore the game in my own way.

“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” ~Walt Whitman
In 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Dave Parker and Willie Stargell, won the National League pennant. Anytime I hear their theme song, “We Are Family,” by Sister Sledge, I can’t help but envision Stargell rounding the bases in his black and yellow Pirate uniform, like some exuberant bumblebee, after one of his famous mammoth home runs.

As it happened, our local minor league team, the Portland Beavers, were the farm team for the Pirates at that time. This resulted in dad and me meeting both Stargell and Parker when they visited Portland during a Beavers exhibition game. Whatever they were like in their personal lives, I remember that Stargell and Parker exhibited all the hallmarks of the gentlemanly demeanor the institution of baseball somehow seems to instill in so many of its stars. And I recall that both of them, while graciously smiling and autographing a nonstop supply of baseballs, seemed to have hands and arms of superheroes, which, in a sense, they really were.

“When they start the game, they don’t yell, “Work ball.” They say, “Play ball.”‘ ~Willie Stargell
It was then – having met some of its legends – that I began to pay attention to baseball. Although I was already a fan of basketball and football, I found myself constantly mesmerized – if not downright confused – by baseball and its intricacies. That seeming contradiction between simplicity and complexity is but one of the enigmas of the game. Baseball is, after all, unique. Let’s remember a few things about baseball that, in my mind anyway, set it apart from other sports.

First, the game is set upon a field arranged in a rather unusual geometric shape. Rather than having a goal of some sort on each end of an elongated field (as most other sports) there is no such goal. No basket, no goal, no net. There is no linear movement from one endzone to the other.

While the specific dimensions and configuration of the lines and bases on the field are constant in major and minor league baseball, the fields themselves can vary in size and shape. The distance from home plate to the center field fence, for example, can vary as much as 35 feet from park to park.

Second, baseball is not a game depending so much on constant action as it is on moments that can unfold in a split second fastball strike, or a single swing that sends a ball over the fence and brings a home crowd to its feet (or leaves them cursing in despair). Once the pitcher fires the ball toward home plate – a journey that takes the ball about half a second – virtually anything can happen. Anything.

Critics of baseball say the game lacks athleticism and hard play. This is a little like complaining that tennis lacks enough slam dunks, or that golf doesn’t involve enough tackling. But as anyone who has played or paid close attention to the game can attest, there’s plenty of physicality in baseball. The power it takes to smack a ball over a fence 410 feet away may only be eclipsed by the sheer superhuman effort it takes to launch a fist-sized hardball into a space the size of a hubcap sixty feet away…at nearly 100 miles an hour…100 times a night…accurately.

Still, say critics, the game is slow, not enough action to satisfy the short attention spans of the modern sports fan. While the criticism seems misplaced to us baseball fans, do the critics have a point? During an average game, how much time elapses during which “something’s happening?”

To get to the bottom of this question, Wall Street Journal reporter David Biderman recently analyzed the amount of time spent in action during an average major league baseball game. “Action,” includes the time it takes for a pitcher to throw the ball, as well as the more obvious time a ball is in the air after a hit, or a player is stealing base, etc. Biderman determined that the average game had about 14 minutes of action in it.

However, as noted by Biderman, the time not spent in action during a game isn’t exactly time wasted. Between pitches, a myriad of decisions and strategic options may be weighed out. Managers may be busy consulting the hitting chart on an opposing batter before he even steps up to the plate. Catchers and pitchers are having a constant silent dialogue regarding what kind of pitch to throw and where to place that pitch, depending on a range of factors. And fielders may shift positions depending on the batter, or the game situation to increase their chances of saving runs. While the casual observer may grow frustrated by “all the standing around,” in baseball, the more involved fan knows that this time spent between pitches is where the real game of baseball is played. In short, there is always “something happening” during a baseball game.

But the critics who persist in impatiently drumming their fingers on their knees and yawning over the “slow pace” of baseball may find it interesting to learn that Biderman also determined the amount of play action during an average professional football game. Just 11 minutes.

While it’s interesting to consider these aspects of time where baseball is concerned, most aficionados know that baseball has far more to do with timing. To the novice fan, baseball looks like a sport centered on the pitcher trying to strike out the batter, and the batter trying to avoid such a fate. But to the trained eye, the battle between pitcher and hitter is one of keen decision-making and split-second timing, and it’s not a simple thing to analyze. Take pitching, for example.

It would take a supercomputer to properly determine the variables in physics involved in throwing a pitch. From the way a pitcher regulates his breath before the pitch, places his feet on the mound, and adjusts his balance, to the grip on the ball, to the wind-up (often looking like a pained contortionist, but carefully developed by each pitcher to maximize velocity and balance), to the release point (the precise moment the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand), and the amount of spin or torque applied to the ball as it is released (the arm swing measured as fast as 5,000 degrees per second!), muscles from neck to toes flexing and releasing, pitching is a perfect symphony of physiological exertion unlike anything seen in other sports.

The speed, movement, and break of a pitch largely determines its success, so the slightest deviant motion or off-balance release can make the difference between a perfectly placed strike or a wild pitch. To master all this, a good baseball pitcher is certainly more than an athlete. He’s part physicist, part sleight-of-hand magician, and part gambler.

Batting is no different. A skilled hitter is a combination of laser-like focus, spring-loaded power, and gymnastic balance at the plate. The position and angle of the bat before the pitch is released, as well as the stance, head angle, and knee bend, can be different from hitter to hitter. And then there is the swing itself. There is, as it turns out, a specific way one is supposed to swing at a pitch. Turning the upper body toward the pitcher as the ball is released, rotating the shoulders, and extending the arms only through the strike zone – not before – while following the ball with your eyes, and throwing the entire weight of your hips, arms, and shoulders into the (hopeful) contact. Got it? Good.

Of course not everyone hits this way and keen observers can recognize some ball players merely by their unique stance at the plate. For an object lesson in contrasts of batting styles among players, observe the differences between Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, and Alex Pujols at the plate; all outstanding hitters, and yet all possessing radically different batting stances and swings.

Obviously, not everyone cares about such things as whether a hitter is “pulling the ball to left field,” or how a pitcher manages to throw a ball in such a way that the trajectory actually changes in mid-flight. As fascinating as these things are to me, I know that the average sports fan probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about them. Of course many baseball fans are not “average” sports fans. They may never have held a bat in their hands, but they are students of the game and they devour minuscule pieces of baseball data the way mice gobble crumbs.

“Baseball statistics are like a girl in a bikini. They show a lot, but not everything.” ~Toby Harrah
Truthfully, the one element of baseball that was, for a time, off-putting to me is the absolute pervasive worship of The Statistic. Baseball, more than any other sport outside of world economics, maybe, takes statistics very, very seriously. Some have compared the lust for baseball statistics to a drug addiction. It seems that almost nothing can happen during a game – no matter how trivial – that isn’t being meticulously documented by somebody somewhere. We’ve all seen box scores, displaying the runs, hits, and errors, by innings for a given game. Some of us have even looked up things like “lifetime batting average,” for a given player, or “best ERA for a closer since 1955.” But this does not scratch the surface of statistical obsession with which baseball fans preoccupy themselves.

For example, were you aware that on September 5th, 2006, seven teams shut out their opponents? Or that on July 24th, 2006, the Detroit Tigers became the first team in 115 years to score 5 or more runs in the first inning of three consecutive games? Or that only two brothers ended up with the exact same batting average in the same season (Mike and Bob Garbank, in 1944, a.261 average for both). Still awake?

Well, let me let you in on a little secret: you do not need to concern yourself with such trivia in order to thoroughly and genuinely appreciate the game of baseball. But here’s an even deeper secret: the more you watch baseball, the more you will become genuinely fascinated by such seemingly meaningless facts. And you might just learn something in the process. Thanks to baseball, I learned how to calculate a pitchers ERA, a hitter’s batting average, and other (gasp!) mathematical feats.

One of the most compelling aspects of baseball to me is that it’s really a game within a game, within a game. It’s like some sort of fractal image: the closer you look, the more you see. The greater your attention, the more details are revealed. To commit to becoming a student of the game means becoming a kind of archeologist who digs deeper and is rewarded with ever more intriguing information. After more than 30 years of personal appreciation and observation, I am still learning the game. From pitch selection, to situational fielding positions, to the strategy of the batting lineup based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing starting pitcher, baseball is a bottomless well of fascination for anyone intrigued by variables, odds, statistics, and just plain luck.

I’ve rambled on about the ins and outs of baseball for some time now. But what is it about this game that really so grabs me as a fan?

I guess the answer to that runs deeper than hits, home runs, and hotdogs. I think the real answer is that baseball delivers something to my life I’ve found nowhere else: A sense of belonging. Belonging to a history, a tradition, a heritage that not only stands the test of time, but also makes time somehow irrelevant. Think about it. This game has been played, essentially the same way, since the Industrial Revolution. Through world wars. Through political upheavals. Through social unrest, and times of economic boom and dark depression. It has served as both a focal point and a distraction for numerous generations. It’s been a touchstone of American history, both reflecting and deflecting the stresses and influences at work outside the ballpark.

And it’s not just an American phenomenon. It’s nearly impossible to find a town of more than a few hundred people anywhere on the planet that doesn’t include a group of kids swinging a stick at a ball, many with dreams of one day knocking a walk-off homerun out of the park in the bottom of the 9th inning of a World Series game 7. (Hey, I still have that dream too!)

“The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.” ~Bryant Gumbel
Baseball has it’s losers and champions, heroes and goats, its integrity and, yes, its scandals. Like the men who play the game, baseball itself isn’t perfect. But somehow, in some mysterious way, baseball inspires, enthralls, and entertains like no other sport.

As for me, I’m grateful dad took me to that first game. I’m happy to have baseball as a part of my life and education. And I’ve learned more than a few things from baseball over the years. From Babe Ruth, I’ve learned that the mystique of history can endure into the postmodern age. From Jackie Robinson I’ve learned that the power of a man’s spirit and skill can overwhelm the bitterness of prejudice. From Lou Gehrig I learned that we are all ultimately mortal, and yet all capable of performing superhuman feats. From Derek Jeter I learned that you don’t have to be a jerk to win: it’s possible to succeed with both style and grace. From Cal Ripkin Jr. who played a staggering record 2,131 consecutive games, I learned the value of resilience, determination, and guts. From Bill Buckner I learned that major league mistakes don’t change the fact that life goes on. From Yogi Berra I learned that “Baseball is ninety percent mental, the other half is physical.” The list goes on.

A few years ago, my dad and I took my son to his first Portland Beavers baseball game. I don’t remember much about the game. I don’t recall the opposing team. I don’t even recall whether our beloved Beavers won or lost. What I do recall is a great feeling of satisfaction, that I was now able to do what dad had done for me by introducing him to this strange and wonderful world of strikes, steals, and sliders.

Little had changed since my first game. The smell of beer and hotdogs still permeated the air. The field was just as green, the fans just as boisterous, the crack of the bat just as sharp. And, sometime around the 6th inning, sitting there in the stands with my father and son, I recall the distinct and irreplaceable feeling of being at home.

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Major League Baseball Playoffs – Is There a Better Way?

Being that it is October and the postseason of Major League Baseball is currently in progress, I thought that I’d devote a few moments of my time to share my thoughts with all of you about some alternative ways Major League Baseball could use, or has used, to promote a great postseason experience for everyone. I firmly believe there are a number of scenarios that could improve the game. I’m going to share three of those scenarios with you, and also, I’ll be sharing some pros and cons of each scenario. You may also learn some history and facts about Major League Baseball that you may not have already known previous to reading this post.

First, let’s discuss Major League Baseball’s current postseason format.

Right now, Major League Baseball operates under the new “Divisional Play Rules,” which, when restructured following the 1994 player strike, state that there are to be three divisions in each league, the East, West and Central Divisions. The team with the best win-loss record in each division after the regular season ends will compete in the playoffs, and one Wild Card team (the team in each league with the best win-loss record out of all the teams who did not win a Division Title) will compete in the playoffs. The current MLB playoffs consist of a Divisional Series (best-of-five games), a League Championship Series (best-of-seven games) and World Series (best-of-seven games). Typically, the #1 seed (Division Champion with the best regular season record) plays the #4 seed (Wild Card) and the #2 seed (Division Champion with the 2nd best record) plays the #3 seed (Division Champion with the 3rd best record) in the initial, Divisional Series. Four total Divisional Series take place, two in each league. The winners of each Divisional Series will compete with each other in their corresponding league’s Championship Series. Two total League Championship Series will take place, one in each league. The winner of each series is crowned as either National League Champions or as American League Champions, depending on the league in which they compete. Each will represent their respective league in the World Series. The winner of the World Series is crowned as the World Champion of Baseball.

Your probably also wondering how Major League Baseball determines which teams will host certain games of each series, and how many games each team will host. Home-field advantage is based strictly on regular season records, but this only holds true in the Divisional Series and the League Championship Series. The #1 seed in each league entering the playoffs has clinched home-field advantage for their entire league playoffs. If the #1 seed is eliminated following Divisional Series play, the team with the next best record who is not a Wild Card will hold home-field advantage for the League Championship Series. A Wild Card team can NEVER hold home-field advantage during league playoffs. Usually, teams in each Divisional Series follow a 2-2-1 format (the team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games and, if necessary, the final game of the series), but this can vary depending on the length of the series that the top seeded team chooses to play (the top seeded team of each series can decide on the length of over how many days the games of the series take place). For example, the top seed can choose to have the series played over a total of 5 games in 6 days or a total of 5 games in 8 days. This choice could ultimately change the format of the series, which is at Major League Baseball’s discretion. The League Championship Series ALWAYS follows a 2-3-2 format (team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games, and, if necessary, the final two games.) The length of over how many days the series is played and, also, which days the teams do not play is decided by Major League Baseball. Again, the team with the best regular season record who is not a Wild Card will hold home-field advantage for the LCS.

The topic of home-field advantage in the World Series has become one of the most hotly debated issues in the sports world. Previous to 2003, the two teams competing in the Fall Classic decided who held home-field advantage based on who had the best regular season record. This was soon dramatically changed. Following 2002, Major League Baseball, and Commissioner Bud Selig, ruled that the All-Star Game each July would determine which league would hold home-field advantage in the World Series each October. This was, in large part, due to the All-Star Game disaster that took place in July 2002. During that game, which was held at Miller Park in Milwaukee, both mangers approached Commissioner Selig during the 7th inning and informed him that they were both out of players. Selig ruled that the game would end, right then, in a tie. In my opinion, Commissioner Selig had no other choice. Had he kept the game going, players would have been at an increased risk for injury and pitchers would have been overthrown, affecting their respective team’s strategy in the weeks following the All-Star Game. This decision resulted in much criticism from the press, players, and fans. Baseball had to do something to prevent this occurrence from ever happening again. So, the Commissioner, owners, board members, and MLB Player’s Association (MLBPA) heads got together to figure out a solution. The result: the All-Star game would determine home-field advantage each season for the World Series. The game was actually going to mean something more than just plain old bragging rights, and, in addition, extra players would be added to the rosters of each league’s team. This final decision resulted in even more criticism than that of the decision to end the game in a tie. I do not personally believe that making the game count was the best move, but that’s a topic for a future post. The All-Star Game was meant, simply, to be an exciting experience and a terrific opportunity for fans and players. People believed that Major League Baseball’s decision to make the game count demeaned the actual intentions the league had when it began the playing of the Summer Classic in 1933. (The All-Star Game began as a fun addition to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. It was the brainchild of The Chicago Tribune sports editor, Arch Ward. The game has grown into one of the most prolific events in professional sports. In the years following Major League Baseball’s acceptance of the infamous game, every single professional sport in America has followed with its own variation of an All-Star Game.)

Anyhow, the World Series ALWAYS follows the 2-3-2 format, and home-field advantage is decided based on the result of the All-Star Game. The league that wins the Summer Classic will give their league champion home-field advantage in the Fall Classic. The “Designated Hitter Rule” is in effect when playing at an American League park (the “DH rule” was initiated in 1973 by the American League as a solution to having a much lower attendance rate than their counterpart National League). The rule is another controversial one, and it is one that I absolutely despise. It contradicts the first rule in the book of baseball. Rule 1.1 (Official Major League Rulebook) states that “baseball is a game of two teams, each side consisting of a total of nine players.” When the “DH rule” is in effect, it is in direct violation of Rule 1.1. Again, the World Series is a best-of-seven game series. The first team to win four games is crowned as World Champion.

Now that you are familiar with the current Major League Baseball postseason setup, here are three other possible scenarios baseball could go with, or once had gone with:

Scenario #1, “The Purist’s Way”: Previous to 1969 (the season in which Divisional Play began), the team in each league with the best win-loss record after the regular season would meet in the only playoff series of the year, the World Series. There are no Divisional Series or League Championship Series played when using this format. This format was used from 1901 (the first season in which a World Series was held) to 1968 (the final season of non-Divisional play). Baseball purists are almost always advocates of this format, as it was the first format ever used to crown a champion between the two competing leagues. A TON of arguments can be used when debating whether or not this format was a useful one. First off, purists argue that having only one team make the playoffs from each league results in a much more exciting and competitive regular season. They argue that a Wild Card team has no place in the playoffs and that Wild Card teams are winning and competing in too many World Series because of the current postseason format. Purists also argue that this is the way Major League Baseball had intended when crowning a World Champion.

Because of the way in which money and economic status dominate the game in modern times, owners and investors of the game have a much more formidable argument as to why this format is no good: including more teams in the postseason will result in a greater amount of profits from ticket sales, advertisements, and other resources. With more teams participating in October baseball, there are more games being played. This directly results in much, much more money being made from ads in the stadium and through alternative viewing platforms (such as television, the internet, 3G devices, and Apple Inc.’s iPod), a greater number of tickets sold because there are more games being played, and much greater non-ticket profits from a variety of team merchandise, concession sales, and also via franchise bonuses from Major League Baseball. Also, with more teams in the postseason, more organizations are able to present their “product” (or team) to a wider variety of consumers. Instead of their game only being broadcasted regionally, team’s games are broadcast to the entire nation and to different parts of the world. This attracts newer fans in huge numbers, something every MLB organization is trying to accomplish in attempting to compete in the playoffs.

Purists cannot stand the argument of business and economics being brought into the conversation of the game. They believe that baseball was never about the money and, also, that baseball being promoted as such a big-time, big money-making business is demeaning to the game itself. In reality, professional baseball is all about making money. The game going professional was a business venture that investors used to reel in the big bucks, although most want to believe that the formation of Major League Baseball held other meanings. Once again, every professional sport, baseball included, is all about making money. That is why “The Purist’s Way” will never again be considered as a legitimate format for Major League Baseball playoffs.

Scenario #2, “The Pre-Divisional Series Format”: If more games being played can result in even higher profits, why not incorporate more games, more teams, and maybe a whole new series into the postseason? This type of scenario is one that is not usually discussed when debating alternative MLB playoff formats, however, I’m not sure why. After all, the three other major professional sports in America (NFL, NBA, and NHL) have all incorporated an extra playoff series (NBA and NHL) or an extra week of playoff games (NFL) into their league’s playoff formats. All three sports have done so in different variations, but based on the same profitable concept. All recognized that a significant amount of money could be made by expanding on their sport’s playoff format. This theory has worked out exceptionally well for each sport, and it has resulted, not only in the expansion of each respective sport, but, in a profit increase for each team competing, as well as a profit increase for each individual league. This scenario also gives more teams more opportunities to get involved in the postseason. The greater probability of making the playoffs excites most fans and tends to encourage more fans to frequently follow up on how their favorite team is doing. If a team has fans that believe their team has a chance, those fans are going to come to the games more often. They may also tune into alternative viewing platforms, which could result in higher profits via advertisements.

Purists argue that allowing more teams into the postseason, once again, results in a much less competitive regular season. They also argue that when you allow too many teams into the playoffs, there will be significant numbers of sub-par teams that do not belong. The purists that buy into the concept of baseball as a business say that fans will not turn out to as many regular season games, believing the season is less competitive and far less important when you allow more teams into the playoffs. Purists deny that this scenario would be effective when considering baseball, although most purists intensely reject change to the game itself. There are many examples that lead me to believe that this scenario might actually work and be good for baseball.

The National Basketball Association is a prime example of this scenario being put to good use. The NBA decided, just recently, to incorporate an extra playoff series into their postseason format. The league came together and came up with the idea to add Conference Quarterfinals to the postseason. This decision resulted in a total of four extra teams from around the league being able to compete in the NBA’s playoffs each and every year. The decision to expand on their playoff format has led to good results for the NBA and for the game of basketball. Not only is more money being made, but the league is attracting a significant amount of new basketball fans. Take China for example. There are now an estimated 300 million basketball fans there now. That’s the entire United States population! The growth of the booming NBA market can be linked to the idea of expanding the playoffs. Of all major basketball broadcasts in China, over 60 percent are related to the NBA postseason. Generating millions of new fans provides a much larger consumer base that the league and its teams can profit from and draw upon. When new markets are created, there are millions upon billions of dollars of profit that have just been created as well.

Let’s also not forget how exciting the new NBA playoffs have become. The NBA playoffs provide some of the most improbable, stunning and exciting games of the year in sports. I’d also like to point out that having longer playoffs may also weed out the teams that do not belong. An NBA team must win a total of 16 games over four best-of-seven playoff series. Winning that consistently is what separates the good teams from the great teams, and it may also result in the sub-par teams eventually being eliminated. In a long playoff format, teams must prove themselves. This is the answer to the purist’s belief that too many sub-par teams are let in via this scenario.

NBA playoff series, as well as NHL playoff series, all consist of best-of-seven game formats. This brings us to our next type of scenario.

Scenario #3, “The Seven Game Divisional Series”: For the last decade, ever since the institution of the Divisional Series, people have been arguing over the length of the five-game playoff. They want to know why the series is so short and why it’s not the same length as the other two MLB postseason series that are now in effect. The only answers to these questions that I can provide is that the series is so short due to Major League Baseball and the MLBPA being iffy when finalizing the decision to expand with a Divisional Series. At the time this decision was made, the process of purifying the game of baseball was at a high point and was, you could say, on Major League Baseball’s “to-do list.” You may not believe this fact because of the amount of change that took place following the 1994 player strike. But just take into consideration that the idea of keeping the game pure may have been on the minds of people who factored into making the final decision to change the playoff format. These people of Major League Baseball faced the daunting task of trying to devise a plan to increase profits as a direct result of the players demanding higher wages. This, while trying not to upset baseball fans by enforcing too much change. Before the players declared a strike, fans were horrified by the thought that baseball may never again be the same. Major League Baseball knew this. They had to find a way to keep everyone happy. They did not want to over-expand the postseason, so they increased the number of games that would be played in the League Championship Series and equaled the number of games played in the Divisional Series to that of the League Championship Series from 1969 to 1993. By doing such a thing, Major League Baseball felt they had found a way to sufficiently increase profits while not interfering too much with the pureness of the game. (I’m still unable to answer why the LCS was a short five games when that type of format was instituted in 1969. I can say that pre-World Series playoff series were a brand new concept to Major League Baseball at the time, and the pureness factor has to also be considered. Keeping the game pure had to be even more important to baseball then when compared to the 1994-95 format changes. The postseason had been virtually the same for nearly 68 years up to that point, except for the change in the length of the World Series from nine games to seven games in 1920. At the time when playoff format was changed and expanded for the first time ever, changes in season routines were unheard of, as well as unwanted. Baseball had to do whatever it could as to not affect the routine too much, just like in 1994-95.)

Now that the acceptance of the current MLB postseason format has taken full effect, why not match the idea of the other major professional sports by making the number of games played in each series an equal one? Most believe that five games are not currently enough to decide on a series victor. I, for one, believe that the five-game Divisional Series has resulted in way too many Wild Card teams winning the World Series or, for that matter, even competing in the World Series. Remember the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals? That team won a total of 83 games in the regular season. 83 games! What a pitiful win percentage for a playoff team (.512). They entered the postseason as the #4 seeded Wild Card team in the National League and they proceeded to become World Champions. If you look at their performance in the Divisional Series, you might think that if there had been an extra two games added to the series (meaning the organization would have had to win one more game), the Cardinals would not have advanced. This concept can be applied to several teams playing in the Divisional Series since 1995. Adding two extra games to the Divisional Series may quiet the baseball purists who are against the outrageous number of Wild Card teams getting into and winning the World Series. Also, adding two more games would, again, increase profits, although not by much as it is just two more games in a series.

The facts are that while the game of baseball itself and the way the game is played have so greatly evolved, the players, owners, league, and fans have all resisted other changes that have been imposed upon the game.

There are many who love the game because of its spontaneity, and then, there are many who love the game for its immortal legends. There are some who hate baseball for what it has become, and there are some who hate baseball for what it once was. There are purists and then there are modernists, statisticians and enthusiasts. There are owners and there are managers. There are players, critics, and fans. There is umpiring and there is official scoring. There are organizations, franchises, associations, and teams from cities big and small. The game has seen rage from a fierce competitor who once beat a man in the stands who had no hands, it has seen a nation fall in love with the right arm of a cool-headed pitcher who preached spirituality, a man who was so adored that his hometown now devotes an entire holiday in his honor. It has seen two best-friends from different walks of life put on a home-run display unlike any other, only for that summer to soon be forgotten because of the two men’s appearances in front of grand juries in order to explain their alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. The game saw a nation provide no appreciation for a man they all hated, a man who broke the most hallowed record in all of sports. The hate was all because they believed he used drugs to alter his performance.

Baseball is a game that saw a 1922 Supreme Court ruling be upheld, a ruling that stated the game was, somehow, not interstate commerce, thus, becoming the first business to be exempt from a group of laws that no business had, or has, ever beat. It also saw a group of eight men, “Black Sox” if you will, have to appear in court because they were believed to having accepted money to throw the 1919 World Series. The game has seen a player hit a home run to win a World Series just twice, both times a feat that lifted the respective cities to the top of the sporting world. It has seen a team win a World Championship an unprecedented 26 times, watched another team win its first World Championship in over 86 years, and it has witnessed one team suffer a miserable 100 years, and counting, without winning a single World Championship for themselves or for their beloved city. The game saw a team fall behind three games to none in a League Championship Series, only to come storming back and win the series in seven games, a feat never before accomplished. Baseball twice has seen a team finish with the worst record in the league one season, and then finish with the best record in the league the following season. Baseball has seen just three men hit over 700 home runs, one of which became the face of baseball forever as he captured the essence of an ever-changing sport. He was a man who helped a country forget about its greatest economic demise with only the crack of his bat.

The game of baseball has seen the good and the bad. However, it is a game that can never be matched. It is a game that has defined a country through thick and thin, and it is a game people turned to when they needed more than help. It is the only game in which its legends will be forever immortalized for what they did on the field, and often times, for what they did off of it. Perhaps the postseason format that baseball decides upon will never again change, and maybe it doesn’t even make a difference. Whatever happens, we will always know that the game’s history is written with every pitch, and, we hope that the game will be there for us when we face darker times; we hope it is there for us just as it has been for the last 150 years. We hope when we do have trouble in life there will be something we can turn to, and we hope that answer will be the game of baseball.

Baseball may just be a game, but it’s a game that has held a special place in the hearts of billions of people ever since its creation. Baseball is unlike anything else we know of. For that reason, the game’s significance will never be compared to anything else, ever.

My name is Chris Barfield and I am a 19 year old who is extremely passionate about sports. I have just begun writing a blog entitled BARFIELD SPORTS. At BARFIELD SPORTS you can get weekly news on the top stories from all of the major sports. We also feature each day’s headlines from both Sports Illustrated and, the worldwide leader in sports, ESPN. In the recent future, the blog will begin to be used to write product reviews for various advertisers, but the sports articles will continue to be written and, probably, at an even higher frequency than they are being written right now. At BARFIELD SPORTS, we also offer a Google Search bar, a YouTube Video Search bar (with featured videos updated daily), and even a variety of feature minigames that are updated

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