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Bud Selig is a Blind Pig

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I mean no offense, Allan.

You know the old saw about blind pigs and acorns, right? Proposition: Bud Selig is just such a blind pig. And a pretty lucky blind pig, at that.

I'm not a fan of Mr. Allan H. Selig. I harbor no particular ill will toward him - although he was in cahoots to contract my favorite team. But we have a (fabulous) new stadium now as our home for the foreseeable future. I'm willing to let bygones be bygones.

But Buddy has been a busy boy. He certainly wouldn't be eligible for the title of 'do nothing commissioner'. He has made changes both big and small during his tenure. I won't try to compile a comprehensive catalogue, but Mr. AHS has overseen the following changes to our beloved game:

  • Relative stability in labor negotiations (following the strike of '94)
  • Interleague play
  • Wild card teams
  • Divisional realignment
  • Drug testing (after years of relative laxity) - for which the players union deserves some co-ownership
  • Expansion
  • All Star Game winner determines WS home field
  • World Baseball Classic
  • Revenue sharing

You are free to debate which of these are acorns and which are… well… not acorns. But it seems to me that many of Bud's brainchildren - many of which seemed like a pretty bad idea at the time - have eventually led to an overall improvement.

I speak as a traditionalist - I liked it most when you had to win your division to make the playoffs. Better yet when you had to win your league. This is not right or wrong, this is just my opinion - stated to put the following observations into their proper context.

Bud's latest two maneuvers are, I think good examples of the 'bad idea ultimately leads to good result' formula.

I speak, of course, of the newly added 'extra' wild card teams and the pending realignment resulting in two 15-team leagues.

Extra Wild Cards - subtraction through addition

I was not a fan of bringing wild card teams to baseball, even as it has proven to be a boon for attendance, revenue, interest - and even occasionally for the playoff prospects of my local team. Even with those benefits acknowledged, it still 'diluted' the playoff field and reduced the importance of winning your division. In fact, wild card teams have faired pretty well in the revised playoff format.

There have been 17 years with wild card teams in the playoffs. In only 4 years have both wild card teams lost in the Divisional Series round (about what you'd expect with a coin flip). 10 wild card teams have made it to the World Series (about what you'd expect with a coin flip). 5 wild card teams have won the World Series (about what you'd expect with a coin flip - are you sensing a pattern?). In other words, being a wild card has been no advantage nor disadvantage in terms of a team's likelihood to succeed in the playoffs.

Does this mean that the wild card was a positive innovation because the wild card teams are obviously 'playoff caliber'? Does this mean that the playoff 'tournament' is a crap shoot and any team in the bracket has a roughly equal chance regardless of their incoming record? Does this mean nothing because 17 years and 34 teams is a small sample?

I don't know about any of those, but it does mean that the team that didn't win its division has (thus far) had pretty much the same chance as the other three teams that did. I don't like that.

Enter Bud.

By expanding to two wild cards and by having those two teams face each other in a one-game playoff to earn entry to the playoffs, Bud has fixed this problem. "Subtraction through addition."

By definition, half of the wild card teams each year won't get a chance to play more than one postseason game. Further, the one-and-done nature of the wild card game will encourage each team to play as though their playoff lives depend upon winning -which, of course, they do. They'll pull out every stop to win that one game (use their best starter, stretch their closer, keep starters in a little longer, start a catcher who could use a little rest). Anyone who argues otherwise hasn't watched game 163.

The 'expected' result is that the wild card winner will enter its Divisional Series at a little bit of a disadvantage. It will be interesting to see if that's how it works out. But the point is that it will be interesting. The playoffs just got better and more interesting.

Of course, there's every chance they'll screw it up again. For example, they might expand the wild card playoff to a 'series'. That would be stupid, money grubbing, and a needless extension of playoffs. A one game playoff isn't fair, it's arbitrary and a little bit cruel to the teams involved. As it should be. Want to avoid that fate? Win your damn division. Expanding that playoff to even a 3-game series in the name of 'fairness' takes all the sting out of it. Will they leave it alone? Doubtful. But it will be fun while it lasts.

League Realignment - there goes the 'Non DH' rule

Bud wanted (really wanted) interleague play. I detested the idea. He got his way. It was interesting - for awhile. Now it's just sort of 'there' almost like a mini-exhibition season in the middle of the year. The games never felt like they 'counted' quite as much, even as my favorite team fattened up on NL competition. I think even Bud would admit that the novelty has worn off.

Hence, "let's move Houston to the AL".

Now we will have two 15-team leagues with constant interleague play. Open the season against a team from the other league? Yep - it'll happen every damn year. Interrupt your pennant race with a series in an NL park where your pitchers have to bunt, bat and 'be on'? Yep - count on it. That's just stupid. But, that's what we'll be treated to - starting next year - every year.

But… from such a giant turd a little acorn grows.

This change will lead to the ultimate eradication of the NL, "non-DH" rule.

I'll remind you at this point to scroll back up to the top of this post, where I identify myself as a traditionalist. I grew up watching a lot of NL ball. (Atlanta and Chicago on the 'superstations.') I liked the late inning strategy, the double switch, the 'easy out' at the end of the lineup and the 'good hitting pitcher'. When I became a Twins fan, it was begrudgingly and in spite of the DH-rule. (The Twins made up for it by winning a World Series in the first year I followed them - and then did it again four years later. Thanks guys; made the trip across the league boundary all worthwhile.)

But if you think the DH rule is ever going away, you're fooling yourself.

As far as I know - and I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong - the National League is the only organized league above Legion Ball where the pitcher hits for himself. College ball, summer wood bat leagues, minor leagues, Japan - all of 'em use the DH. But the ultimate reason why the DH will never go away is that the players' union would never allow it. Why would they voluntarily reduce the employment market for 15-20 players (starting DHs and/or pinch hitters with little or no defensive value). There's no way that happens. Ever.

Now, this is NOT a post about whether the DH-rule is evil or the best thing to happen to baseball since readily available amphetamines. You can have that argument on your own time.

What I AM postulating here is that the movement of the Houston Astros to the AL will eventually lead to the introduction of the DH into the NL. Why?

Right now, with interleague play, the idea of AL pitchers hitting for themselves is a 'unique' thing. It's constrained to two specific periods in the season. AL teams can plan for it and work it into their practice routines. And then they can forget about it. Even NL teams will adjust their rosters, calling up a AAA player to back-fill for the bench player who is going to be getting time as a DH during the interleague periods.

Not after this year. All the AL teams will be forced to have their pitchers ready to "hit"pretty much all year. All the NL teams are going to have to plan for a DH-lineup as part of their roster planning. In effect, this step DOES unify the two leagues' DH rule. As of 2013, the DH-rule for both leagues will be "DH and No-DH."

This won't last long. Maybe we'll see a rash of injuries similar to AJ Burnett's tragic bunting accident. Or maybe an AL contender will be forced to leave one of it's offensive weapons on the bench in a crucial series in September. Or maybe managers and GMs will just get tired of trying to plan for two rules at once. I'm not sure what the precipitating event will be, but I’m sure that at some point, "this is stupid" will outweigh "this is tradition". And that will be the end of pitchers in the batters box.

And whatever you think of the DH-rule, the consistency will be a positive thing. You might not like it, but it will be progress.

And we'll have Bud, the blind pig, to thank for it.

I guess.


Updated 03-05-2012 at 01:31 PM by ThatsRich

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