It has been, as usual, a magical autumn filled with play fakes and head fakes, trick formations and trap blocks, sneaks and sleights and gadgets and gimmicks.
Yet, as usual, nothing has disappeared faster than major league baseball.
One moment there was a wonderfully noisy pennant race. The next moment it was so quiet you could hear a rating point drop.
One moment, we were marveling at the heartening end of a timeless marathon. The next moment, we were yawning over the silly steps of a manufactured sprint.
One moment, there were players spilling champagne over each other in celebration of one of sport’s most difficult achievements. The next moment, well, it’s been nearly two weeks and guys are still pouring champagne over each other and we’re not sure why.
One moment, the country cared. The next moment, much of it didn’t, and why should it?
I am writing this column on a classic fall Thursday in the middle of a dramatically crisp October afternoon, yet there is not even a hint of baseball’s Fall Classic or dramatic October.
There was no baseball played on Thursday. There was no baseball played on Wednesday. All four remaining teams, in fact, won’t be in action together until Saturday, when the first league championship series doubleheader will compete directly with college football, a decision that makes about as much sense as USC’s defense.
Baseball’s postseason rests when it should play, and plays when it should rest, and behaves so differently from the regular season that it’s almost not baseball at all.
Baseball’s postseason is too long on the calendar, not long enough on the field, too late on the clock, way too late on the weather report, and generally the kind of autumn visitor who used to help decorate your house, and now pummels it with pumpkin rinds.
Baseball’s postseason needs help and, as usual, I’m here for it.
Here are five things that must change about postseason baseball, one for every skinny middle infielder who will soon show up on your TV screen wearing a ridiculous ski cap and gloves.
Stretch the first round
I know, this sounds crazy because the postseason currently ends so late, but stay with me here.
The Cincinnati Reds were one of baseball’s best stories for six months, yet they were eliminated in 9 hours and 13 minutes. The Minnesota Twins were the one of the pulses of the long baseball summer, yet they were knocked out in a heartbeat.
Does baseball really think that after taking 162 games to decide playoff participants, it is fair to take only five games to knock some of them out? Both the NBA and NHL have seven-game first rounds, and the ticket to baseball’s postseason is more grueling and exclusive than either of those two sports.
And stretching the first round will not make the postseason longer or colder if baseball makes this second big change…
Shorten the regular season
This could save the postseason like cutting off an infected toe could save a leg.
Cut the regular season back to 154 games, and don’t look so shocked, because history confirms it works. In fact, baseball has played more 154-game schedules (59) than 162-game schedules (49).
So some regular-season statistics would need an asterisk. Like they don’t need one already? The stats that steroids didn’t kill will survive. Hey, to break baseball’s most venerable remaining record, you only need 57 games, right?
So owners lose a few home dates? They will gain the money back in a better postseason television deal for a World Series that ends under the pleasant skies of mid-October. Last year on Nov. 4 in Philadelphia — the date and possible place of this year’s World Series Game 7 — the temperature dipped to 37 degrees. Play ball!
Take the weekends off
While baseball has been snoozing on its increasingly outdated bed of tradition, football has become this country’s national pastime. So stop fighting the NFL, stop competing with everybody’s alma mater, and learn to make a new niche.
Schedule all postseason games on Monday through Friday, with Monday being a day game because of “Monday Night Football.” No days off during this time. Make it replicate the regular season, something that doesn’t happen now. This year’s division series ratings were down 9.4%, so how much help could the weekends be?
Play more day games
Everyone wants them, but nobody has the courage to actually schedule them. For baseball’s postseason, those games are oxygen. The benefits won’t be clearly visible immediately, but without their intermittent charm, the postseason becomes a collection of long and late and yawn.
How far has the game strayed from its roots? Baseball spent about two days this fall bragging about a 2011 World Series schedule that includes one special game with the earliest start in 24 years.
The first pitch will be — woo hoo! — 6:57 p.m. Eastern. Are you kidding me?
Enough of the champagne
It’s understandable that baseball, alone among all team sports, celebrates playoff-clinching victories with bubbly celebrations. It’s a long season, they deserve it.
But they do not deserve to celebrate like New Year’s Eve nuts just three wins later. And then again just four wins after that. The excessive partying in earlier rounds devalues the perception of the World Series, which is what all of these changes are designed to fix.
Well, that’s all for now. Gotta run. It’s a fall Thursday night and I’m sure there’s a football game on somewhere.