By Tim Keown
Page 2

The World Series just ended, and speaking of seasons that take too long, the NBA starts tonight. Leaving the NBA alone for a moment, the problem with the baseball season isn't simply how long it takes to get to the World Series. The problem is when it gets there -- just as the weather in more than half the country changes to non-baseball weather.

The obvious solution is a 154-game season that starts a week earlier. The weather isn't always great in late March, either, but at least the games being played won't be the World Series. And it's easier to control where games are played during the regular season, too.

(The idea of a neutral site for the World Series is beyond bad. It'd be like holding Mardi Gras in suburban Cleveland, or spending spring break in Utah.)

But the bigger issue is one nobody in baseball wants to acknowledge: The World Series has declined in suspense and aesthetic value since the beginning of the wild card format. Three rounds of playoffs has cheapened the World Series, to the point where it is now the end of an endurance race, the prize at the end of a grueling trail, rather than the climax of a long season.

The wild-card format isn't going anywhere. For baseball's purposes, it works, keeping more teams interested and more fans in the stands. The extra round of playoffs means big bucks.

But six of the last nine World Series have ended in four or five games, and the extra round has to get some of the blame for that. The emphasis seems to have changed from winning the Series to simply getting there, kind of like the Super Bowl.

That's a theory, but some things are inarguable: Guys wearing ski caps in the batter's box are not good for the game. Teams with nothing left by the time they get to the World Series are not good for the game. The decreased television audience isn't good, either.

You know what they're talking about, though, right? Expanding the first round to seven games.

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And, you know, maybe get an autographed jersey or something: The Orlando Magic fan who called Dikembe Mutombo a "monkey" during a preseason game last week issued a written apology and said he would also like to apologize in person.

All I can think is, he must have some seriously nasty stuff saved up for December: Isn't it considered bad form -- kind of like peaking too early -- for a fan to break out his best racist material in the preseason?

Then again, even people who get paid to talk sometimes don't seem to know what they're saying: In the middle of a syrupy ode to Red Auerbach's advancements in racial equality -- drafted the first black NBA player, hired the first black NBA coach -- a local sports talk host where I live called Auerbach "the ultimate shyster."

Talk about bad luck -- of all the animals to choose, he had to go and choose that one: The fan told reporters he didn't know "monkey" was considered racist.

But none of his punts were blocked: Against the Ravens on Sunday, Reggie Bush had 16 yards rushing (on five carries), 5 yards receiving (on four catches), fumbled and threw an interception.

Apparently it took the clubhouse manager 17 years to perfect Carman's signature: As reported by 6 Action News in Philadelphia, a Phillies fan who sent a baseball card to former pitcher Don Carman in 1989 received the signed card in the mail this week.

There's a comeback nobody saw coming: Jeff Weaver.

That's pretty much how the rest of us sees it, too: The interim president of the Cubs says his goal in hiring Lou Piniella is to win the World Series "next year and the year after next."

Weighing both sides -- let's call it even: It's always a sad day around my house when the baseball season ends, but this year's sadness is tempered by the knowledge that we will no longer be subjected to those Tommy Lasorda commercials.

I know, let's all write the same thing for three days and see if anyone notices: If the Detroit outfielders had stayed on their feet (Curtis Granderson) and judged a line drive (Craig Monroe), we might have been spared the endless odes to the pluckiness and determination of David Eckstein.

Two guys who deserved the MVP at least as much as Eckstein but didn't have the benefit of being small and scrappy: Scott Rolen and Adam Wainwright.

A third, possibly: Weaver.

I know it's probably heretical to ask, but here goes: Does anybody -- other than those immediately affected -- really care whether Tiki Barber thinks anyone who criticizes him is an idiot?

A question nobody's asking anymore: How will the Indianapolis Colts get by without Edgerrin James?

A story nobody's writing anymore: The Edgerrin James-as-the-kind-of-leader-who-can-elevate-a-bad-franchise-like-the-Cardinals story.

The last time we heard this, it was supposed to be the last time we heard this: After losing to the Bears 41-10 -- highlighted by a 41-0 halftime score -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan said he would "stay the course."

A Super Bowl worth watching: Colts-Falcons.

And finally, after the mere act of typing the words "Go Cards," I hear an authoritative knock at the door: A Cardinals fan who printed up some non-licensed Kenny Rogers' T-shirts to sell outside Busch Stadium had her business halted by Major League Baseball, which reportedly threatened an FBI investigation because the inclusion of "Go Cards" constituted copyright infringement.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Page 2 here.



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