- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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There's nothing better than epic, must-see postseason baseball.
Too bad we didn't witness a whole lot of that this October.
We would love to believe that this disappointing Octoberfest was one of those things, just some freak occurrence we could file under "Stuff Happens." But we're not so sure of that.
The more we look at the evidence, the more it's beginning to appear as if baseball may have inflicted this curse on itself -- by treating its postseason as if it were just another fall reality show. Is it "Pitching With the Stars" or "America's Next Top Rich Guy"?
We're now into Year 13 of the stretched-out, three-tiered postseason. But this year, thanks to accommodations to chasing ratings and Fox's prime-time needs, baseball went to new lengths to wriggle its October showcase into super-stretch mode.
So how's that working out? Is "disaster" too strong a word? And the problems started long before this October gave us the special magic that only five sweeps out of seven total series can produce. Let's take a look.
- • Since the postseason went to three rounds in 1995, only three World Series have reached a Game 7, and fewer than half of those 13 World Series (six, to be exact) have even made it to Game 6.
• Now contrast that to the olden days of division play, when the postseason lasted only two rounds. In the 25 years under that format, 64 percent of all World Series (16 of 25) lasted at least six games. And 40 percent (10 of 25) went seven.
• Meanwhile, we've already had more World Series sweeps (five) in 13 years of three-tiered Octobers than we had in 25 years of two-tiered Octobers (three).
Again, is that an accident? We don't think so. In fact, we could make a case that it's a direct result of all the sitting around teams are now forced to do in October. Here's the evidence:
- • In the 25 years of the two-round division-play era, there were only five World Series in which at least one team had five days off or more before the Series started.
• But in the 13 postseasons since the expansion to three rounds, we've already had seven years in which at least one team had to wait around for five days or more for the World Series to begin.
So how are we supposed to believe that the decline of the Fall "Classic" is a totally unrelated development? There may not be a 100 percent cause and effect. But there's a connection. You'll never persuade us otherwise.
Nevertheless, the commish, Bud Selig, tried to pull off that very persuasion.
"It's an interesting theory," the commish said. "But I'm not sure I agree with it."
Selig said he saw "no inherent advantage" for either league that's built into the current system. And he said the players and ex-players he has asked about the time-off factor in the World Series "looked at me like I was crazy."
But if that's what he's thinking and that's what he's hearing, he definitely isn't talking to the same people we're talking to.
"Baseball is a game you play every day," one baseball official said. "And with all these [October] off days, that's not happening."
Exactly. But that's an administrator talking. Ask players who have lived through this postseason marathon, and they're even more effusive.
"Of course, it makes a difference," said Todd Jones, a member of the 2006 Tigers team that had six days off before it lurched into its World Series nightmare. "You can't hit a baseball after you've been sitting for eight days without seeing 98 miles an hour. The proof was Josh Beckett in Game 1 [of this World Series]. Didn't he throw just about all fastballs the first three or four innings?
Do I worry about the competitive nature of the World Series? Of course I do. But I think there are a myriad of factors. And many of those factors we can't do anything about.
--commissioner Bud Selig
"And no way should a pitcher have to be coming into Game 1 of a World Series just to get some work in. But that's what I did last year. And that's what the Rockies did this year."
We saw those developments in this World Series with our own eyes. So we know it's an issue. But the question is: Can any of this be repaired?
Unfortunately, this is one yolk baseball will never be able to stuff back inside the egg. But there are tweaks that could help. So we ran some of them past MLB's scheduling guru, Katy Feeney.
GO BACK TO THE OLD POSTSEASON SCHEDULE: The folks at Fox wanted the World Series to start in the middle of the week this year. So guess when baseball agreed to start it? No shock there. But did they have to spread the postseason out over 4½ frigging weeks to pull that off? Of course not. But they did it anyway. Wouldn't want to get in the way of the season premiere of "Prison Break" or anything. So what are the odds that the crummy ratings for this postseason could lead to a rollback to the old schedule? Uh, zero, unfortunately. Next October's format hasn't been finalized yet. But both Selig and Feeney say it will almost certainly mirror this October. Hey, great.
END THE SEASON MIDWEEK INSTEAD OF ON A SUNDAY: Here's a logical thought (we hope). Just because the World Series has to start on a Tuesday or a Wednesday doesn't mean the postseason has to last nearly a week longer than it used to. Couldn't you eliminate excessive October off days by just ending the season a couple of days later? "You could," Feeney said. "And that would put you on the same postseason schedule you had in the past. But if you end [the season] in midweek, that creates other issues." Uh-oh. And by that she means, of course, television. If the season ends midweek, that would probably mean also starting the season in the middle of a week. And that causes a problem with ESPN's contract, which includes the right to televise a Sunday night opener. We're not authorized to resolve problems like that. But there ought to be a solution in there someplace, wouldn't you think?
DUMP THE EXTRA OFF DAY DURING THE LCS: Is there any rational reason to schedule an extraneous day off between Games 4 and 5 of the LCS, when nobody is traveling -- other than the fact that it keeps baseball from interrupting the integral flow of "Kitchen Nightmares"? Heck, of course not. So please, can we zap that off day from next October's schedule? All the extra off day accomplished this year was to further lengthen the time the Rockies had to kill between series. They were done sweeping Arizona on Monday, Oct. 15. At that point, the Red Sox had played three games of the ALCS. So there were still six days left in the AL series, and the other series was already over. There will always be complications when there's a sweep in one league and a seven-gamer in the other. But every needless day of nothingness is one too many.
START THE WORLD SERIES ON A TUESDAY, NOT A WEDNESDAY: From what we've heard, it was Fox's decision to begin the World Series on Wednesday, even though its contract allowed the Series to start on Tuesday. Again, we're sure Fox had its reasons (by which we mean: "House"). But they weren't reasons that did baseball any favors. That timing meant one more day of thumb-twiddling by the Rockies. But it also meant that baseball scheduled itself to go head-to-head with both "Sunday Night Football" and "Monday Night Football." It could have at least dodged Monday's shoulder pads with a Tuesday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday format. So baseball needs to insist on a Tuesday start next year. Doesn't it?
The trouble with the ideas we've laid out, though, is this: They don't solve anything. They could eliminate some of that October downtime. They would snip a day here and a day there off the endless march through October. They could help the sport return to the days when the momentum and plot lines built, instead of fizzled, heading into the World Series.
But would they fix the issues that are diluting one of the greatest events in sports? Not really. And the commissioner is in full agreement with us on that.
"Do I worry about the competitive nature of the World Series? Of course I do," Selig said. "But I think there are a myriad of factors. And many of those factors we can't do anything about."
Yeah, he sure isn't going to eliminate the Division Series. We know that. But that extra layer of playoffs is taking its toll on baseball's signature event. And how ironic is that?
It turns out that the wild card -- one of Bud Selig's proudest achievements -- has been one of the best things ever to happen to the regular season because of the drama it produces in late September. But we're only now discovering that it's one of the worst things ever to happen to the postseason.
The Rumble in the Offseason Jungle
• Now that A-Rod has positioned himself as the poster boy for greed, what America needs is a free agent to latch on to as the anti-A-Rod. So here's our nominee: Todd Jones, a guy who is demanding a one-year contract, even though he has saved more games (115) in the past three years than Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner or Francisco Cordero.
"My agent probably wants to kill me for saying this," Jones told Rumblings. "But I couldn't look an organization in the eye and sign a deal I'm not sure I can finish." Jones turns 40 next April, and you wouldn't exactly describe him as a fireballer anymore. Nevertheless, if Mike Stanton could get a two-year deal last winter at age 39, why couldn't Jones get two years (or more) this winter? "I couldn't do that," he said. "I really think players need to think about that more. Chivalry is good." Yep. And rare.
• The most popular Yankees trade rumor of the week -- Johnny Damon for Joe Crede -- looks like complete bunk. According to teams that have spoken with the Yankees, they wouldn't make a deal like that for several reasons: (1) uncertainty about the health of Crede's back, (2) Crede is a year away from free agency, and (3) he's represented by Scott Boras, who (shockingly) doesn't appear to be their favorite agent these days.
• Did the Astros get enough for Brad Lidge? Early returns from baseball men we've surveyed were all on the same wavelength: NO.
"I don't know why they did it so early in the game," one AL executive said. "They could have waited to see who lost out on [Francisco] Cordero. And once Mo [Rivera] goes back to the Yankees, that takes him out of the equation. So I'm not sure why they'd have done this now, without hitting a home run."
Center fielder Michael Bourn has off-the-charts speed. But the rest of his game is so limited, said one scouting director, that as an everyday player, "I think you'll always be looking for a little more."
Third-base prospect Mike Costanzo has "easy power, but he'll need to get better as a hitter to get to it," said the same scouting director. "And he's not a real good third baseman. For me, he'd probably have to move to first."
And the scouting report on reliever Geoff Geary is he's "just another middle reliever."
The best you can say for the Astros' end of this deal is that, if Bourn and Costanzo realize their potential, the Astros would get to hang on to them for a combined 11 years, compared to one year before Lidge hit free agency.
But this basically boils down to "quantity for quality," the AL executive said. "They get three pieces -- none of them significant -- for a guy with the potential to be a quality closer."
• Meanwhile, this also might seem to be a puzzling deal from the Phillies' end, at least from this standpoint: They just traded away a center fielder, in Bourn, at a time when they're almost certainly going to lose their starting center fielder, Aaron Rowand, via the free-agent express.
But we'd been hearing from multiple clubs that the Phillies have been aggressively talking about deals involving both Bourn and Shane Victorino for the past few weeks. So they were already trying to add an outfielder, either in center or in right field, to create enough depth to make one of those deals.
They've kicked the tires on both free agents (Geoff Jenkins?) and trade options (Coco Crisp?). And this trade tells us that they were so confident they could plug their outfield holes, they had no second thoughts about flipping the switch on this deal right out of the chute. In fact, the Phillies are mostly grateful they could trade for a pitcher as good as Lidge without having to give up Victorino, who now projects as their Opening Day center fielder.
• Incidentally, the Phillies have just about given up on the idea of trading Pat Burrell, who continues to give them no indication he'd waive his no-trade clause to go anywhere.
• More and more, we hear officials of other clubs saying the Red Sox have replaced the Yankees as the model for how large-dollar teams ought to operate. But not only off the field. On the field. "Unlike the Yankees, even when they had their great teams, the big thing with the Red Sox is, they let their emotions come out," one NL executive said. "They have fun. They're loose. The manager lets them play. And it works."
• When Andy MacPhail agreed to take a job with the Orioles, very few people envisioned he would wind up as the de facto GM. But it's now clear that even though MacPhail hasn't assumed that title, he's running the baseball operation from top to bottom.
Not only did MacPhail take total charge of the Orioles' recent organizational meetings, the previous de facto GM, Mike Flanagan, wasn't even in attendance. Asked to describe Flanagan's current role, one longtime baseball man replied: "Are you familiar with the word, 'G-H-O-S-T'?"
• Meanwhile, other clubs are reporting that the Orioles are listening closely when teams inquire about ace Erik Bedard. It might take three big-time young players to get him. But MacPhail has been telling teams he's willing to talk about Bedard or anyone else on the roster. Which could make the Orioles a major auctioneer this winter.
• We asked a scout who covered the Arizona Fall League to name the most eye-popping player and the most surprising player he saw. Here were his picks:
MOST EYE-POPPING: Devil Rays third baseman Evan Longoria -- "the most sure thing here."
MOST SURPRISING: Indians left-hander David Huff -- "should be a good third starter soon."
Stat of the Week
Finally, among the many fascinating tidbits you can find in the new Bill James Handbook, which hit stores this month, are baserunning stats of all kinds. We sorted through those numbers to determine the players who did the best -- and worst -- jobs of scoring runs after they reached base this season. Here goes:
OK, let's all sing along to the most stunning number in that whole list: "13 percent?"
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
How can MLB fix its postseason scheduling to avoid another long layoff? Jayson Stark spoke to Bud Selig and Katy Feeney about some possible tweaks.