Looking for missing World Series magic
Whatever happened to the World Series?Whatever happened to the unforgettable, seven-game classics of yesteryear that held us spellbound for a week -- until along came Jack Morris or Luis Gonzalez or Bill Mazeroski to transform this event from sports to poetry.
• 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).• Maybe that's a coincidence. But 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 forced to do in these elongated Octobers. Here's the evidence:
The long and short of it
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"When you go through the season and you're playing every single day, you can get two days off and, to me, it feels like a week," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "So now you get seven days off. That's like a month."Well, in many ways, he's right. In an everyday sport, a week off may be refreshing -- but it's NOT in baseball. And it's not conducive to playing good baseball. "There's a certain physical rhythm to the season," said Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke, who witnessed his team's 2006 Series meltdown firsthand. "And that's intensified in the postseason. And once you have that cut off, it's hard to get it back, physically and mentally. There's an extra adrenaline you get in the postseason that gives you such a high that, when you have those off days, you almost become too low."
The third reason is the introduction of that third round. In the wild-card era, it's amazing how little baseball a team can play if it makes quick work of its first two postseason victims. The 2007 Rockies, for instance, played only seven games in 22 days between their last game of the regular season and their first game in the World Series. The 2006 Tigers played just eight games in 20 days. The 2008 Phillies will have played only nine games in 23 days. That pace is about as un-baseball-like as it gets.
And the final reason is the most recent change in postseason scheduling, introduced last year. Fox wanted the World Series to start midweek, not on a weekend. So in order to, essentially, keep the producers of "Prison Break" happy, baseball added enough off days to stretch the postseason to 4½ weeks instead of the four it used to take. That means teams like the '07 Rockies, who swept the LCS, wound up with eight consecutive off days, instead of the former maximum of six days under the previous schedule.So is there any doubt all this down time has taken its toll on the World Series? Not in our mind. But not surprisingly, the powers that be beg to differ. When we ran this data past Bud Selig himself last fall, let's just say the commissioner didn't sound particularly dazzled by our diligent research.
"You can't hit a baseball after you've been sitting for eight days without seeing 98 mph. 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."
--Former closer Todd Jones on the long layoff leading up to the World Series
This stuff has happened just enough in recent years that we're hearing the players have expressed concern to the union that the October schedule has gotten too stretched out. And although the union already had agreed to this format for the 2007 and 2008 postseasons, Michael Weiner, general counsel for the Players Association, told us the union still "has to continue discussions for next season."Weiner wouldn't comment on any specific concerns. But players we've spoken with don't seem to understand artificial off days, like the day off (with no travel) between Games 4 and 5 of each LCS. Because of that off day, plus the new travel day introduced between Games 4 and 5 in the first round, no team ever has to play more than two days in a row at any point in the LDS and LCS. Which means one of the biggest factors in any team's success from April to September -- pitching depth -- becomes virtually a non-factor in October.
"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, there's not much chance of the commish taking a new look at that wild card he's so fond of and deciding, "Aw, never mind." So if we're looking for help from him to restore the luster of the World Series, we're looking in the wrong place. Our only prayer, it appears, is the players themselves. And fortunately, history tells us there IS hope. Not surprisingly, you spell that hope: P-I-T-C-H-I-N-G. Three years ago, the White Sox had five days off before the World Series -- and a great Game 1 pitching performance by Jose Contreras helped them forget about all of it. In 1995, the Braves had six days off before the World Series -- and a Greg Maddux two-hitter got them rolling toward their only title in the '90s. So this October, it may well be up to the Phillies' Game 1 starter, burgeoning ace Cole Hamels. If he packed a can of Rust-Oleum for the trip to Tampa Bay this week, it may buy the Phillies enough time to blow off their cobwebs. And if that happens, it might actually be possible that a week from now, we won't have to ask the question anymore. Whatever happened to the World Series?
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.