Friday, March 9, 2012

The times they are a-changing

Oh I know I'm supposed to change with the times. I need to get out of the past and see the future for what it is. Things will evolve and those elements that get squeezed out really didn't need to be there in the first place.

I can tell you that I don't like it. I don't like it one damn bit.

Baseball has always been a game that reflected the rhythms of our lives. Out of the depths of winter pitchers and catchers grab their gear and head to Florida (or Arizona), followed soon after by everyone else. Just as spring training counts us down to Opening Day - it also counts us down to spring.

Everything comes alive. Everyone is amped and ready to believe that this could be the year. You follow the games in detail. It's fresh and it's exciting. Then spring fades into summer.

Baseball becomes a backdrop. You follow your team for a while and then get caught up in other things only to be drawn back in at a later date. The season's so long you can afford to let it linger in the background for a while.

Then, as summer turns into fall, as the temperatures fall, the heat of the pennant races rises. Every game matters. You can't tear your eyes away from the sports page (or the website) for fear you might miss something.

And then, with one last climax, as folks start to bundle up for the coming winter - it's all over.

But things are different this time. This season is the last year for the Astros in the National League. Starting next year the 'Stros will be playing in the AL West. Goodbye, St. Louis. Goodbye, Chicago. Goodbye, Atlanta.

When I was born the only two teams that survived to play in the post-season were the NL and AL champs in the World Series. In 1969 Major League Baseball split the leagues into divisions and doubled the number of teams in the playoffs. Now the reward for winning the most games wasn't a trip to the Fall Classic - it was home-field advantage in a playoff.

In 1973 some genius decided that there wasn't enough offense in baseball and the American League introduced the worst single change in the history of baseball - the designated hitter. Ever since the days of Abner Doubleday, if you wanted to swing the bat, you had to play in the field. Sure it made things easier when you got to the bottom of the order - but that was part of the game. Now the field was opened up to players who couldn't field to save their lives or who were too out of shape to cover first base.

In the 1990's Bud Selig then did his best to ruin baseball with the wild card and interleague play. The All-Star Game and the World Series were always special because they were the only times you ever saw American League players on the same field with National League players. They played under two different sets of rules. The umpires dressed differently. Then the Milwaukee Brewers left the AL and moved to the NL.

For the first time a team who couldn't even win their own division was given the gift of a trip to the post-season. Now the reward for winning the most games was reduced to getting homefield advantage in two playoff series. Why even bother?

Now, in his very finite wisdom, Mr. Selig has decreed that yet another team not good enough even to win its own division will be rewarded with a trip to the post-season. Prior to 1969, only the top 10% of clubs (2 of 20) made the post-season; in 2012, fully 33% of the clubs (10 of 30) will be rewarded. We've gone from rewarding the elite to rewarding the slightly better than average.

And, you know it's coming. I don't know when. But I do know that at some point in the (not so distant) future, the DH will appear in the National League. It's inevitable. With the Astros moving there will be 15 teams in each league (which reminds me - why isn't Arizona moving? No one goes to their games. No one cares about baseball in Phoenix except when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town), there will always be a pair of teams playing an interleague series. How much longer will baseball allow the two leagues to play with different rules?

Yeah, I'm cranky about it. I acknowledge that technology has made life better over the course of my lifetime - but we're talking about baseball. Baseball always had a timeless quality about it.

Sure, I'll be fired up on April 6 when my oldest and I head out to Minute Maid Park for Opening Day. It's out tradition. We'll get out there early, sit on the grass out front and eat peanuts and chew sunflower seeds. We'll go inside, get a program, a scorecard and a pair of hot dogs and enjoy the magic that unfolds on that first day of the season. After the sixth inning we'll leave our seats and go down to the kiddie area, buy a frozen lemonade and play until the game's over. Then we'll head outside and watch the fireworks from up the block. For one day I'll forget about the changes that are ruining the game I grew up with. For one day I'll lose myself in baseball.

But I'll get over it.


Glenn said...

I'm not sure I agree with all your points about the game but I share your love of the sport. Permit me to post my favorite quote about baseball:

Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.

Hope you son remebers to keep his eye on the ball and his back elbow up.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

Thanks for your comment.

I like the quote - it sums up the game quite nicely.

It's my daughter, by the way.