Monday, October 01, 2007

Somebody get Grandpa his meds

Every October old school baseball fans finally put in their dentures so they can denounce the wild card. They wax philosophically about “the long haul” and how the wild card "rewards mediocrity". Then they get sleepy and take a nap. If they could keep their eyes open and actually watch the playoffs it might open their minds to the fact that this is good baseball.

Look, Pops, the wild card is the best thing to happen to the game since Jackie Robinson. It’s given teams the opportunity to overcome injuries and inexperience during the course of a season and still have a chance to win it all late. It has also put the pressure on the early divisional leaders to stay fresh and find an edge down the stretch. That means better baseball late in the season and the best team having a chance to win it all. Instead of deciding the championship based on record alone, we throw the best eight teams into the post season and see who wins on the field. That means the hottest team in baseball can upset the winningest team. If it upsets you that the playoffs are open to too many teams, do away with the pretense of playoffs altogether and just hand the championship to the team with the best record.

Look at the way things shaped up this year. The Yankees were dead and buried back in May but they fought through their struggles and now they get to face a team they owned all season long. If the Indians get past the Yankees we’ll know they’re for real but if the Yankees continue to dominate the Tribe it will prove that the AL Central was a joke. In the NL the Phillies set their sites on the Wild Card and managed to pass the free falling Mets in the process. As it turns out, the NL wild card could feature the scorching hot Rockies who will face the Padres for a one game play-in today. If the Rockies get in they will be the hottest team in baseball and a real threat to get to the World Series based on momentum; are you telling me that’s a bad thing?

Before the wild card format was created, the old timers complained about the short series. The old timers always have something to complain about. They complained when the league opted to keep the balls clean and again when the league banned the spitball. Old football fans screamed bloody murder when the NFL replaced leather helmets with plastic and again when the face mask was added.

Apparently the World Series used to be a 900 game affair with triple headers finishing up well into the wee hours. Pitchers threw 400 pitches per game and were required to bat…blindfolded. Bats weighed 40 pounds and gloves were no bigger than an oven mitt. Maybe it wasn’t that strenuous but I still remember listening to my grandfather complain about the “short” seven game series back in the 70s. How dare they?

It happens in every sport. My dad will sit there with a straight face and tell you that Otto Graham would make Peyton Manning look like a cheerleader if he played today. The reality is that Otto Graham wouldn’t be able to wrap his mind around a typical two minute package. Joe Montana would have a stroke if he tried to process the information today’s QBs internalize. Times change, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s for the worse.

My dad is also of the opinion that baseball was better when he was a kid; today the “pitching is diluted”. He doesn’t seem to believe that the fact baseball is now a global game and that the pool of talent is deeper than ever. He doesn’t think that training and nutrition make for a better baseball player. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs and never lifted a weight in his life. Warren Spahn didn’t have a resistance machine in his clubhouse. He sees the numbers and assumes that the pitching is weaker. People will cite the statistics amassed by legendary players like Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Babe Ruth and dare you to find a modern player close to those numbers. Case closed. Numbers don’t lie, right?

Of course they do…because numbers never tell the whole story. And the old timers know it. They use that when the stats are stacked against them. Jim Brown played fewer games, Peyton Manning plays in an era where the rules favor offense. 50 Home runs means less now because seasons are longer and parks are smaller. But then they’ll talk about Chief Wilson hitting 30 triples and fail to mention how that was back in the day when some fields went on forever. It’s funny how nobody seems to mention that the worst player in any professional sports league is thousands of times better than the worst player just 25 years ago. The gap between the best and the rest is smaller than ever because the also rans have closed it. Today’s mediocre player is better than yesterday’s mediocre player. That’s why we need wild cards. Boston’s roster isn’t that much better than New York’s and the separation between contenders in the NL is nonexistent. We need the wild card to ensure that the best teams are playing.

The problem is that people get nostalgic as they get older. They have trouble accepting change because it makes them feel less significant. The past becomes less relevant so they do to. It’s what one might call hateration. Instead of enjoying the game, whatever game it might be, for what it is and embracing the changes the old farts focus on the negatives and raise a ruckus whenever they’re reminded of that change.

And I’m not some 20-something punk taking cheap shots at the old guys. I’m 37. I’ve seen the games I enjoy change tremendously. I still get nostalgic but not at the expense of dissing today. I roll with the punches and if I don’t like something new I’ll voice my displeasure but not at the expense of saying well in my day…I don’t ever want to be that guy, shaking my fist and yelling, “You kids get out of my yard.”

What these old fogies have to wrap their minds around is the fact that nobody cares. Every good sports fan is cognizant of sports history but they recognize it as just that: History. As in over. Bob Gibson WAS good; CC Sabathia IS good. Reggie Jackson WAS Mr. October but he isn’t going to see one pitch this month. It might make for an interesting discussion but no matter how hard you try there’s no going back in time, so just shut up and enjoy the game, whether there’s a wild card team playing or not. If you choose to live in the past you also choose to be irrelevant. Whining about the good old days isn’t going to bring them back and it won’t get you invited to any World Series parties.

Get over yourself, have a beer and enjoy the frigging game.

Or we’ll call the nurse.

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