Playoff thoughts

Well, the Cubs and the Brewers are both one game away from elimination.

My team, the Brewers, lost to the Phillies 5-2 after super-pitcher C. C. Sabathia gave up those five runs in the second inning. That was only his third loss in his half-season for the Brewers. This was his fourth consecutive start on only three days rest.

I have this against my team: They did not treat Sabathia ethically. Yes, they just “rented” him in a desperate and successful move to get to the playoffs. They picked him up from Cleveland because after this season he is a free agent and neither team would be able to afford him. Arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, he may bring around $150 million on the open market. If that is, he doesn’t blow out his arm.

If he does, that wouldn’t matter much to the Brewers, who only have him for this season. So the Brewers had him pitch a league-leading 253 innings and a league-leading 7 complete games. And then for the playoff run the Brewers started him on only three days rest four times in a row.

Yes, Sabathia was both willing and eager to do so, which only shows his heroic stature. But his team did not show his class. We are not supposed to use people up and then throw them away.

Feel free to bring up other playoff-related thoughts this weekend. . . .

Sports happiness

After the dust settled, after three out of the top five college football teams were upset, my (class of ’73) Oklahoma Sooners are ranked number one! And the Milwaukee Brewers, after a nail-biting victory over the Cubs and a nail-biting Mets defeat from the Marlins, are in the playoffs as the NL wildcard team! (We will set aside how the Packers did.)

Firing a winning manager

The Brewers have their best season in years, leading the wildcard race and headed for the playoffs with just 12 games remaining. So what do they do? Fire their manager.

Yes, the team was slumping, frittering away their lead. But why fire Ned Yost, the man who brought them to their prominence? There has got to be more to the story than I know. Wisconsinites, please explain.

In the meantime, interim manager Dale Sveum–whom I like–having brought back Robin Yount as bench coach managed the team to superstar pitcher C. C. Sabathia’s first loss and the Brewers lost the lead in the wildcard race.

Olympics abuse baseball before killing it

Yes, I know baseball is being eased out as an Olympic sport, though not understanding why. (Surely its popularity in the entire Western hemisphere, plus Japan, makes it more popular than Olympic sports such as synchronized swimming.) But it is wrong to vandalize the game by changing its rules. From Extra Effort Made to Speed Up Baseball:

Starting in the 11th inning of a tie game — as decreed last month by baseball’s international governing body — each half-inning will begin with runners on first and second base, and the manager of the batting team can start the 11th at any point in his lineup.

Maybe they should let batters hit off a tee to make the game end even faster. Do you see why such a sudden death overtime is ruinous to baseball, in a way that it wouldn’t be in soccer or football?

An All-Star game that meant something

I actually went to an All-Star game once, that 2002 game in Milwaukee that ended after 11 innings in the infamous tie. I remember how frustrating that was. This time, though, there would be no tie allowed, and the game went on for 15 innings. (No, even I did not stay up for it all.) All the pitchers were blown, and two outfielders were going to have to throw in the next inning, were it not for the AL pushing home a run to win the thing 4-3. Was that a mistake to risk so many good pitchers in a meaningless game? But it was not meaningless. The winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, and the contenders–such as the Cubs–have a lopsidedly good record at home so those players wanted it bad. See Michael Wilbon’s analysis of the various subtexts of the game, including an unusual lavish praise for commissioner Bud Selig: No Mere Exhibition, but a Show.

Post-steroid baseball

You will note that this season baseball players no longer have Popeye arms and thick necks. And now that steroids are no longer taken like candy, the number of homeruns has plummeted down to historically normal proportions. Thomas Boswell explains:

This spring, for the second straight year, home run totals, like the game’s conspicuous muscles, have shrunk dramatically. Last season’s 8 percent drop in home runs was welcomed, but with caution. Would the tater barrage simply resume? But now, in the wake of the Mitchell report, home runs have fallen this spring by another 10.4 percent.

Suddenly, a sport that produced 5,386 home runs in 2006 is on pace for 4,442 this year — a 17.5 percent drop, or a loss of almost 1,000 home runs in just two seasons.

If the current trend continues, baseball might return to the levels at which many students of the game think the sport has been healthiest and most pleasing: an average of a bit more than nine runs and slightly less than two home runs per game.

This season, major league teams have scored 8.98 runs per game. Since 1871, there have been 1,750,230 runs in the majors, an average of 9.11 per game. . . .

In the first 35 seasons after World War II, the average home run champ had 42.4 dingers. That’s “normal.” What constitutes off-the-charts for a great slugger? From 1939 until the steroid eruption, just three players had more than 52 homers in a season: Ralph Kiner (54) in ’49, and Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) in ’61. That’s the ceiling.

Then came designer steroids as well as human growth hormone for which baseball still has no test. Over the last dozen seasons, the average total for the home run champion in the American League and National League has been 53. So as cheating flourished, what once was the stuff of legend, a total higher than Mays ever achieved, became the norm for league leaders.

For a sport that established statistical norms over a century, this was a nuclear blast. After generations of patting itself on the back for an almost ideal game in which rules seldom needed more than tinkering to maintain an equilibrium, baseball suddenly bore little resemblance to itself. Brady Anderson hit 50 homers; Ted Williams never had 44.