Monday, July 21

FCF baseball roundtable

Since the Tribe isn't exactly the most fun thing to write about this season, FCF has decided to take the midpoint of the 2008 season to share their opinions on a few facets of today's Major League Baseball. JHH, Andy, and Nick will be taking a look at some of the best watercooler questions for baseball fans, ones that passionate fans and casual observers alike enjoy debating. Onto the writers:

Do you thing Interleague Play is good for baseball?
JHH: Define good. I think it doesn't hurt. Sure it isn't the draw it once was but getting to see NL teams that I wouldn't see in a million years in Cleveland is nice.

Andy: It certainly spikes fan interest and increases revenue, which means that it's not going anywhere, that's for sure. Baseball would be insane to leave that kind of money on the table. I don't feel very strongly about it, but I would prefer to keep the leagues separate, save for the World Series.

Nick: No, no, and no. This is the Wild Card era and these teams aren't playing the other teams in their respective leagues enough. Considering that the unbalanced schedule (emphasizing divisional play) means that teams already aren't playing the teams outside of their divisions very often, interleague play only exacerbates the problem. In my view, interleague play decreases the Wild Card winner's legitimacy. Unfortunately, like the guys have stated above, it makes money and appears to be going nowhere.

Because interleague play is here to stay, baseball's brain trust needs to do a better job exploiting regional match ups. There's no good reason that the Tribe doesn't have a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Pirates every year. Due to geography and the Browns-Steelers rivalry, a Tribe-Buccos rivalry seems like a no-brainer.

What do you think about the Designated Hitter rule?
JHH: I'm torn. They shouldn't have the DH at any level of play except the majors or should they?

Andy: The DH is in every level of professional baseball, except for the National League. Time to get with the program, boys. Have you watched a MLB pitcher (other than CC Sabathia or Micah Owings) bat lately? It's excruciating. Watching a pitcher walk some turkey hitting #8 intentionally to strike out the pitcher and get out of a jam cheapens the game for me. I used to say that I liked the variety of separate rules for the two major leagues, but no longer.

However, if they are going to insist on keeping the pitcher batting in the NL and continue to have Interleague play, they should use the visiting team's rules so the home team's fans could see the other league's version of baseball. NL fans might like to see all nine spots actually know how to bat for once.

Nick: I used to be all for pitchers hitting, labeling myself a "purist," but I've watched more NL ball this year than I ever have before. Guess what? It's boring. Yes, there's more strategy involved, but there's also a free out every ninth batter, and like Andy said, you often see the number eight hitter (or the last position player before the pitcher) intentionally walked. That's no fun. I want to watch professional hitters, and the DH should be universally adopted.

Should baseball institute Instant Reply for home run calls, as it plans to do before the end of this season?
JHH: Yes, making the right call is the most important thing. Tradition while important is no excuse for stupidity.

Andy: Definitely. I'll fight anyone who says otherwise, and maybe fight Nick even if he agrees, just because. Like JHH says, the most important thing is to make the proper call. A number of home runs have been ruled incorrectly this season (including Ben Francisco's job off the railing during Tribe Weekend) and it would be so simple and painless to correct those errors. Please, ignore the naysayers who say it will lengthen the games (because the current system of umpires discussing HR calls when none of them actually saw it are so efficient) and that replay will make its way virus-like into all aspects of the game (absolutely not true). When was the last time you heard a hockey fan complain about hockey refs calling Toronto and getting their goal calls right?

Nick: I agree with the responses of my colleagues; instant replay has been a long time comin'. The most important thing is getting the call right, not how quickly the call is made.

I do, however, believe that we should limit replays to home runs and fair/foul calls, because they are clearly discernible with replay. It's a home run or it isn't. It's fair or it's foul. If you start allowing replay on all calls, things are going to get messy because there are at least one or two close calls on the base paths in almost every game. All of the sudden you're on a slippery slope. Homers and fair/foul calls lend themselves to replay because they are so easy to call.

I've heard the argument that replay will break up the "flow of the game." it won't. At least it won't break up the game's "flow" any more than the umpire's huddling for five minutes to decide whether or not a fly ball was a homer slows things down already. Hell, these guys fudge the call more often than not because nobody gets into position to see the ball clearly.

Is the Wild Card good for the game?
JHH: Define good. It doesn't hurt. Actually since Wild Card teams have gone to win the WS and allows good teams playing in a tough division to advance I'm all for the Wild Card.

Andy: I love the Wild Card. It is beautiful. Bud Selig's term as commissioner has featured a number of questionable moves, but this was brilliant. I remember during realignment when self-styled purists (notably, Bob Costas) were up in arms about the playoff expansion, but as of now it's an unquestioned success. Plus, it's not like the playoff floodgates were opened - baseball's postseason remains the most difficult one to qualify for. Football, the next-most-exclusive, allows 50% more teams in than MLB. Most importantly, the WC keeps the excitement of baseball alive for fans of lots of teams (I'd say at least 10 every year) who would otherwise be tuned into NFL training camps by August.

Nick: Like Andy said, this is the best move Bud Selig has made during his tenure. The importance of baseball's regular season was maintained because they still allow a smaller percentage of teams to qualify for the post season than any other sport. The Wild Card adds a ton of drama down the stretch, and an eight team playoff format makes far more sense than six teams.

Fun fact: When the Wild Card was passed in 1993, only one owner voted against it. Who was it? Current President George W Bush of the Texas Rangers. Bush stated, "I made my arguments and went down in flames...history will prove me right." The fact that W passionately lobbied against this concept allows me to give it my most ringing endorsement.

Should the first round series be 5 games or 7?
JHH: 5 games is enough. No one wants a sport's playoffs to continue longer than it needs to. I always love to see the NHL finals wrap up and say to myself "holy crap they were still playing?"

Andy: I didn't like the NBA's decision to lengthen the first-round series from 5 to 7 games. It was a transparent effort to avoid losing high seeds early, which didn't help the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in 2007. Baseball's playoffs are more random than basketball's, however, and considering how difficult it is to even qualify, I feel like teams should get a 7-game first-round shot. This would add three days, tops, to the postseason. I'm not adamant about this one, just a preference.

Nick: Given the 162-game regular season, baseball's playoffs really can't be long enough. The playoffs are too short, and too much of a crap shoot. The problem is that if we start lengthening the playoffs, all of the sudden we're into November and the weather in the northern cities starts to get quite chilly. As much as I'd like to see longer series all around for fairness' sake, there isn't much that can be realistically done aside from altering the first round format and going to seven games, which I would endorse.

Should the All-Star game count for home field?
JHH: No it's stupid. I know we'll all agree that the team with the best record should have home field advantage. Making the All-Star Game count was a stupid over-correction for it once ending in a tie.

Andy: Fuck no.

However, I do not think that the team with the best record necessarily deserves the home field advantage. This is not like hockey or basketball; despite the presence of Interleague play, a wide majority of each team's games are still Intraleague. Consider how dominant the AL has been in recent years; if the World Series came down to a 96-win AL club vs a 97-win NL team, the AL team would have undoubtedly played a superior campaign yet the NL team would get home field. I say go back to alternating years.

Nick: The All-Star game should not count for home field. Have the mascots of the World Series team fight to the death. Have a contest to see which team has the most attractive female fans. Flip a coin. Anything but this. This is another case of Selig doing something simply for the sake of doing something. "Look at me, I'm the Commissioner of Major League Baseball!"

One last All-Star question: how would you handle the election of the players to the AL and NL stars?
JHH: The system in place now is OK. It's results are no better than, say, the Golden Glove awards. I once thought a system that gave the ballots from fans at actual games as more weight was one way of fixing the problem but given the sellouts at place like Fenway and Wrigley I don't think that would actually change much. The players voting in Varitek is equally as stupid as some of the fans selections this year. So the only way to do this is to remove people completely and set up a system that takes the best players based on statistics. Of course eliminating the people voting would remove fan participation, which probable is never a good thing.

Andy: I'm tired of the fans having any say whatsoever in this, and have been ever since the year Nomar Garciaparra was elected to start despite not having appeared in a game that year. Fans simply are not qualified. I know it's not the most important thing in the world, but if you're going to do it, do it right. I think a panel of managers and coaches could be set up to assemble the best squads, or maybe have the writers of FIRE JOE MORGAN do it. Or, as I recently discussed with a friend (Nick?) with respect to the Hall of Fame, just have Peter Gammons do it himself. I'm only sort of kidding.

Proponents of fan voting fall back on the tired cliche that the game is "for the fans." Well, I'm a fan, and I want to see the best players make it, not the ones that uninformed people vote for, like a certain Yankee infielder with a .729 OPS consistently ranked as one of the poorest defenders at his position.

Nick: All-Star starters should not be chosen by the fans. The fans voted in Shaq O'Neal (Miami version) when he played something like three games during the first half of an NBA season. I'd be all for a panel of writers like the Hall of Fame elections, or a managers/coaches panel like Andy suggested. I'd even be happier if the All-Star teams' respective managers picked the starters. The current system is pretty senseless. Fortunately for me, the only thing I care about less than the All-Star game is Miley Cyrus' latest hit.


Andy said...

Nick, your last comment implies that you are at least aware that Miley Cyrus has a latest hit.

Good point on instant replay - I totally agree (as does MLB) that those limitations should be placed on it but I didn't make that clear in my response.

The All-Star thing wasn't quite the Selig ego-trip you make it out to be - it was more a poorly-considered reaction to that one year it was a tie. Remember, without that tie, none of us have even heard the phrase "this time it counts."

Nick said...

You caught me. I'm a closeted Miley Cyrus fanatic.