Adding a P.S. to a 55-Year-Old Love Letter to Baseball
My Dearest Baseball,
I found an old love letter written to you on October 8, 1958, by The Sporting News, one you should have taken seriously. In it, your old beau admits to flirting with a cute new thing named the National Football League. Indeed, that particular issue was the first time that a story on the NFL had ever appeared on page 1, a fact TSN noted in an editorial entitled “NFL Wins Growing Recognition.” The second paragraph of that editorial reads
Now we’re happy to move the National Football League out front, a position of prominence clearly merited by the caliber of performance, the soundness of operation and—above all—the steadily growing public interest in the game as it is played by the nation’s topnotchers.
The Sporting News was rather prescient in its thinking, given that this editorial was printed almost three months before the epic overtime game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants that ultimately led to the NFL establishing a net worth greater than that of some countries. In the process, Football has stolen a great deal of attention from you. More interesting than the editorial itself, however, is a list, appearing above it and entitled “The Sporting News Four Point Program.” Had you listened then, Baseball, you might still command everyone’s attention as you did when you were young. Points Two and Three on the list are bookkeeping recommendations; that is, to establish a Most Valuable Pitcher award for each league and to eliminate the minor league Shaugnessy playoff system. The fourth point calls for baseball to “speed up games by the elimination of unnecessary delays.” (I’ll pause while we both have a good laugh over that one. . . .) The number-one point on the list, however, and the one that brings us right to the present day, reads “Shorten the major league season by two Sundays and get the World’s Series out of the way before October 1, thus avoiding a clash with college and pro football.” You see, Baseball, as any lady knows, sometimes less is more, just as TSN was trying to tell you 55 years ago. Well, I still love you, Baseball, and even though TSN couldn’t get through to you, I’m going to try.
What was a good idea before expansion, before the 162-game schedule, before playoffs, before World Series games ended after midnight and the Series itself had the potential to end in November, is certainly a good idea after those things have come about. Your postseason is way too long, rendering the World Series anticlimactic. (Quick, name all ten teams that made the post-season.) If we can’t shorten the playoffs (or, as you think of them, playoff$), then we can certainly shorten the regular season, at least returning to that 154-game schedule that The Sporting News wanted to reduce.
My dear Baseball, look at these playoff games this year and tell me that the season isn’t too long. Taken on the whole, those are a bunch of tired-looking hitters and fielders out there. The pitching looks fantastic, but then, big league managers today begin the reliever parade in the fourth inning, and their entire bull pens barely top Mickey Lolich’s average number of innings per season. Twenty-first century starters aren’t exactly cast in the mold of Jim Palmer, either. The pitching should look fresh and powerful given how little most pitchers have pitched. There are good hurlers in this year’s playoffs, no doubt, but I’m suspicious when it appears that Christy Mathewson is dueling Sandy Koufax in every game.
I have suggested to you that a College World Series format be used for the playoffs leading up to the World Series, but if that idea gives you the vapors, would you at least consider an idea that would return some of your youth and beauty? Let’s make the first game of the World Series a baseball festival. I see a 3:30 p.m. start time with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. I see a charity softball game between All-Stars and Hollywood stars before the game. I see a celebration of the last warm rays of the sun before winter sets in (or are you daring Colorado and Minnesota to meet one day in the “Fall” Classic?). I see these things always on a Friday afternoon, so people will get into the habit of taking a half day off work and holding World Series parties. With such a festive start to your Showcase, viewers may even follow the rest of it in the same way that they follow their favorite television shows (I mean, that’s what you’re going for, right? And, yeah, I know ratings are solid this year, but what would they be had Tampa Bay met Pittsburgh?). I think folks will watch the succeeding games in the Series after such a special opening, but you’ll also have to get over this headstrong notion of yours that it doesn’t matter if the games end after midnight. (Baseball, you really need to read Paul Heinz’ excellent essay on this subject as well.)
“Fall Classic Friday” might not ever be Super Bowl Sunday, but it’s more than you have now. And it’s time you started celebrating what you have and not longing for what you don’t.
Baseball, that girl Football may be younger, and she carries herself with greater aplomb, but I don’t find you any less attractive. Revive the old glory in new ways just as The Sporting News wanted you to so long ago. (And try carrying yourself with a little confidence, huh?). If you do, you’ll once again be the belle of the Ball.