The regular season of MLB baseball ended yesterday. As it turns out, no one has to play a game 163. As recently as Saturday it looked like there could be up to three game 163s, but the final games played Sunday settled matters. On the personal plus side, the Pittsburgh Pirates and — perhaps more significantly — the Kansas City Royals are going to the playoffs. On the flip side, both teams are getting in as wildcard teams, so the journey may be short (but it would be pretty cool if the Royals went all the way).
And your Minnesota Twins, once again, aren’t going. It was another losing year for the Twins — fourth in a row — but they did manage to do a little bit better than they have in the last three. As I wrote earlier in the season, this year’s team showed some potential not seen those last three years. Unfortunately, in the end (as usual) our pitching brought us down. But at least we ended the season on a fairly nice note.
Post-season baseball begins this week and ends with the “Fall Classic” — the World Series.
Let me start with the World Series — baseball’s equivalent to the Super Bowl. While the stadium is sure to be packed, TV viewership of the World Series has slipped in recent years. Baseball is becoming a regional sport. Viewership and support for teams is strong locally. Fans support their teams — sometimes even when their teams aren’t doing well (consider New York Mets and Chicago Cubs fans).
But when the home team is out of the playoffs, interest drops. People aren’t interested in baseball so much as their own team. Contrast this with the Super Bowl, one of the most viewed telecasts in existence. That “reality” TV show is so popular, commercial air time is the most expensive, and commercials gain their own sort of notoriety. People still reference the Apple commercial from the 1984 game!
But the young increasingly prefer football or basketball (and soccer fans keep claiming that soccer will take over — something they’ve been claiming for 20 years). Baseball just doesn’t seem to attract the interest it once did (more is the pity).
Regular readers can probably guess that, yes, I do see that as Yet Another Sad Sign of the wrong road society is going down. Football and basketball (and hockey and soccer) are fast, visceral sports that don’t require a nuanced understanding to fully appreciate. (I’ll be honest: I’m not convinced those sports even have nuances, but that may be my own lack of understanding.)
Baseball can seem pretty sedate — okay, okay, even “boring” — if you don’t understand it. When you do understand it, games can be edge-of-the-seat nail-biters. The import of, and the degree of tension behind, every pitch can be quite high. But it does lack the “sound and fury” and gut appeal of faster-paced sports.
While I’m ranting, may I say that the whole idea of “Fox Sports Girls” is a bit problematic for me (for exactly the reasons I wrote about in my last post). I just have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that we still have beauty pageants and cheerleaders and the bikini-clad women who carry those signs at boxing matches that tell you what round it is.
I also take issue with a number of sportscasters who slammed the Twins for not letting ace pitcher Phil Hughes pitch that one remaining out that would have earned his 500,000 dollar bonus.
The Twins did offer him the chance, and he turned it down in the name of team solidarity (some players’ salaries are roughly the same as his bonus, and he would have taken innings away from pitchers vying for a spot next year). Those same sportscasters then called Hughes crazy… essentially for showing incredible class and a lack of greed (keep in mind, his contract provides him eight-million a year).
Sexist, violent, money-grubbing world… do you really wonder why I hate?
But enough ranting (for now). There was good stuff, too! It was a pretty exciting end of the season for many teams, and quite a few races for post-season berths literally came down to the last regular season games played yesterday. Some races were so close that, had things gone slightly differently on Sunday, there would be tie-breaker games today.
Both the American and National Central leagues were in close contention to the end. All four contending teams (two from each) are going to post-season (Tigers, Royals and Cardinals, Pirates). It’ll be the first time for the Royals since 1985 — 29 years of post-season drought ended for them! (I’m very, very happy for them!!)
One heart-breaker was the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew took the lead in the NL-Central when their season was only six games old and owned the division without interruption until the Cardinals bumped them out on September 1. They’d been in first place for 150 days!
It’s really more the case that the Crew started losing — a progress begun in late August. By September 4 they’d lost nine games in a row. By the 9th, they were 3-16! Their record on the month was 9-17.
I figure it’s the baseball gods tricking them for the way Ryan Braun tricked us all into believing his heart-felt and oh-so-genuine (seeming!) pleas that he’d never taken steroids. And while Braun did his penance and earned forgiveness from fans and teammates, the baseball gods do not forget.
Another heart-breaker was the Texas Rangers, a team plagued by an astonishing number of injuries this season (and capped with the strange and sudden exit of manager Ron Washington for “betraying his wife” (whatever that means)). For a good part of the season, the Rangers were “the worst team in baseball,” although the Diamondbacks finally took their rightful place in the MLB basement (probably why they fired manager Kirk Gibson).
As for the Twins, I plan to break down their season in greater detail in another post. For now, suffice to mention that, in their winning season of 2010, they won 94 games. The next year they won only 63 — dodging a 100-games lost by one! In 2012 and 2013 they won 66 games, a slight improvement. This year they won 70 games, so at least things are trending in the right direction.
I end with (now retired) New York Yankee Derek Jeter. He’d announced that 2014 would be his last season, and every team the Yankees visited honored him and showered him with gifts — to the point that some sportscasters began to complain that he really wasn’t all that amazing a baseball player. Which is basically true.
But it’s not really about his stats, it’s about his character and what he’s meant to the Yankees and to the fans in New York. Jeter is one of those highly loved players who’s always showed character of pure sterling. Several other short stops in the game wear #2 to honor him. (The Twins second baseman, Brian Dozier, wears #2 for that reason.)
And if the baseball gods frowned on Milwaukee and Ryan Braun, they clearly smiled on Derek Jeter. If you missed the end of his final game at Yankee stadium, you missed a real baseball gem.
Firstly, that final game was expected to be rained out. Instead, not a drop fell, and it was a lovely fall night in the Bronx. Secondly, many felt manager Joe Girardi would pull Jeter during the eighth inning to allow the fans to cheer him one last time (something they were doing all night long!).
But Girardi left Jetes in. Going into the ninth the Yankees were leading 5-2, but the Yankee’s closer (David Robinson) gave up a two-run homer and a solo homer, and the game was tied!
Bottom of the ninth, a single puts a runner on. A sac bunt advances the runner to second and the announcer says, “Now batting, #2… Derek… Jeter!” (The crowd goes bananas.)
And damned if Derek Jeter, in his last game at Yankee Stadium, doesn’t hit a sharp walk-off single to right!! It was his first walk-off hit in seven years, and I believe his seventh walk-off hit ever.
Now that’s how to end a career!