The World Series began last night, with the St. Louis Cardinals taking Game 1 from the Texas Rangers. I didn't watch.
I'm still bummed about my Phillies falling to the Cardinals in the NLDS playoffs, which is a large part of the reason why. As I wrote in the last week of the regular season, 2011 was a banner year for the Phils — which makes it all the more confounding (if not ironic) that they didn't win a pennant. Charlie Manuel's team won a franchise record 102 games, by far the best mark in the major leagues, yet as more than one wag put it the team's ballyhooed four aces were beat in the first round of the playoffs by a wild card; none of the wags, as far as I know, referred to the Phils as royally flushed.
There are those — fans, journalists, and ballplayers, not necessarily in that order — who believe that even (perhaps especially) a stellar regular season is for naught if you don't make it to the World Series. Failing to reach at least the league championships is a particular sore spot, since before the extra round of playoffs that came about in 1994 with the restructuring of the National and American Leagues into three divisions each (from two; the odd number thus introduced the wild-card slot) the teams with the best regular-season record in each division automatically went to the LCS and played for a World Series berth. [Prior to 1969, MLB had no playoffs unless a tie necessitated them, as the AL and NL teams with the best records claimed the pennant outright and proceeded straight to the Fall Classic. Prior to 1970, however, I did not exist, and so the traditional playoffs make perfect sense to me whereas the revised brackets are "new" and weird.]
What this all-or-nothing attitude lacks is acknowledgement — I almost used the word "appreciation", but I'm not sure it fits — that the postseason really has become a gauntlet unto itself. Any team that qualifies for the playoffs, even by dint of winning a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card slot, is capable of taking a best-of-five from any other such team in the divisional series, and probably of taking a best-of-seven league championship if it gets there. Energy is heightened in the postseason, but injuries, streaks, slumps, good calls, bad calls, and other kinds of luck are just as possible as they were over the six months from April to October that led there.
You really have to look at the 162-game regular season as the main course of the hearty meal that is the annual baseball cycle, and the playoffs as dessert. I'm not saying that you should want to, mind; I'm saying that you really do have to, because otherwise the system that's been in place for the past 17 years (maybe even the 42-season-strong concept of dedicated playoffs altogether) is essentially built to dash dreams — the equivalent, kinda/sorta, of calling nominees who don't win an Academy Award "losers" instead of focusing on the fact that they were selected as finalists when hundreds of others were passed by.
Hitting a grand slam doesn't win a game if the other team still scores more runs, but it's a heck of a thing. Winning a game by 10 runs doesn't count for any more than winning a game by 1 run, but it's a heck of a thing. Winning a season with the best record in Major League Baseball doesn't get you any farther ahead in the playoffs than the wild-card pick (beyond home-field advantage), but... You see where I'm going. The stats aren't invalidated, and the pride in them shouldn't be either.
There are also those — among them friends of mine — who claim that if one does not watch the World Series because one's favorite team is not participating then one is guilty of sour grapes or is just not a true baseball fan.
As I said above, I admit that the Phillies' absence — and the presence of the team that beat them — is a contributing factor to my skipping the Fall Classic this year. I groove to the very form of baseball and I've tried to bone up on its history on occasion, yet I find that with any sport I need a hook on which to hang emotional investment. When the playoffs roll around, I hate that the local radio broadcasts are out of sync with the visuals airing on TBS or Fox because I prefer the voices of the announcers I know; there are players and clubs besides the Phils for whom I root out of past loyalty or geography or pure admiration, but I really don't have the ability to follow the whole field during the regular season and so even the most consequential playoff games involving teams I don't care about are, well, games involving teams I don't care about. Every moment spent doing one thing is a very conscious and often difficult choice made to not be doing something else — particularly since I can't really focus on more than one thing at a time on a good day — so most games that don't involve the Phillies (and many of those that do) are pretty easy to pass up when stacked against the negative-image scrapheap of books not read, movies not watched, concerts not attended, conversations not had, and vistas not experienced.
I do like the fact that the Rangers' ballpark in Arlington, Texas, is known as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Corporate names on ballparks, including Philadelphia's, leave me cold at best and often are outright silly. And despite knowing decent people from St. Louis, I have reason to root against the Cardinals for the same reasons I root for other teams. The Cardinals' manager rubs me the wrong way, and I'm not alone; if you're not easily offended, Google "Tony LaRussa is" and check out the suggestions offered to complete your search term.
The logo for this year's World Series is really nice, emphasizing the autumnal setting of October baseball, so at least there's that.
I don't know how to be any more excited for the Phillies' 2012 season than I was for this one, and like I said above what's really galling is that it almost can't go any better. The Phils contributed to their own defeat as much as the Cardinals did by not scoring enough runs, but the pitching was about as good as it could be on both sides given that actual human beings play these games and not their statistics. So there ain't much for a fan to do but turn a deaf ear to the catcalls of those from opposing sides reveling in the club's inability to go all the way and thank the guys for a satisfying meal. Let's all try to lose a few pounds and maybe next time we'll grab dessert...
2011 World Series logo, Phillies logo, and 2012 Phillies schedule ®/© 2011 Major League Baseball.
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