Baseball should ignore calls for "competitive balance"

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A must-read article by Joe Sheehan at Sports Illustrated, um, illustrating why arguments comparing the NFL’s competitive balance to baseball’s competitive balance are simply wrongheaded.

The hypothetical which kicks off the article — where baseball’s playoff races would stand right now if, like the NFL, the whole season was 16 games long — perfectly illustrates the insanity of the comparison. If this were football, every team would be in it until the end, because one game means so damn much in football. Baseball has ten times as many games, rendering many of them near-disposable.  The two sports’ respective rules, business models, histories, cultures, atmosphere, vernacular and fan bases all stem from this distinction.

Personally I like baseball better, but that’s just me being provincial. Objectively saying one is better than the other in any given respect is an exercise in prejudices, not reason. I’m told that a few rational people like football too, and good for
them, but it makes no more sense to compare the two than it does to compare salami sandwiches and pumpkin pie. They’re both great in their own way, but they really don’t share the same universe.

Which leads me to the money quote of the article.  It’s borne of the misguided impulse of baseball fans — and believe me, it’s only baseball fans who do this — to reflexively defend their sport to those who say it’s inferior to football.  It’s a call-to-arms of sorts, telling baseball fans to own baseball and its history and to act in the same manner as football fans do (i.e. not giving a diddly durn about how the conditions in one sport impact those in the other):

Instead of cowering when it’s compared to the NFL, MLB and its leaders
should stand up and brag about the differences that make its game great.
It should note the math of the issue, that the NFL’s competitive
balance is the natural consequence of a short regular season and a
larger postseason, and that MLB’s competitive balance, considered in the
context of its own sport, is good.

Henceforth, I’ll engage in any argument that compares baseball’s current competitive landscape to the competitive landscape that existed in baseball’s past or its hypothetical future.  I will ignore, however, those who criticize baseball for not living up to the standards of a sport that, for all of its charms, is utterly alien to baseball and those rules, conditions, culture and history which make it great.

Marlins granted permission to interview Larry Bowa

Larry Bowa
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The Miami Marlins, despite not having technically fired Dan Jennings, are actively interviewing for a new manager. Their latest target is a familiar name: Larry Bowa.

Jim Salisbury of reports on the coaching staff shakeup with the Phillies and, in the course of it, notes that the Marlins have asked and have been granted permission to interview Bowa, who is currently the Phillies’ bench coach. He has been offered a contract for 2016 by the Phillies, but he has never made a secret of his desire to manage again and has interviewed a few times over the years. Bowa, of course, managed the Padres in 1987 and 1988 and managed the Phillies from 2001 into the 2004 season.

As recently as a year ago it seemed unlikely that Bowa would get another look for a top job anyplace, what with baseball’s seeming eschewing of the crusty and feisty old managerial types in favor of young, inexperienced managers who had just recently retired from playing. But given how poorly that’s gone for most clubs — the Marlins included with Mike Redmond — this could be a winter in which we see a bunch of those old salty types returning.

Champagne after a loss? Why not?

Astros Wild Card

There was some hockey person last week arguing about how it was silly or untoward for baseball teams to celebrate clinching wild cards or other, less-than-championship-level accomplishments. Calling it bush league or lacking in act-like-you’ve-been-thereness or what have you. I can only imagine what he’d say about the Astros celebrating with champagne following (a) winning a wild card; and (b) losing the game which immediately preceded the celebration.

But screw him. Seriously.

I used to think that way. Indeed, if you search the HBT archives I’m sure there’s a post or two in which I disapprove of teams engaging in multiple champagne celebrations. But I was wrong about that and I’ve changed my mind on the matter over the past year or too. And on some other matters as well, all for the same reason: athletes are people just like us, not some avatars for our machismo and our fantasies. They’re people who have spent their entire lives devoted to their calling and do it under a lot of pressure and in the face of a lot of criticism and expectations from others. Why on Earth would anyone deny them their happiness upon the realization of an accomplishment?

This is even more true if you’re one of those misguided souls who erroneously believe that sports actually is separate from real life and believe them to be supremely and impossibly important. Even if you’re right — and you’re not — wouldn’t that give the athletes an even greater incentive to celebrate accomplishments? Funny how those people who who act as if sports is life and death would deny athletes their joy for defying death, as it were.

My view on the matter now is that if a guy hits a homer he should be able to celebrate it. If a pitcher strikes a guy out, he should be able to celebrate it. If a team makes the playoffs, no matter how low their seed and no matter the manner in which the accomplishment is achieved short of their competitors going down in a plane crash, they should be able to celebrate if they so choose.

So enjoy your hangovers this morning, Houston Astros.