The real reason for expanded playoffs

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Today Jeff Passan of Yahoo! takes the idea of an expanded playoffs apart piece-by-piece.  His criticisms track my own in their concern with (a) this being nothing but a money grab; (b) devaluing the  regular season; (c)  creating perverse competitive incentives among contenders; and (d) doing nothing to make the game better like, say, instituting replay would.

But Passan’s take is easily the sharpest I’ve seen on the matter because in talking to executives and owners he really makes plain the fact that Bud Selig refuses to acknowledge: fairness and the health of baseball have nothing to do with it. Don’t believe it? Just listen to the two team executives Passan quotes:

“As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success,” one executive said. “I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”

and

“[O]ur ideas aren’t as much what’s right for the sport as what’s right for revenues. My team is worth a lot more than it was when I bought it. It’s sort of like blood money, though.”

It’s pretty obvious, really.

And the fact that so few are calling Major League Baseball out on it is telling as well. After all, networks and newspapers and websites all stand to gain too. They get increased viewership and readership if the playoffs linger on. I’ve seen the traffic reports for HardballTalk during the playoffs.  They’re quite gaudy compared to the early part of the post season, I will tell you.  Expanded playoffs are great for my bottom line.  I’m sure the same goes for Yahoo! and everyone else. So I suppose it’s understandable that we’ve gotten pliant reporting about this plan, with Bud Selig’s ludicrous comments about “fairness” being reported mostly without criticism and the expanded playoffs being viewed as a benign inevitability.

Kudos to Passan and others — even some whose employers have an even more obvious incentive to milk money out of the playoffs than most — who have attacked this cynical idea, calling it out for exactly what it is. They are to be commended for doing what the Commissioner, the owners, the MLBPA and the players are supposed to do in looking after the best interests of the game as opposed to the best interests of those who profit from it.

Not that it will ultimately change a damn thing.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.