Bye-bye regular season

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I’m glad the last day of the season is happening on Ocotber 3. My favorite final day of the season in my lifetime happened on October 3. It was 1993. I spent that day in Cleveland, at the last game ever played at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Tribe — with a young Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Carlos Baerga — were taking on the first place Chicago White Sox. The Sox won 4-0, but the packed house — over 72,000 for a baseball game, which was insane — cheered like crazy anyway.

First they cheered for the fact that Belle beat out Frank Thomas for the RBI crown (this was before we all learned that RBI didn’t really matter). Then they cheered for the fact that Cleveland native Bob Hope ended the day by standing on home plate and singing “Thanks for the Memories.” He was a bit wobbly by 1993, but no one cared. It was a treat.

Another reason why October 3, 1993 was fantastic?  As I watched the Indians and the Sox do their thing, I was scoreboard watching. And what I watched was the Braves beating the the Rockies handily, as David Neid, alas, was bested by Tom Glavine. Meanwhile, as Bob Hope sang, the Dodgers-Giants game was underway, but not yet decided. It wasn’t until I got down to my friend’s parents house in Wooster for Sunday dinner that we learned — via radio, not the Internet because the Internet was something you used at the campus computer lab in those days and, really, where were you going to get scores on that thing anyway? — that the Dodgers won, ending the last of the great division title races.  Man, what a day!

We won’t have any parks filled with 77,000 people today. And, with all of the playoff participants decided, we have no win-or-go-home games left to play.  But we do have the A’s and Rangers facing off in a win-or-play-the-wild-card-game thing. And the Orioles and Yankees could still end in a tie, forcing extra baseball tomorrow.  That’s not nothing.

Also not nothing: the fact that, for the last time until next spring, we have a slate of 15 ballgames. And no matter how great the playoffs can be, they’re … different than regular season baseball. Things become more important and more pitched and intense and that’s good. But today does mean the end of easy going, relaxing baseball for baseball’s sake that characterizes so much of the regular season. And I’ll miss that, even as things get all crazy over the next month.

Bye-bye 2012 regular season. You were pretty darn good to us.

Zack Greinke understands that “the opener” isn’t just about in-game strategy

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Over the weekend, Craig was among those cited as having criticized the Rays by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Craig wrote about it in Sunday’s And That Happened. Many of the responses from Rays fans to him on Twitter, at least most of what I saw, conflated distaste for ownership’s penny-pinching for a belief that the team is bad. Indeed, the Rays enter Tuesday’s action 64-61 and their position above .500 has something to do with “the opener” strategy, which is when they have a reliever like Sergio Romo start the game before handing the ball off to an actual starter after an inning or two. Other teams, like the Twins, have taken notice of “the opener” and have begun experimenting with it.

On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller published a lengthy column discussing how recent changes to the game of baseball have made it a worse product. He quotes a lot of old-timers, which I discussed yesterday. Miller also quoted Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke on the subject of “the opener.” While quotes from the likes of Goose Gossage and Pete Rose were a bit more eye-popping, Greinke’s thoughts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Greinke said:

It’s really smart, but it’s also really bad for baseball. It’s just a sideshow. There’s always ways to get a little advantage, but the main problem I have with it is you do it that way, then you’ll end up never paying any player what he’s worth because you’re not going to have guys starting, you’re not going to have guys throwing innings.

You just keep shuffling guys in and out constantly so nobody will ever get paid. Someone’s going to make the money, either the owners or the players. You keep doing it that way, the players won’t make any money.

Back in May, I wrote about how the overarching concept of “bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue in baseball. Greinke touched on exactly those points. An elite starter makes significantly more money than an elite reliever. Compare contracts signed by David Price (seven years, $217 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) to the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), which is currently the most lucrative contract signed by a reliever. It wouldn’t crack the top-85 contracts in baseball.

A starter’s number of starts and his innings pitched total are both cited in arbitration filings and contract negotiations. A pitcher who made 33 starts in a season will have more leverage than a pitcher who made only 15 starts. Meanwhile, Romo and Ryne Stanek‘s innings totals aren’t much different than a normal year of relief. Thus, if you’re Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander, spreading the number of starts (and innings) between the “rotation” and bullpen will reduce the cost of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible starters. The owners save this money and pocket it instead of reinvesting it into the team. Then they’ll turn around, cry poor, and ask residents of Tampa to foot the billion-dollar bill for a new stadium in Ybor City, roughly 25 minutes from their current digs.

Greinke is right and we should pay attention to what he’s saying. While “the opener” has some strategic merit, particularly for teams with less-than-complete starting rotations, it also conveniently helps save money for stingy and exploitative front offices. We’ve already accepted that a third of the league gave up on the season before it began. Let’s not accept that teams can give up on their pitching staffs as well.