by Anthony Lima
Listen to Anthony on The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima, weekdays from 6 am-10 am
Sometimes, baseball just makes it up as it goes along.
To some, that very fact underscores the beauty of America’s pastime. For people like me, it’s what holds the sport back. Either way, we are less than a week away from launching into the most spectacular, yet arbitrary, of all post-seasons with the Indians’ 68-year drought at stake.
So many things bother me about baseball these days that it’s sometimes hard for me not to let it get in the way of what could very well be a special October — not to be confused with the so-called “October to remember” three years ago that ended in a Wild Card game shutout in front of a frenzied Cleveland crowd. But sometimes, baseball’s antiquated conventions can sometimes serve to spoil the fun, and as always, leave sports fans wondering … “huh?”
Take for instance – Wednesday night’s rain-shortened loss to the Tigers. Think about what was truly at stake. The Indians are chasing the Rangers and the Red Sox for home field advantage, and anyone who’s watched the Tribe this year, especially the offense, knows how vitally important more home games would be.
Then there’s the Tigers, who are frantically trying to make up ground in the Wild Card race with only four games left. Imagine another sport shortening a crucial game like that down the stretch because it’s simply run out of time. Would college football, the sport who’s been questioned more than any other over their post-season selection, EVER allow ANYTHING to intervene between Ohio State and Michigan with the Big Ten Title and a playoff berth at stake? Of course not.
But the baseball execs are totally cool with shortening one of the final games and giving unfair advantages to the Tigers and their bullpen over the other teams they’re chasing.
Then there’s the age-old baseball custom of celebrating a post season spot like it’s your 21st birthday, or as Johnny Manziel calls it, a Wednesday afternoon. It’s been tradition for years that baseball teams cover up the floors and lockers with plastic, remove the furniture, and truck in the alcohol like it’s the end of prohibition. That made sense for so many years in baseball, which only had one round: The World Series, until 1968. Then from ’69 to ’93, championship series were created in each league, adding another round.
But once the wildcard was brought in and expanded upon in ’94 and then again in ’12, clinching a playoff berth did not hold nearly the significance that it used to. Especially considering a team winning a wildcard berth could potentially be subjected to playing their next game the very next day if they had a makeup game to complete.
The way teams celebrate these days, they bring out the bubbly after they force a one-game playoff to gain a Wild Card bid, then a Wild Card round win, then a divisional run, then league championship victory, then they stand and spin around a bat like it’s a minor league promotion and fall down just in time to try and win the thing that truly matters — The World Series.
We truly did find a sport that Johnny Manziel could completely excel at.
The Indians certainly had their fun earlier this week when they won their first divisional crown in nine years and left the Tigers visitor clubhouse so drenched in alcohol that it would have doubled Francona’s old Boston clubhouse, minus the chicken.
The Indians deserved a celebration, overcoming all the odds and muting all the narratives surrounding the “penny-pinching” organization and trouncing the hated Tigers, their rivals all season, to punch their ticket to the playoffs. The question is why Tito would wave the white flag the very next day in a game that was CRUCIAL to capturing home-field advantage with only a few games left.
The MLB playoffs might be arbitrary, but home-field has been anything but for the Indians, who have looked like a different team all year, especially at the plate.
Maybe it’s all moot at this point, with the Indians undergoing a rash of injuries to their rotation, and with Thursday night’s sham of a shortened game. Despite all of it, the Indians are still only two games back of the Red Sox (given the tiebreaker) and still have an outside shot at beginning the ALDS at Progressive Field as opposed to Fenway. Indians fans sold out their first two playoff home games in a little over an hour.
Here’s hoping they get a chance to attend a third.