A Vote for Bud Selig
But Selig is not the bumbler that heís often portrayed as. He genuinely loves baseball, in which heís been involved since buying the Milwaukee Brewers in the early Ď70s, and heís had some progressive ideas that have helped the sport.
One of them is the wild card. Traditionalists have scorned this because they long for the days when there were just two leagues and the champions in each went to the World Series, but the present system of three division winners and one wild card from each league is the fairest way.
Baseball hasnít gone playoff crazy, as the other sports have, with multiple wild cards, though none as extreme as the old six-team NHL, which played a whole season just to eliminate the fifth and sixth teams.
But the baseball wild card gives a team in a tough division a chance to make it. Certainly, the 1993 Giants would have loved that; they won 103 games that season but didnít get to the postseason because the Atlanta Braves, in the same division then, won 104.
The wild card also creates excitement even when division races are lopsided. Baseball has always suffered from the fact that, in such a long season, there are always several teams that are out of the race by midseason, or even earlier. Even this early, you could easily predict that National League teams Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and Florida, and American League teams Seattle, Kansas City and Tampa Bay wonít be in the postseason. Milwaukee and Baltimore are real long shots, too.
But for fans of good teams which wonít win their division, interest will remain high because they have a shot at the wild card. That list this year will probably include National League teams Cincinnati, Houston, Philadelphia and perhaps Atlanta. In the American League, Detroit and either Boston or New York in the AL East, will be in the wild card race. Cleveland and Minnesota, if they recover from early season funks, are possibilities, too, along with Toronto.
Another Selig idea I liked but which didnít make it was re-alignment along geographical lines. That would have put natural rivals like the Giants and Aís, the Cubs and the White Sox, the Dodgers and the Angels, the Yankees and the Mets, the Astros and the Rangers and the Cardinals and the Royals in the same division.
The Giants didnít like that idea at all, primarily because it would dilute the importance of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, which was successfully transplanted from New York to the West Coast, and also because it would chiefly benefit the Aís, who have no natural rival. From time to time, itís been thought that the Aís-Angels could become a natural rivalry but thatís never taken. Both are ďsecond citiesĒ, and thereís not the natural animosity between Anaheim and Oakland that exists between Los Angeles and San Francisco Ė at least, on the San Francisco end.
THE BEST Selig idea, though, may be inter-league baseball.
You wonít hear players and managers saying that. With the latest round of inter-league play coming up this weekend, you can expect to hear the usual complaints that the inter-league schedule causes inequities because some teams face tougher rivals than other teams do in their division. There are always those who claim inter-league play dilutes the importance of the World Series, though nobody ever makes that claim about the Super Bowl or the NBA Championship series, though thereís more inter-league play in both those sports than in baseball.
But the bottom line is that fans love it. Attendance always jumps for the inter-league games. That will certainly be true for the Aís, as they host the Giants at the Coliseum; there are many Giants fans, especially in the East Bay, who have been priced out of games at PacBell but will show up in Oakland for this series.
But even for games that are not part of a natural rivalry, attendance will go up because fans like to see players from the other league.
There are only four areas in the country which have teams in each league, which means that in 22 cities, fans usually can watch only one league. Even in areas which have teams in both leagues, there isnít much crossover. Most Cubs fans would rather die than go to the White Sox park to see a game, for instance. Even in the Bay Area, where fan loyalties arenít quite so entrenched, there isnít much crossover. I still remember how excited Giants fans were when they got to see Ken Griffey play in person, when the Seattle Mariners played interleague games in San Francisco. Of course, theyíd have been able to see him before if theyíd been willing to come to Aís-Mariners games at the Coliseum.
The Aís and the Giants have split six of their nine yearly inter-league series. The Aís took last yearís, 4-2, to take a 26-24 overall lead. This year should be another tight one. The teams have virtually identical records and both have key components out, outfielder Moises Alou for the Giants, starting pitcher Rich Harden for the Aís.
WHEN JUDGING a commissioner, itís always important to remember that he serves the owners and they can vote him out whenever they wish, as they did with Seligís predecessor, Fay Vincent.
Within those restrictions, I think Selig has generally been an effective and creative commissioner Ė even if I have to take healthy doses of No Doze to get through his public speeches.
NOTE: This column is being posted relatively late because I had a meeting in San Francisco that lasted longer than I had anticipated. On Thursday, I may also not post until around 4 p.m. because Iím holding a house open for my wife in the morning and have an eye appointment after that. Otherwise, I try to post my columns between 10 a.m. and noon.
What do YOU think? Let me know!