Admit it, you’re enjoying these baseball playoffs. The excitement. The do-or-die nature of every game. Brian Wilson’s epic beard-mohawk combo that makes him look like a guy begging for change outside McDonald’s.
Wait, what’s that? You’re not enjoying these playoffs? Really? Maybe I’m the only one.
It’s true. Despite everything that’s happened so far- Roy Halladay’s no-hitter, the Rangers winning three games in Tampa, the Twins…well never mind, the Twins just suck- these are the least talked about baseball playoffs that I can remember; maybe of my entire lifetime. Chatting with friends on the phone and communicating with people on Twitter, it seems like most of America has the same interest in the baseball postseason that C.C. Sabathia does for fruits and vegetables. None.
Now, we all know the reasons why. The games are too long. Our attention spans are too short. The same teams win every year. The new ones aren’t compelling. And with all that, I’m starting to wonder, is baseball losing steam as a mainstream sport? I’m afraid it might be, considering that the most talked about thing from the first week of the playoffs (other than Halladay’s no-hitter), were those lousy Conan O’Brien blimp commercials. America just doesn’t seem to care about baseball.
Which is a shame, because I love baseball. As I mentioned last week, I grew up around the game, and played it all the way through the end of high school. I probably understand the intricacies of it as well as any sport. Yet even for me, Aaron Torres- a guy who writes about sports for a living- some of these games are a tad bit boring. Which isn’t good.
It’s also why I’m here to make some suggestions on how to improve the product.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you anything stupid, like “We should have Brett Favre and Jenn Sterger call games together,” or “Let Pauly D from Jersey Shore throw out the first pitch of the World Series.” As much as like that second idea, even I’m not dumb enough to think it could actually happen.
Nope, these are 10 real suggestions. Ten ways to hopefully appease old fans, cultivate new ones, and maybe in the process, pump a little life back into a dying sport. Baseball might not be able to change the product on the field, but they can change the way they produce and present it.
Here’s some food for thought. And as always, I encourage you to share your ideas.
No. 1. Have The Two Highest Finishing Non-Division Winners Play A Three Game Series To Earn The Wild Card: I’ve heard other people mention this, and couldn’t agree more. And you know why? Because you can never have too much playoff baseball! It doesn’t hurt that in the process, it would keep a lot of teams playing hard down the stretch.
Take this year for example. The Yankees ended up winning the American League Wild Card instead of the AL East, in large part because they lost nine of their last 11 games. Since there was no real threat of missing the playoffs (They clinched a postseason berth sometime around Memorial Day), they essentially treated the last two weeks of the season like an additional, glorified spring training session. They rested guys up. Their starting pitchers only threw a few innings per outing. The Yankees might as well have been playing split-squad games against college teams those last few weeks. Again, it felt like spring training.
But think how differently those few weeks would’ve played out if the Yankees had to play two or three extra games if they didn’t win the Division. Think Joe Girardi would’ve spent the last two weeks of the regular season spitting sunflower seed shells on himself, instead of actually managing? Of course not.
The Yankees would have been playing hard down the stretch, trying to get the Division title and the first round bye. In the process, those last few regular season games in Boston would’ve been the most entertaining baseball of the year, than just an excuse to get Marcus Thames some extra at bats, and Joba Chamberlain an extra inning or two of work.
And speaking of Boston, if the Yankees didn’t win the Division, guess who they would’ve played this year for the Wild Card berth? Yep, that’s right, the Red Sox. Who’s opposed to three more games of those two playing? Besides the Red Sox, the “Wild Card Round,” (as I’ll call it), would’ve had teams like the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tigers and Rockies playing hard until the last game or two of their season as well.
Sure the season would take a few days longer, but again, who cares? Especially when you’ve got five or six more teams involved in the playoff race every year.
No. 2 The Winner of the Wild Card Plays The Team With The Best Record In Each League: Essentially, this is in-line with the first rule. After all, isn’t the goal to have more teams playing for something down the stretch? With this rule in place, even the top teams would have reason to play hard all 162 games, with the opportunity to play the Wild Card winner- coming off an extra series – in the first round.
Also, shouldn’t there be incentive for a team to finish with the best record? Because, whoever came up with the current rule- that the Wild Card winner can’t play a Divisional opponent in the first round- is an idiot. Yes, I’m looking at you Bud Selig.
With the system that’s currently in place, teams are, in a way, rewarded for winning the Wild Card and punished for winning their division. If you don’t believe me, ask any Reds fan. They won their first NL Central title in 15 years, and what did they get to show for it? Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in back-to-back games, that’s what. How is that fair? Think they would’ve preferred the Giants instead? And even though they ended up losing in Round 1, don’t you think the Braves were much happier getting San Francisco in Round 1, rather than getting Philadelphia? Again, why reward the Braves that way.
Finally, having Divisional opponents face off in the first round would only add to the drama of the playoffs. This year we would’ve gotten the Rays and the Yankees in the first round, two teams that know each other like an old married couple, and have the same disdain for each other too. If those two had played, that would’ve been the must see matchup of the first round. Instead we got the Twins-Yankees laugher, and the Rays-Rangers series, that drew the lowest ratings of the playoffs on Sunday afternoon.
Speaking of which…
No. 3 No Games On Sunday’s: Ever. This is non-negotiable.
Again, for Major League Baseball, the goal here is to get your product out to as many fans as possible. And with America as a whole going into a catatonic state any time the National…Football…League is even mentioned, it’s just stupid to try and compete against it. Really, why bother. You will lose.
My suggestion to baseball is simple: Take Sunday’s off. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and it’s Peyton Manning’s day. Don’t ever forget that.
No. 4 Let Fans Vote For the LCS and World Series MVP: This is absolutely, positively my favorite idea (mainly because I haven’t heard anyone besides myself mention it).
Here’s why: We’re Americans. To a degree, we’re self-absorbed. We want our opinions to be voiced, and our voices to be heard. Why do you think thousands of bozos like me create sports blogs and spend countless hours on message boards? It’s because we’re dumb enough to think that people actually care what we have to say! Crazy, I know.
But it is that sense of self-centered jingoism that makes shows like Dancing With The Stars a hit. Believe me, 20 million people aren’t tuning in every week just to see “The Situation,” do the samba in a sequined shirt. Most people have things to do with their time. Granted, I’m not one of them. But still.
No, the reason people watch Dancing With Stars, American Idol, Americas Next Top Model (I swear, I’ve only heard of that one, never seen it. What? I swear!), is because we like knowing we have a say in something. That our opinion matters. That no matter how little our voice is, it’s getting heard.
Why couldn’t this work for the LCS and World Series MVP’s? It’s not like any of us care who wins the stupid award anyway. Or even remember who wins for that matter.
Actually, here's a quick pop quiz: Who was last year’s World Series MVP.
Don’t you dare look it up!
The answer is Hideki Matsui. If I had given you 25 guesses, would you have ever gotten that? I wouldn’t have.
But, if you'd stayed up until 2:30 in the morning after Game 6 of last year's World Series voting for Matsui, would you remember then ? I thought so.
No. 5 TBS Needs To Bring In Steve Phillips As A Color Commentator: I can honestly say, that to me, Steve Phillips is hands down, the best baseball color commentator I’ve ever seen. He’s smart, funny, engaging, and downright charming. Really, I can see why he drives the ladies wild. Of course, that’s pretty much the reason Phillips doesn’t have a job right now, since he got caught cheating on his wife with a 20-something ESPN production assistant. Not good.
But what is good, is that after a run in sex rehab, Phillips is clean and sober, and looking for work!
And really, is there any way to get more attention to these playoffs (other than showing some of Brett Favre’s “personal photos,”) than for TBS to hire Phillips?
Believe me, if it was announced tonight that Phillips would be broadcasting Game 1 of the ALCS Friday, it’d absolutely be water-cooler discussion in your office tomorrow. At the very least, it’d lead to a flurry of immature, “Hide the interns!,” texts between you and your buddies. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t tune in to his first broadcast, just to see how Phillips handled himself. Because you absolutely would.
Now obviously it goes without saying that like any addiction, sex addiction isn’t a joke, and shouldn’t be treated like such. We’ve all dealt with addictions, and they’re no laughing matter.
At the same time, it’s not like we’re hiring the perv that lives in your apartment complex who got busted for kiddie porn three weeks ago to call these games. Phillips is qualified and credentialed, even if like the rest of us, he is a bit flawed. It’s time to give the guy another chance.
Speaking of sex, it sells, and because of that…
No. 6 We Need Hot Sideline Reporters: The only sideline reporters I’ve seen so far in these playoffs are Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal, and while I'm sure they're nice guys, they don't exactly get 18-35-year-old males blood-boiling, and eager to tune into the playoffs.
But beyond just them, we've learned a sad truth through the years: Sideline reporters really aren’t that important. Sure they’re nice in football for injury updates, and can even be of use in basketball, if they can sneak an ear into the huddle and find out some strategy. But in baseball? What do we really need sideline reporters for? To let us know that Pablo Sandoval is out of breath after running to first base? I pretty much figured that out on my own, when his face turned purple walking back to the dugout.
(Speaking of lousy reporting, I’ve got a story for you. Earlier in these playoffs, Verducci actually filed a report from the San Francisco dugout, telling us that the Giants got hot at the end of the regular season after Aubrey Huff started wearing a thong under his game uniform. I’m not even joking. They actually talked about it on live TV. And as creepy as that was, it once again proved that you don’t exactly need to be a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist to work the sidelines of these baseball games. Two arms, two legs and a basic grasp of the English language would seem to suffice)
If we must be subjected to sideline reporters (again, with all due respect to Verducci and Rosenthal), can’t they be someone who’s a little easier on the eyes than the ones we have? Jenn Brown doesn’t seem to do much between Friday and Wednesday, would ESPN be willing to loan her out for the postseason? Maybe Inez Sainz from TV Azteca? She certainly knows her way around a locker room. Hell, I’d even hire Lindsay Lohan for the job. She seems to need work right now.
No. 7 Cameras In The Bullpen: Anyone who has ever spent time around a baseball team (as I have), knows that a lot of funny stuff goes down in the bullpen. They play practical jokes, stick big wads of bubble gum on each other’s heads, and even take part in a game called “Hot Foot,” where they essentially light each other on fire. Seriously, check out this video. It not only explains Hot Foot, but also why the 1986 Mets are the coolest baseball team ever.
Now to the bigger question: Why do relief pitchers do all that wacky stuff in the bullpen? The answer is simply really. They’re just as bored by baseball as we are!
So why not take advantage of it, by catching all the hijinks on camera, having the guys in the truck put together a 30 second video, and show it during the seventh inning stretch?
I don’t care how boring a game is. You'd stick with the game just to watch that video. Believe me.
No. 8 Fan Giveaways: Question, have you ever noticed how during the NCAA Tournament CBS constantly runs those, “Win two tickets to next year’s Final Four,” promotions? Of course you have, they show the damn commercial 37,000 times a game.
Yet for all the baseball I’ve watched the last 10 days, I haven’t seen one similar promo for baseball. No free tickets to next year’s World Series. No free trip to the All-Star Game. Bud Selig won’t even splurge on a free copy of one of those Tom Emanski Defensive Drills videos to give out to a lucky fan. What a cheap-ass.
With all due respect to Mr. Selig, it's time for you to throw us a freakin' bone here. We're loyal. We watch the games. But at the same time, we're Americans, and we love free stuff!
Give us anything, we don't care. But give us something. And free tickets to a Rays game don't count.
No. 9 I Never Thought I’d Say This, But We Need More In-Studio Fluff pieces: Ok, so maybe TBS doesn’t need to go to the extreme that NBC does during the Olympics. We really don't need to hear about the Braves deaf, dyslexic clubhouse attendant whose parents died a plane crash. That stuff is just depressing.
Still. There’s no bigger buzz kill than watching a great game, and then TBS cutting back to the studio to see David Wells, Dennis Eckersley and Cal Ripken, “Break down the game.” Honestly, if I wanted to hear three out of shape fat guys with mustaches talk about sports, I’d have joined my stepdad’s bowling league. At least there they have free beer.
Baseball needs to understand that this isn’t the NFL, we don’t need 45 minutes of postgame analysis. Just show us the highlights, a few key plays and tell us who the winning pitcher was. That’s it. Honestly, I could really do without Wells spend 10 minutes telling us how this year’s Phillies team reminds him of the 1998 Yankees. That was 12 years ago. Some of us have moved on.
And to fill that free time, why not go ahead and give us some fluff pieces? There are a lot of great stories out there, and we need to be hearing about them. Bobby Cox just managed his last game, why didn’t we see a single interview with one of his former players? Chase Utley and his wife do incredible charity work, why not talk about that? Hell, give me the same story I’ve seen a million times on Josh Hamilton. That story makes for great TV. It never gets old.
Really, just give us anything, except what we’re getting now. I swear, if I have to see another 15 minute segment on Cal Ripken breaking down the finer points of a sacrifice bunt, I’m going to hurt somebody.
No. 10 The MLB Needs To Market Their Players Better: This is really within the same scope as No. 9. And it’s where I’m most concerned about baseball’s future.
The thing is, I'm personally going to watch these playoffs regardless of whether the Phillies and Yankees play in the World Series, or the Giants and Rays. But this isn’t about me, or my buddies that enjoy baseball. It’s about bringing in casual sports fans, that might not be watching these gamesotherwise. And you’ll never get the casual sports fan if they don’t know the players.
Think about it. What makes the NFL so great, and keeps us coming back, regardless of which teams are playing? It’s that we know the know the players. We know Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Chad Ochocino, Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb. We love them. We hate them. We have an opinion on them.
And because of that, we’ll always be invested in the games. Some love the old gun-slinger Brett Favre, and want him to make one last Super Bowl run. On the other hand, a lot people can’t stand him, want him to zip up his Wranglers, and just retire already. But no matter how we feel, love him or hate him, we’re flipping on the TV to watch Brett Favre. And root for or against him.
That’s the same reason why we’re about to start the most anticipated NBA season, maybe ever. You either love or hate the Miami Heat. There’s no middle ground. Regardless of which side you fall on though, you will tune in to watch them play.
Well, what players in baseball do you feel the same way about? That you’re passionate about? That you’d seriously consider running over with your car if you saw them in a cross-walk? That you’re going to tune in to root for or against, regardless of your team allegiance? The only guys that I can think of who might even remotely fit that category are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, and they’re both over 35. What happens when they retire?
The only way to get the fans re-invested in baseball is to start marketing these players better. Over these last few weeks, the MLB should’ve been stuffing Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, Jason Heyward and Buster Posey down our throats. They should’ve had Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard in those stupid blimp commercials with Conan O’Brien, rather than his weird pilot sidekick. Also, how has Roy Halladay been one of the elite pitchers in baseball for close to a decade now, and I’ve never once seen him in a TV commercial? That’s inexcusable! You mean to tell me that with that beard of his, the MLB couldn’t have pulled some strings and gotten him a Gillette ad with Roger Federer or something? Please!
What baseball needs to understand, is that these playoffs, and next season, and everything going forward aren't about necessarily keeping the fans they have happy, but cultivating new ones. They need to come into the 21st century and add hot sideline reporters and free giveaways, and let America get to know who their best players are. And they need to do it before it’s too late.
I just wish I wasn’t the only one who realized these things.
Also, for his continued take on all things sports, and for updates on all his articles, podcasts and giveaways, please follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports and by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android phones!)