The only thing people care less about than your golf game, your worst beat in poker and your mattress sleep number is your fantasy baseball team. So: stop reading now. I’m not kidding.
Why are you still reading? Stop.
OK, fine, you’re still here — you have been warned. This is about my Strat-o-Matic fantasy baseball team. But even more, it’s about something even less interesting: My enduring hatred of playoffs in baseball.
Strat-O asked me and a bunch of cool people — Jon Miller, Jack Curry, Doug Glanville, Joe Sheehan, Joe Lemire, Will Leitch, Stuart Miller, Steve Gardner, Marc Stein, Chad Finn and Strat-O inventor Hal Richman — to play in a Baseball 365 league, which takes the Strato-O-Matic board game and puts it online for a full season with all sorts of bells and whistles. The winner, we were told, would get a $1,000 gift to their favorite charity. I chose Harvester’s, a food bank in Kansas City.
Me and my buddy Chardon Jimmy promptly and methodically built what was unquestionably the best team in the league.
And — we didn’t even come close to winning the $1,000 prize. Sorry Harvester’s.
What happened was this: we lost in the FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS. We got swept by the team owned by Marc Stein. Now, I don’t want to sound like there are sour grapes but WHAAAAAAAAAA*$&#&#^#&#$&$*#&#&@^&$*#(#(!!!!!!!
I can’t believe you’re still reading this.
Our team, the Salt Waaps — I’ll explain that name in a later post if you are at all interested — won 95 games, most in the league. We had a 181-run differential, which was basically twice as good as anyone in the league. We had by far the best pitching staff (we gave up 78 fewer runs than any team in the league) and one of the best offenses (third in the league in runs scored).
WeWe started off the year slowly and were 15-20 after the first 35 games. After that, we made some moves (picking up Adam Eaton and Odubel Herrera and Matt Adams others) we went 80-47 the rest of the way, .630 baseball.
The boring point is — we were the best team. We won our division by 15 games and the whole league by two games. Then we were set up against Marc’s team, the Bulls. They were fine. They went 84-78, got outscored by a run during the season, scored 100 fewer runs than us and gave up the previously mentioned 78 more.
And they swept us four straight in the playoffs because … playoffs.
I get that playoffs are America. I do. We like the immediacy of playoffs, the randomness of playoffs, the newfound hope of playoffs. Everybody has a chance. Underdogs can win. We like March Madness, where 60-some teams get thrown into a hat and play their way out to the grating sounds of “One Shining Moment.” We like NHL and NBA and NFL playoff games, where players turn up the intensity to 11. We like October baseball when we sometimes get games like last year’s Rangers-Blue Jays joyfest. We are so in love with playoffs we go absolutely crazy when sports don’t have them or when they are not expansive enough (see Football, College). I get it.
But it has long struck me that by choosing playoffs over regular season excellence, we make the conscious choice for drama over consistent quality, we choose immediacy over the sustained brilliance, we choose the big play over the long play.
This is especially true in baseball, where numerous factors work against playoffs:
1. The baseball season is an absurd 162 games.
That’s long enough to pick a champion.
2. Baseball is a natural equalizer.
In football, great teams can go 14-2 or 15-1 (or even 16-0). Great basketball teams as we just saw can win 70-plus games out of of 82. Hockey is a little bit different with the ties, but the very best teams can win around 75% of their games.
Great baseball teams win 62% of their games — that’s 100 wins. And even that doesn’t happen much. Only one team the last four years has won 100 games in a season (Cardinals last year). No American League team has won 100 games since the 2009 Yankees.
And the point? Well, it’s a sport that defines greatness over weeks and months. Greatness in baseball is that thing that rides crests and weathers slumps, it carries through cool weather and hot, through injuries and surprise, the aches and pains of old guys, the naive mistakes of young guys, through all the manager moves that work and flop. The best team at the end of a long season is, in my view, the BEST TEAM.
But then we choose our champion based on who can win three short playoff series.
3. Pennant races > playoff series.
Eh, most people disagree. But I love the final two or three weeks of a close pennant race so much more than I enjoy playoffs. That tension is unlike anything in sports. We don’t really have pennant races any more because ten teams make the baseball playoff. I’m guessing 90% of baseball fans prefer that. I’m fine with that; I’m a fantatical baseball fan so I’ll take baseball any way I can get it. But I dig pennant races.
4. Luck. Luck. Luck.
The smaller the sample size, the more opportunities luck has of deciding things. It makes for good viewing. It makes for a great experience if your team happens to be the lucky one. But … when picking a champ I’d prefer keeping luck on the sidelines as much as possible.
Of course, I’m just the old guy whose Strat-o-Matic team choked in the playoffs and now I’m shouting at clouds. I can’t believe anyone is reading these words down here.
In all seriousness, congratulations to Steve Gardner (and the Michael J. Fox Foundation) for his team’s well-deserved victory. He really did have a great team that won 92 games and then rolled through the playoffs. He deserved his championship. Now I’m going to call Billy Beane to ask him how to endure when you realize that your bleep doesn’t work in the playoffs. Maybe I’ll fire a manager.