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The Myth of the Spoiler Returns


After reading comments by Oakland Athletics players in 2009 as to their feelings about the notion of "spoilers" (they lacked any incentive, to a man, as to playing harder against contending teams) I figured the myth about "spoilers" would begin to fade.....

No such luck.  In another attempt boost fan interest, MLB.com ran this story today.

Why does Major League Baseball feel the need to attempt to push fan interest in games that have no relevance to post season play??

Well, open any sports page of any major daily these days, and the front page is covered with football news, college and pro.  Today was considerably more baseball on my paper of choice, the SF Chronicle, but a story about high school football safety (concussions, etc) got more inches than coverage of the entire American League schedule outside of the "home team", the Oakland Athletics.

So, in my estimation, Major League Baseball has to construct an elaborate, subtle "reason to get excited" to attempt to find relevancy and build interest in games that will feature overwhelmingly good teams playing overwhelmingly bad teams.  As of August 25th, the playoff teams are pretty much determined.  In what other sport are playoff spots already assured for 75% of the playoff slots, with thirty-five, thirty-seven games remaining? 

Baseball is unique among sports in that the action can be granulated to individual performances by batter/pitcher episodes.  In addition, fielding is pretty much one player doing, or not doing, something to the best of his ability.  To begin with the premise that baseball players at the MLB level might possibly, simply, "go through the motions" if the game they are playing in, doesn't affect their own team's trip to playoffs (because the team is not going to the playoffs) is the singular falsehood upon which the "spoiler" myth is built.

Any player who is not hard-wired by the time he becomes a member of a 25-player MLB roster, to "not waste an AB", not hustle after a foul pop-up, will not be on that roster for long.  Plus, his own earnings will suffer, eventually.  Out of self interest, players play as hard as they can, all the time, every game.  Whether the opposing team is 47-75, or 75-47, never crosses a player's mind when he's at the plate.  Nor does that opposing team's position to get into the playoffs enter into individual efforts on the field to do the best they can.

How could it?  What is the evidence?

The evidence, as supplied by the players, in interviews, is repeatedly, "it doesn't matter" .  It doesn't matter to them that they hit a three-run homer, and thus (supposedly) caused the other team anguish.  That player wanted the three-run homer!  To speculate about how "bad" they made the other team feel, how there is satisfaction in "spoiling", making the other team suffer, is pure journalistic dreaming originated in attempting to build so many column-inches by deadline.  Or promote interest.  Everyone knows the false way in which MLB.com attempts to drive All-Star interest, by pushing non-all-stars to fans, attempting to get the fans to "participate" in the faux All-Star process.

Let's get rid of these embarrassing fabrications.

I propose a different system of determining who goes to the World Series, in order to (1) keep interest by MSM (main stream media) high during the last month (September) of the regular MLB season, and (2) stop the season from entering "football territory", the months of October and November, simply because of the NHL/NBA-style playoff system, which the overlords at the Commissioner's Office imposed on MLB because of the events of 1994.  The fact that it would erase the "spoiler" mythology is simply a nice added "feature" as they say in the software business.

I will use the American League (14 teams) as an example, because the math is "nice".

In my proposed system, there would be no regularly scheduled inter-league play and no divisions.  The fourteen American League teams would play a balanced schedule for 130 games, until August 31st.  That means each team gets five games at home, five games away, against every other team in the league.  If they have to schedule doubleheaders to make it work, so be it. But by the end of August, all teams would complete their 130 games.

After that, beginning September first, "Super September" would begin.  The top six teams out of the fourteen, would only play each other.  They would not play "bottom dwellers", they would not play "spoiler" teams, they would not have the benefit of an "easy schedule in September" to determine who goes to the World Series.  Each of the six "Top teams" qualifying to play for the World Series berth would play three games at home, three games away, against the other five teams, for the entire month of September.  Thirty games.  On September 30th, the team with the most wins in the month of September would play in the World Series, which would begin October 3rd, and resemble the World Series schedule of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

What about the eight "also ran" teams?? Well, beginning September 1, they would also only play within their group of "also rans", thirty games.  But they could have an uneven schedule, play interleague games, expand rosters, play upcoming players without worrying about diluting the team effort against "contenders".  Now, teams feel some obligation to play established players if the other team is fighting for a spot in the playoffs, just out of "fairness".  This should not be an issue.  An unsuccessful team should not be beholden to hold back evaluating their own talent, which may benefit them in the future, simply because they're playing Tampa Bay, and the Yankees and Rays are tied atop the AL East with five games to go.  If also-rans played also-rans exclusively for the last month, realistic talent assessment could take place for teams requiring improvement.

Meanwhile, the six top teams would be playing week after week in September, with a "playoff-like" atmosphere surrounding every game.  This would propel MLB back to the front page of every newspaper, fan interest would concentrate, attendance for the six teams would exceed best wishes (and, ticket prices could be raised for fifteen games to quasi-playoff rates), and football would take a back seat for September....in my opinion.  Right now, NFL football is so dominating over MLB play, that even the premier baseball event, the World Series, cannot be played in the daytime on weekends, because routine, normal, average NFL games get higher ratings.  Why is that so?  Because the NFL is in mid-season form by end of October, and MLB is down to two teams.  MLB needs to avoid October. Period.  ML Baseball needs to avoid fabrications like "spoilers", which dilutes interest by the mere transparency that such constructions create.  People know you're lying about "spoilers", votes count for non-all-stars, and people generally shun liars, be they individual or institutional.

NBA/NHL-style playoffs, in my humble opinion, have no business in baseball.  College baseball uses a round-robin tournament, while college basketball uses the 65-team, one-game loss system.  Why? Because different sports require different championship systems.  The MLB has shown through the years since 1994 that wild-card teams disproportionately make the World Series versus their season-long indication of strength.  There is no need to keep this mis-built system.  Does anyone talk about an NBA fan interfering with a ball going out of bounds, and how that affected the entire season for a team?  Yet they still talk about Alou, Bart, and the Chicago Cubs.  That alone (and I could write sixteen examples) is the reason that MLB should abandon NBA/NHL-style playoffs, for a more intense and fair system. 

Reggie Jackson will forever be "Mr. October".  Let's avoid an MLB "Mr November".

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