Imagine that you are a Cleveland Indian fan living in southern Ohio and have waited your whole life to see your team make the playoffs. Finally, the Indians get there with the best record in baseball. You assume that their reward is what sports announcers call "the all-important home field advantage throughout the playoffs," or at least some easy first-round calisthenics against the wild-card team. You look forward to watching every pitch on television.
Instead you get this: the Indians playing the team with the next-best record in the league, in a short best-of-five series with the home field advantage going to their opponents. And the games are not televised where you live.
Congratulations. This is how the people who run baseball reward the game's best teams and fans: with a flawed playoff system and even more illogical television coverage. Baseball owners thought they were being hip last year when they realigned the divisions and juiced up the playoffs from four to eight teams. What the owners have done is give us the New Coke of playoffs.
The format is harder to understand than the essay question on a Russian literature final exam. The American League's official media guide, the Red Book, even got it wrong. When an Indian official telephoned both the American and National League offices to find out which league champion has home field advantage in the World Series, he received two different answers. (The National League winner has the advantage.)
What exactly is going on with the repackaging of baseball? These are the facts:
?Being the best team in baseball means nothing. That's because the playoff format and home field advantage are predetermined. This year Cleveland—which was 59-26 at week's end and might be the first team since the 1954 Indians to play .700 baseball—could face a tougher first-round opponent than does the wild-card team that staggers in around .500 because teams from the same division cannot meet in the first round. If either the Texas Rangers or Kansas City Royals gain the wild-card bid, Cleveland would play the California Angels (54-33), while Texas (44-43) or Kansas City (41-42) would play the Boston Red Sox (48-38). Forbidding intradivisional matchups in the first round is ridiculous in light of the balanced regular-season schedule.
Home field advantage, which should also be determined by record, goes to the East and West winners in the AL and East and Central winners in the NL this year. So why are the first-round sites preordained? Logistical problems, say the league suits, who worry about stadium conflicts with football—even though 17 of the 28 baseball clubs don't share their stadiums—and about last-minute hotel accommodations.
? An NFL exhibition game between the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars gets national television coverage; baseball's divisional and league championship series do not. The American League and National League first-round and LCS games are scheduled to take place simultaneously and to be broadcast regionally. That means if you are a Cleveland fan living in the Cincinnati TV market, you will get the Reds' games, not the Indians' games.
The Baseball Network—the mutation created by baseball owners, ABC and NBC that will be Kevorkianized after this year—plans to cut away from one game to another for updates. A baseball game, especially a championship game, is a beautifully crafted novel full of plot and character development. Don't insult us with Cliff Notes.
TBN, which completely ignores the first half of the year, also makes a mockery of regular-season telecasts. On July 24, for instance, TBN dumped a dreadful Cub-Met matchup on the New York and Chicago markets rather than an Atlanta Brave game with Greg Maddux pitching or first-place Cleveland playing at first-place California.