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Short-Series Hysteria
Frank Deford
September 21, 1998
Suddenly, a five-game playoff seems perilously brief to Yankees fans
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September 21, 1998

Short-series Hysteria

Suddenly, a five-game playoff seems perilously brief to Yankees fans

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Whereas in other sports, fans accept the playoffs as the appropriate way of determining a league's champion, certain pockets of resistance remain in the national pastime. These flat-earth sorts scorn the postseason as a dangerous and subversive device. This is especially fashionable nowadays in New York, where the most fervent Yankee worshippers rant on about how their mighty pinstripers have been so rampant upon the greensward in the regular season that should they actually lose in the playoffs, it would be unfair, wrong and Bad for Baseball.

What makes this rationale so interesting is that, previously, whenever somebody else's juggernaut was gored in the postseason by a noble New York team, that was deemed correct. And right. And Good for Baseball. The victory of the lesser Giants in 1954 over the 111-43 Indians was accepted in Gotham as an artistic triumph of right over might. The upset by the modest Mets of '69 over the 109-win Orioles was even decreed a miracle. More recently, as superb Atlanta teams have foundered in the postseason, this has, in New York, been treated, snidely, as a failure of the Braves, not of the playoffs.

But, listen, say the Yankees cultists: It would be a travesty of justice in 1998 if our Yankees were to come a cropper in a short series. (In New York now, short series is always said like a dirty word.)

However, the fact is that the postseason has become a more honest trial. What has happened in the regular season is that a few rich teams buy up almost all the pennant raffle chances. Only in the playoffs do actual players count more than depth charts, can the surprising and idiosyncratic trump the expensive and the expected. The 1998 Yankees are a marvelous aggregate, but they are not so much a team as a fancy zoological or art collection. A Renoir is on the market? Bid whatever it takes. A black rhino? Bring it here. A Cuban defector? Buy him!

Thank god for the wild card, which allows some slim hope for the impecunious. In fact baseball should add one special wild card, to be awarded to the best of the poverty franchises—much in the manner that the NCAA, in generous dispensation, allows into its basketball tournament the champions of underprivileged basketball conferences, such as the SWAC. Oh, would that we could cheer in October for the gallant, undermanned Expos or Brewers, as we did in March for brave little Valparaiso.

The Yankees may be a glorious art exhibition to admire in the standings, but, happily, baseball is still a game that must be played upon the green field. Now, what would really be Good for Baseball this year? The Yankees win 300 regular-season games and then the World Series is played between the Cubs and the Red Sox.