Lou Brown has had enough of the so-called “madness,” and he’s not afraid to tell you why.
It’s March and that can mean only one thing: March Madness! Only, I’m not referring to the madness you traditionally associate with March. I’m talking about the madness engulfing Major League Baseball.
Those who know me best know I enjoy good fundamental baseball (ie “getting in front of the damn ball”) and dislike bloated, drawn-out, mediocre sports leagues/tournaments (ie the NCAA’s “March Madness”). The latter has always been my gripe with the much-beloved NCAA Basketball tournament. I mean, am I really supposed to get excited* about 68 teams participating in a tournament in which roughly only 1/3 have any statistical probability of winning? Every year, without fail, everyone goes crazy when #12 Wossamotta U upsets #5 Irrelevant State in the first round, but why?
Only twice since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985 has a team ranked 6th or higher won the tournament (1985 Villanova  and 1988 Kansas ; both within the first three years of the 64 team expansion). Actually, a 3 seed or higher has won the tournament a whopping 22 out of 27 times (81%)†. So, can some one please explain to me how the quality of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament benefits by expanding to 68 teams? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is the NCAA tournament would be more exciting if contracted to 16 teams – the 16 best teams – and was played out lumberjack-style over a long weekend (added benefit: a better NIT!). The champion would have to beat four quality opponents in order to win it all (as opposed to drawing a cupcake in the middle due to an upset). Quality always trumps mediocrity in Lou Brown’s book.
By now, I hope you’re saying, what does any of this have to do with baseball? And for good reason: it kind of got away from me there. Nevertheless, the NCAA tournament serves as a apropos analogy for the sad state of Major League Baseball. In both cases, too much of a good thing is, well, a very bad thing.
In the Brown household, “March Madness” used to refer to Spring Training, when everyone showed up fat and hungover and spent the next three weeks busting their asses to get in shape in time for opening day. Yet, no matter how much whiskey Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle drank for breakfast, they still made the 25 man roster. How? Because they were transcendentally great. They would make every roster, in every generation, not just the Hall of Fame riddled rosters of the 1950-60s Yankees. Greatness has the ability to do that.
You see, until 1953, Major League Baseball had sixteen teams: eight in the National League and eight in the American League. That’s 400 players: the 400 best baseball players in the world.‡ There was no room for Mark Reynolds and his nearly 2:1 strike out to hit ratio, or John Lackey and his 6.41 ERA. I digress. Still not good enough for you? How about this: only two teams made the “playoffs.” Why the quotations? Because the “playoffs” consisted of one round: the World Series. We’re talking some serious high-stakes shit right here! Consequently, the cream always rose to the top. Excellence was rewarded with championships.
Enter 2012. There are 30 MLB teams with a whopping 750 “major leaguers.” New this year is a 10-team playoff (that’s right 1/3 of the teams) playing in 3.5 (that’s not a typo) rounds. I can’t wait until the 10th best team (ie. a 3rd place finisher in one of the 6 divisions) wins the World Series. Nothing says greatness like the statistically 10th best team in a sports league being crowned “champion.” Yup, that’s a whole lot of mediocrity. I wish MLB would just admit they’re doing anything they can to give the Cubs a fighting chance.
Ok, let’s take a deep breath and forget that Bud Seilig is running (ruining?) the show. Imagine, for a moment, if you demoted the bottom 350 players to AAA. That’s nearly half of your favorite team’s roster sent back to the minors where they belong. Next, imagine if you redistributed the top 400 players across 16 teams (I really don’t care which 16 teams, but the 14-16 largest markets would be a good place to start). So, tell me: does more baseball translate to better baseball? Is quantity really better than quality?
So, there you have it. If baseball is about baseball and not about money (yes, I’m well aware of the inherent naïveté of the previous statement), MLB would be wise to contract nearly half of its teams as soon as possible (and so too would the NCAA tournament). Call it “addition by subtraction” or a “less is more” approach. I call it an end to the insanity. Otherwise, enjoy the 18 meetings between Colorado and San Diego this year as they battle it out for irrelevance in the NL West for the foreseeable future (never mind the Pirates, Astros, Orioles, Mariners, Royals, and of course…Cubs) In the meantime, as you fill out your brackets, remember what we learned today: pick a 3 seed or higher to win it all, and when the mediocre tournament ends, the mediocre baseball season begins (might as well pick the Yankees to win that while you’re at it). See you October 28th for Game Seven!
*I am very much aware of the economic (as well as gambling) arguments in favor of having all 345 Division I schools participate. In rebuttal, I present you the words of Paul McCartney: “Money can’t buy me love.”
†1985 Villinova , 1988 Kansas , 1997 Arizona , 2005 North Carolina , 2009 North Carolina , and 2010 Duke .
‡An unprecedented 3rd note! I’m not ignoring the blatant and pervasive racism and geocentrism that make this statement of hyperbole moot. However, I’ve already gone on one extended diatribe and if I go on another one in the post Jobu will send me back to cleaning whitewalls!
Featured image courtesy of: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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