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An A’s versus Pirates World Series is every baseball fan’s wet dream. It’s David vs. David.

Hey, baseball fans, you’ll get this one: It would be like a World Series of the 1987 Twins and 1969 Mets.

Football fans: It would be like the 1968 Jets against the 2001 Patriots.

Basketball fans: It would be like the 1995 Rockets against the 2004 Pistons.

Hockey and soccer fans: It would be like … I have no idea.

How cool would an A’s / Pirates World Series be? I really have little else to say except this, but it’s mid-September and it’s still very possible. The A’s are pulling away with the AL West lead and the Pirates can still catch the Cardinals in the NL Central and if not, they’ll take the wild card pending a historic collapse.

Yes, this matchup is highly unlikely in the land of unnecessary-playoffs-that-don’t-really-determine-the-best-team-of-the-year, but that’s the wonderful thing about bullshit playoffs – sometimes they allow a more fun team to win it all (see: 1987, 1988, 1990, 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011).

Pirates
They haven’t had a winning season since Barry Bonds was skinny and Americans where thinking they were done with those Iraqis after Desert Storm. Pittsburgh is home to the greatest ballpark on the planet and baseball icons (and actual good men) Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

PNC Park deserves a Fall Classic.

PNC Park deserves a Fall Classic.

A’s (a.k.a. the Athletics)
Everyone has read Moneyball and if you haven’t, shame on you. Oakland is not exactly following the same formula (as everyone copied it after they caught on), but it’s still finding talent in strange places and winning games with a (for the most part) unknown lineup. They play in the worst 100% outdoor ballpark and have no sign of changing venues.

These teams barely avoided each other in the seventies with the Pirates participating in and winning the ’71 and ’79 series while the A’s did the same with ’72, ’73 and ’74.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would not agree with this blog as an Oakland/Pittsburgh World Series would likely destroy television ratings. The fair-weather fan would not tune in. Although, I believe any fan will tune in should the game reach Game 6 or 7, especially if the previous games were good (see 1991 and 2011).

I don’t care about ratings. Major League Baseball will be fine without a Yankees / Dodgers World Series.  An Oakland versus Pittsburgh Fall Classic is what the game needs. It may not get the ratings, but it will provide the stories that will last and that is exactly what baseball is known for.

Playoffs in professional sports are for two purposes: deciding the better of two teams after a regular season with a biased schedule and to make a lot of extra money. Should the Atlanta Braves win the NL East after playing a schedule that favors its division, it only makes sense they have a playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates who have the same story in the NL Central.

So what do the playoffs have to do with fantasy sports?

Nothing. They are useless and an insult to high-quality teams.

Having an eight- or six-team tournament at the end of a fantasy baseball season is like allowing the Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins and White Sox to compete to see who the real champion of the AL Central is. After 162 games, it’s the team with the best record. Further competition is not needed and an insult to the top team, especially if the bottom team decides to get hot at the right (wrong) time.

The last pure National League champions.

The last pure National League champions: 1968 St. Louis Cardinals.

I am the commissioner of an eight-team NL-only fantasy baseball league. There are no playoffs and there haven’t been ever since Yahoo! gave the option to eliminate them. Playoffs do not determine fantasy league winners; they show what team was the best in the final month of the season. There’s no extra money to be earned and the team with the best record after a full baseball season deserves its championship.

For those who believe this takes away the excitement of the final few weeks of the season, you’re wrong. Rarely is there a team that can run away with the best record after 25 weeks. The outcome almost always comes down to the final two weeks.

If you’re in a fantasy league of any sport with playoffs at the end of the season, your league is likely not determining the real champion. Fantasy leagues should be the equivalent of the pre-1969 American and National Leagues: the team with the best record holds the pennant – no playoffs required.

Really, Angels?  Really, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim?  I’ve always had respect for your franchise, but really?

I mean, Albert Pujols is the greatest player in the last decade, but really – a 10-year, $252 million contract?

I can understand how the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez for almost the same contract before the 2001 season, but that was for a 25-year old.

I love Albert Pujols.  He’s a class act, but his best years are behind him.  Oh sure, he might pull off a few more great years (30+ HR, 100+ RBI, .375+ OBP), but not anywhere near 10 years worth.

The Angels signing Pujols for 10 years is like buying your buddy’s Camaro with 100,000 miles on it for the original sticker price.  It’s still a great car, but its best years are behind it.

There is the chance Pujols will pull a Hank Aaron on us and play one of his best seasons at the age of 39.  However, even the great Aaron was a shell of his self after he hit 40.  Ten years from now the Angels will be paying $25 million a year to a washed-up legend.

I loved Moneyball, but feel I need to critique a few things in the same way a Star Wars fan must point out Hans Solo would not have survived being frozen in carbonite.

First the good: the film is wonderfully acted by the main cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  I thought Hoffman did especially well portraying a big league manager (Art Howe).  The directing and photography were well done and the baseball scenes looked legitimate … for the most part.

Unfortunately, a non-baseball fan (or even an uneducated baseball fan) can easily walk away from Moneyball misled.

The 2002 Oakland A’s were a great team.  They did win 20 games in a row.  Billy Beane did gather his team in a way that was new to the baseball establishment.  But it took much more than Scott Hatterberg, David Justice and Jeremy Giambi to do this.  The film all but omits huge contributors such as Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, Eric Chavez and Ray Durham.  Aside from Chad Bradford – a good, but not great middle reliever (3.11 ERA in 75 IP) – Moneyball doesn’t mention the dominating pitching staff consisting of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito who pitched 46 percent of the entire staff’s inning total in 2002.

Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner was a huge reason the Athletics were as good as they were in 2002.

It could be pointed out that the pitching wasn’t the point of the film.  The point was Beane was trying to fill a gigantic hole from the loss of Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon and he did so with a few players that other teams considered unworthy of a roster spot, let alone a starting position.

One of the film’s main divergences focuses on Beane’s insistence for Howe to start Scott Hatterberg instead of the young rookie Carlos Pena.  When Beane and his assistant eventually work on trading Pena, his assistant says he’s going to be an All Star.  This is nowhere near the truth.  Pena wasn’t near his potential in 2002.  His statistics with the A’s were well below average (.218 AVG, .305 OBP, .419 SLG, 141 PA) – hardly an All Star.

The film also acts as if Hatterberg didn’t get significant playing time until after the trade of Pena.  This is also not true.  Hatterberg played 136 games with 568 plate appearances.  Pena only played 40 games.

Then there are the baseball scenes.  I don’t remember anything being wrong with the stadium lighting when the A’s were trying to win their 20th straight game, but director Bennett Miller seems to have taken a lesson from Tony Scott and his horrible film The Fan.  Given the lighting in the film, Hatterberg never would have hit that home run to win the game but rather listened to three strikes he couldn’t see.

During the flashbacks of Beane’s playing career, the audience is shown Beane playing for the Twins.  Unfortunately, they put Beane in a home uniform during an outdoor game – impossible during the mid-80s in Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, even though the scene that portrays the A’s final game of the season is very short, there are a number of inaccuracies.  Eddie Guardado is the final pitcher for the Twins.  Guardado was not the athlete like the actor portraying him.  He was a chunk.  Corey Koskie catches the final out from the bat of Ray Durham in fair territory near third base.  The final out was caught by the second baseman Denny Hocking deep in foul territory behind first base.  It was also a day game with the sunny, cloudless sky a factor with high fly balls.

Eddie Guardado

During the Twins’ celebration the audience hears commentators talking about why Minnesota won and the A’s lost.  They forget to mention the Twins had an almost equally small payroll (Twins $50.4 million vs. A’s $44 million.)

Moneyball is a great film.  I wasn’t looking for absolute accuracy and didn’t expect it.  The book mentions Beane’s daughter, but not to the depth of the film.  I loved the father/daughter aspect of the film.  It adds a human quality to Beane that makes his decision in the end more appreciated.

In The Rookie, Jim Morris’s big strikeout in his first game takes only three pitches.  In real life, it was four.  Is this 100-percent accurate?  No.  Do I care?  No, but it’s fun to point out.

Many sports fans think they’re experts.  They think they could easily be coach, manager or general manager.  They think they know how an athlete thinks based on their 10th grade Team Sports class they got an A in.

There is a small percentage who realize they’re not experts and could never play at the level the millionaires do.  Take the original majority and add the small realistic percentage I just mentioned and you can hardly see the tiny amount of fans who side with the umpire or referee.  Almost every fan thinks they could regulate a game better than an official.

Today, baseball seems to be under the most scrutiny.  Instant replay is slowly gaining ground in a technologically fast-paced world where Jonathan Papelbon’s time on the mound far exceeds a replay or two reviewed by the umpires (there’s a reason he only pitches one inning – good luck, Phillies).

I will not say major league umpires are perfect, but they are the best.  Read As They Seem Them by Bruce Weber and you’ll see how much education umpires go through to get to the big leagues.  You’ll also see how much pride they put into their occupations.

These men will get calls wrong, but far less than every other person in the world.  The problem is when they do mess up a call, the common sports fan can’t do one simple thing: get over it.  Calls will go against your team and calls with favor them.  It’s a 162-game schedule.  It will all even out.

Wrong calls are part of the fun.  How many times have you laughed and cheered while watching replays on TV of your player getting tagged out stealing a base and the umpire calls him safe?  I giggle at the perplexity of the opposing player and gasp in delight when I see the manager storm from the dugout.  An opposing manager being thrown out is the equivalent of a called third strike with two outs and the bases loaded.

Fans in the stands, do you think riding the umpire is helping your cause?  Heckling the ump would be like teasing your boss in front of everyone for not giving you a full raise.  Do you think he’s going to give it to you next period?

Umpires hear catcalls every day.  They’re used to it.  In fact, many of them likely enjoy them.  It’s part of the job.  If I were an ump, I’d revel those on-the-black called strikes just to hear the crowd react.

You really think you have a better vantage point from the third-base line? 

I laugh when TV announcers show the replay of the last pitch and the ball doesn’t go through the imaginary strike zone the network has put up.  Someone like Tim McCarver says, “The ump missed that one.  It was a strike.”

No, Tim, it’s not a strike unless the umpire says it is.  I don’t care what your screen says.

Here’s an activity I like to do at minor-league games.  I cheer for the umpires.  This makes me, in the words of George Orwell, a lunatic (a.k.a. a minority of one).

Sure, I want my team to win, but the umpire is not going to have much to do with that, so why boo him when you can cheer him?  While the drunks who can’t see what time their watch says yell obscenities at the umps plate calling, I like to yell, “That was a good call, ump!  You’re doing fine!”  I’m still rooting for my team, but I’m helping the umpire realize the crowd isn’t entirely a bunch of ignorant, close-minded fans who think every close call should go their way like an obese eight-year old who really believes he should “Collect All Five!” happy-meal toys.

Give the ump a break.  Despite the mask and stoic posture, he is human.  He’s human in that he has feelings and he probably wouldn’t mind exacting revenge on an angry, immature crowd on the next close call.  As a professional, they’d never admit to such an act, but as the incognito, conniving revenge artist I can be, I know I’d sway my calls to the team and its fans that annoyed me the least.

Bart Giamatti told us baseball was designed to break your heart, so let it.  Enjoy it for tomorrow it might not.

Baseball could start over.  Did they ever think of that?

The main complaint after the steroid era was that all the record books were ruined; records that shouldn’t have been broken were and now it’s too late.  Of course, it was really only two records, so I don’t see the big deal.  However, baseball could start a new era and draw a definite line in the record books if it liked, or if you like, start over.

Through 1960, major league baseball had a 154-game schedule and ever since it’s been 162.  With the expanded playoffs, a lot of unnecessary spring training and Americans’ attention spans dwindling every day, many complain the season is too long.  With pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February to the end of the World Series in late October (and sometimes early November), the season can stretch to almost nine months.

Lord knows I’d like a 365-game schedule, but even Cal Ripken needs a break now and then and new excitement needs to be brewed into the old game.  The baseball playoffs are dragging behind the NFL.  This year proved baseball can have pennant races in September thanks to horrible performances in Boston and Atlanta and spectacular runs in Tampa Bay and St. Louis.  But this year was a rarity.

Reduce regular season length
The problem with the 162-game season isn’t necessarily because there are too many games.  The problem lies in the beginning and the end of the season.  Baseball starts too early and ends too late.  Attendance tends to drag after opening day in April due to cold.  Should the schedule be reduced to the old 154 games there would be too many ignorant fans comparing current records to those of pre-1961.  A schedule somewhere around 145 games would work well.  This would allow teams to have opening day in the second week of April, giving spring more chance to develop.

Erase the record books
Instead of comparing the new shortened season to the 162 or the 154-game schedule, why don’t we just start a new record book?  This probably should have been done around 1994, but better late than never.  The first year of the new shortened season, every record will be an all-time record.

No one will pitch as many innings as Cy Young and Walter Johnson.  No one will steal 130 bases like Rickey Henderson.  No one will likely ever approach Sam Crawford’s 309 career triples.  No one will hit 73 home runs, so why not just start a new book?

Good luck to anyone planning to approach this man’s single-season or all-time stolen bases record.

The All-Star Game means nothing … again
Even though today’s All-Star Game decides home-field advantage in the World Series, it hasn’t stopped players from not wanting to play in it.  No matter how hard a competitor, there are always going to be players who would rather spend time with their families than play in this game, no matter what the outcome means.  Let the All-Star Game be a fun exhibition again and alternate the World Series home-field advantage every year like it was.

Division realignment
The only difference between the American and National leagues are their names.  They’re both owned by Major League Baseball so swapping teams shouldn’t be looked on as sacrilegious.  Fine, the NL doesn’t have the DH, but that’s the only difference.

Teams in the NL Central have been at a disadvantage since expansion and realignment in 1998 having six teams whereas other divisions have five while the AL West only four.  Let’s give another division the burden of the extra teams and give the NL Central a break.  Move the Astros to the AL West, giving the Rangers a strong division rival.  The schedule doesn’t work with an odd number of teams in the league, so let’s not only give the AL West the extra team, but let’s give the AL 16 teams instead of 14.  The Colorado Rockies can’t help but play offensive baseball making them the perfect team to adopt the DH and move to the AL West.  After years of having a blind one-in-four chance of winning the division, the AL West would now have a one-in-six chance.  The new division would look like this:

NL West – San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona
NL Central – Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
NL East – New York, Washington, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida
AL West – Texas, Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Colorado, Los Angeles
AL Central – Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City
AL East – New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Toronto

Can’t wait for that Padres / Royals matchup
Aside from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, interleague play isn’t very exciting and with the extra time for exhibitions in early April, the inter-city rivals could easily have a series before the regular season begins.  Interdivision games are much more exciting than the Tigers-Diamondbacks series.  The schedule needs to be further biased matching teams like the Cardinals and Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox, and Dodgers and Giants even more often.  Aside from these obvious rivalries, more will form.  The Royals and Yankees aren’t much to watch now, but they were in the late seventies and early eighties only from the fact that both teams were so good.  Who knew the Brewers and Cardinals had a rivalry until they found each other in the NLCS this season?

Let’s save the Cubs / White Sox games for the preseason.

For a National League East team, a season could consist of playing each team in its division 25 times and every other team in the league five times giving them a 145-game season.

New, exciting playoffs
When there are one-game playoffs or series-deciding games, the nation pays attention.  Only real baseball fans care about Game 2 of the ALCS.  With the new playoff system, the nation will pay much closer attention, much like they do in the NFL.

There will be 12 playoff teams: six division winners and second place in every division.  The second-place teams, or wild cards, will play one marathon day of exciting baseball in two ballparks.  Bud Selig and MLB are working right now on giving wild-card teams more of a disadvantage.  I’m taking it a step further.

Giving teams home-field advantage based on overall record in an unbalanced schedule is not fair.  To remedy this, teams will be given home-field advantage based on their records against each other.  Should the Indians, Orioles and Mariners be the wild-card winners, their overall records against each other will be added together and the team with the highest winning percentage will have the advantage.  That edge in the new playoffs will matter, too.  It will matter for the outcome of the team as well as the ticket sales.

One day, two ballparks, four games = baseball pandemonium
Twenty four hours before the playoff series begin, the three wild-card teams of each league will come together in the ballpark of the team with the best combined record.  The two visiting teams will play an afternoon game with the winner moving on to play the home team beginning two hours after that game.  Ticket prices will be steep, but they will cover both games – a real doubleheader only with three teams.  The winner of the second game will go on to begin their best-of-five division series against the top division winner the next day.  Not only is the wild-card team worn out from playing either one or two games the day before, but they’ve also used one or two top (most likely) starting pitchers to begin a short series.  Should the wild-card team move on the championship series, they deserve it.  No matter what their record against the other playoff teams, the wild-card team will never have home-field advantage with the exception if they make it to the World Series.

Conclusion
The reduced regular season schedule will start the record books anew, reduce April snowouts and create more excitement in a more compact season that will end in late October.

The new team alignment will ease the burden of the last 14 years of the NL Central and put it on the AL West (we can switch it again in another decade or so).

More interdivision play will increase excitement and create new and real rivalries.

Can we really consider the wild-card playoff day the playoffs, or is it just a way to get into the playoffs?  Either way, there are now 12 teams involved in the postseason with six do-or-die games in one day which leads to a real advantage to division winners.

Will this realistically happen?  No, but I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

I love Barry Bonds for the same reason I love Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.  I love a good bad guy.  I love Jack Nicholson in The Departed, Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Barry Bonds as the all-time and single-season home run record holder.

The man played the bad guy his entire career, but saved the best for last.  We thought he was the antagonist in the “prime” of his career – pre-1999 – but he only became more despicable as the film progressed.  But even as his character became more detestable, or more fascinating, his audience grew.  Even the fans who hated Bonds – most outside of San Francisco – watched.  What Bonds did to himself in order to hit a baseball better than anyone else in the world was captivating.

Joe Pesci was the villain you loved to hate in Goodfellas.

I know Barry Bonds was a jerk.  I had a good feeling he was using performance-enhancing drugs.  I knew Hank Aaron was the perfect person to hold the all-time home run record.  I didn’t want Bonds to break it.  Despite knowing all of this, when Bonds came to the plate, I couldn’t turn away.  He is one of the most interesting characters in the history of the game.

I loved Bonds as a kid because he was the best baseball player in the game – nothing more.  I didn’t read the columns or the articles.  I read the statistics page and Bonds was all over it.  His numbers could be found among the league leaders in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, stolen bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, walks, and he was also one of the great left fielders in the game.

I remember reading reports from spring training in 1999 that Bonds had gained something like 30 pounds of muscle over the offseason.  In the heart of the steroid era, this was not rare.  Baseball players claimed they simply learned how to train more effectively in the offseason.  They didn’t mention the illegal drugs they were using.

But much like the rest of the country, I turned a blind eye as I was too busy the previous season watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa steal every headline and magazine cover they could.  Many fans had their doubts even then, but who cares, home runs are fun!  Plus, who’s Roger Maris anyway?  To many, he was a grumpy guy from North Dakota who had a couple of good seasons and then faded from the limelight.

It was hard not to root for and shutter every time Christopher Waltz was on-screen.

Sosa and McGwire destroyed Maris’s single-season record like they were cheating.  What else could they do?  Neither player could do more than blast the ball hundreds of feet and knock in runners.  They struck out a lot and weren’t known for their defense.  Sosa had some speed, but nothing to brag about and McGwire was a liability on the basepath.  Barry Bonds could hit home runs, knock in runners, play wonderful defense, steal bases, avoid strikeouts, get on base and go from first to third on a single.  Bonds was a better baseball player by far.  But Bonds was not a self-confident man.  He needed the attention.  He needed everyone to know he was the best, but in the summer of 1998, no one outside of San Francisco noticed.  Baseball fans were too busy watching two steroid-injected behemoths rocket long ball after long ball.

Barry Bonds, the greatest player of the last decade, spent the offseason saying to himself, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”  If the public wanted steroid-fueled home runs – if that’s what made baseball players famous – he’d give them home runs like they’d never seen before.

Has there been a better villain actor in film history than Jack Nicholson?

He spent 1999 on the disabled list for much of the season, probably not figuring the right mixture of workout to drugs.  In 2000, he figured it out.  From 2001 through 2004, Bonds was playing baseball on Beginner mode while the rest of the league was on Expert.  The years 2001 through 2004 Bonds was holding up his middle finger to baseball fans saying, “You said you liked home runs?  I gave you home runs.  What, you only like it when guys with smiles on their faces do it?  I didn’t know that was a stipulation.  I can’t stop now.  Here I come, Henry.”

I love Henry Aaron and I think he’s one of the greatest to play the game while also being a good man.  Barry Bonds is not a good man, but I’m glad he holds the record.  Too many baseball fans want purity from the game.  The individual game will give you purity – a cleanly fielded ground ball, a double in the gap, a knee-buckling curveball for a called strike three.  There is purity in the game, but not in the league.  If you don’t want records broken by those who you believe shouldn’t break them, don’t keep them.  If you don’t like players using performance-enhancing drugs, don’t obsess over the overrated statistic that is the home run (http://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/ban-the-home-run/).

Barry Bonds did not sell nuclear secrets to the Soviets.  He did not start an unnecessary war.  He defiled his body to make himself an even better baseball player.  He took drugs that made his head pumpkin sized and break some meaningless records.  He shot up to make up for the love his father never gave him.  He hurt himself, his reputation and eclipsed two meaningless records.  He has not hurt a soul except his own, yet fans act as if the man stole third base … literally stole every third base from every baseball field in America.  He did not hurt the game, only himself.

Every antagonist. Bonds's was baseball fans who took their love for the game too far.

It is in spite of the angry fans calling for Bonds’ head that I appreciate what he did.  Baseball fans put too much emphasis on the home run and its records.  Bonds spent a career spreading his skills across a vast number of statistical categories, but after the fiasco that was the 1998 season, no one seemed to care about any of those categories, so Bonds obliged them.

Fans complain that an asterisk should be placed next to his all-time home run record: not necessary.  In every bar, barber shop, restaurant, ballpark and home in America, fans will discuss their favorite baseball players and the topic of sluggers comes up they’ll talk about Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Killebrew, Griffey Jr., Thome and Jackson.  When someone suggest they add Bonds to that list, someone will scoff at the idea, a few others will second the complaint and the topic will move on.  When children look at the record books and ask their mother about Barry Bonds, she’ll tell her kids about Bonds and why he had so many home runs and those kids will remember.

I will tell my kids another story.  I’ll tell them how the nation became overly obsessed with the home run in the 1990s and our attention was drawn from interest in a good baseball game to a good slugfest.  I’ll tell them how the greatest player of his generation mocked the nation’s notion of a good baseball game by increasing the absurdity of that notion.

Barry Bonds: baseball’s greatest villain.

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