Game Changers: Postseason scheduling
Length of series, days off, playing into November are all factors
In the midst of a high-powered 2009 American League Championship Series battle with the Yankees, Angels manager Mike Scioscia felt like he was up against another opponent: the playoff schedule.
The Yankees, as they did throughout the postseason, used only their three best starters -- CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte -- during the series, thanks in part to four days off in a six-game series, including a rainout.
With all due respect to the opposition that would become World Series champions, Scioscia did not hold back his displeasure with the schedule even before the Yankees eliminated his club in Game 6.
"I think you lose a lot of the integrity of what the [regular] season means when you have three days off at the end of the season to let other teams, maybe, reset their starting rotation, which is an advantage of clinching early," said Scioscia, whose Angels clinched their fifth AL West title in six years on Monday of the final week of the regular season. "That's negated when any team can do it by getting to the playoffs."
Scioscia's message was heard, and the veteran Angels manager and longtime Major League catcher's voice was added to the 14-member special committee, convened by Commissioner Bud Selig to address and solve some of the game's on-field issues.
"We're definitely going to change it for next year," Selig said at the November owners' meetings. "Mike Scioscia was correct in his comments. We're going to tighten up the schedule."
Indeed, the announcement in late March that the League Championship Series would be shortened by one off-day may signal the beginning of what could be a fundamental change in the playoff schedule as a whole.
The change for 2010 is that the off-day was eliminated between Games 4 and 5, which are conducted in the same city, so there is no travel concern, as there is on the other scheduled days off.
"I think it's an important first step and could lead to a really good [postseason] format eventually," Scioscia said.
Although MLB and the Players Association have indicated that they are interested in reviewing the timing of the playoff schedule, it remains to be seen what, if anything, will ultimately be changed. And there are many other aspects to consider, including the possibility of extending the Division Series to a best-of-seven format, which many argue would have to involve cutting the regular season back to 154 games.
Key to the discussion is the fact that the World Series has extended into November each of the past two years, something Selig himself is not in favor of seeing.
"I really dislike playing in November," Selig said. "If we can figure a way to avoid that, I'd like to do it."
Considering that only 40 years earlier the World Series was completely over, with a champion crowned by Oct. 16, baseball's postseason has changed drastically over the years.
A constant staple of American culture since it officially began in 1903, the World Series has been missed only twice: as a result of a 1904 boycott and in 1994, during the work stoppage.
The continuation of the World Series for the last century is in large part due to the success of that first Series in 1903. In addition to generating a large amount of revenue for each team, Boston Americans pitcher Cy Young and Honus Wagner, the superb hitter from Pittsburgh, captivated fans with their strong play and stiff competition. The underdog Americans went on to win the Series, 5-3. A new day had dawned for the recently formed American League, and for championship baseball in general -- although a one-year boycott by Giants owner John T. Brush over the inclusion of the "inferior" AL did interrupt the early momentum.
Since that first Word Series, the format has remained largely the same -- the best-of-seven games format has been consistent since 1922 (prior to this there were variations of the nine-game series). In 1969, with the start of divisional play in both leagues, the League Championship Series began as a best-of-five series, as opposed to the present best-of-seven series, which began in 1985.
In recent years, there have been what some consider more drastic changes. In 2003, after the All-Star Game finished in a tie, it was decided that the All-Star Game would determine home-field advantage for the World Series, as opposed to alternating between the NL and AL as it had in the past. Since that rule was instated, the American League has won every All-Star Game and therefore had home-field advantage in every World Series.
The most notable change to the postseason format was the introduction of a Wild Card team in each league, first used in 1995. After Baseball was expanded to 28 teams and realigned to have three divisions in each league, it was necessary to create the Wild Card to ensure a fourth team was selected for the playoffs. The Wild Card is also seen as a way to open the field for teams in a division with a very dominant first-place team.
Some critics of the rule believe it has diminished the importance of regular-season play and places too much focus on a race for a Wild Card spot. Since the rule was instated, the Marlins have won the World Series twice ('97, '03) as a Wild Card, and the Red Sox ('04) and the Angels ('02) have done the same.
How did we get to the point where we are playing baseball in November? The most obvious answer of course is TV scheduling. Back in 2007, MLB added in four extra days to avoid opening the World Series on a Saturday -- one of the lowest-rated TV nights of the week. One day off was added between the end of the regular season and the Division Series openers, another between Games 4 and 5 of each Division Series, one between Games 4 and 5 of the League Championship Series (now gone with the announcement in March), and another before the start of the World Series.
"FOX starting on Wednesday is good," Selig said. "As popular as this sport is today, our [TV] ratings have been a disappointment. So, we should put the games on when the most people can watch them. That's a very simple premise."
But these measures, along with other uncontrollable factors like weather, have ultimately pushed the World Series into November, making for a cold wrap-up to a long season.
Ultimately, Scioscia's point could not have been illustrated better than it was last October.
During the 20 days leading up to Game 6 of the ALCS, the Angels and the Yankees played just eight games each. That amounts to a lot of time off, considering the same two teams played 162 games over 183 days during the regular season. On top of that, Game 6 was then delayed due to rain, meaning the ALCS champion was not crowned until October 25 -- 10 days after the series began, and 14 days after the two teams had clinched LCS berths with sweeps in the Division Series.
"It is a lot of off-days," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It worked out well for us, but it is a lot of off-days, and players like continuity. You think about how you work all year long to try to prove who's the best team, and it's good with me."
When the 2009 World Series commenced on Oct. 28, it was the first time in history that the Series was scheduled to end in November. The only other time the World Series had gone into November was in 2001, when games were postponed for a week in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In 2009, once the Phillies emerged as the champions of the National League, they had a one-week long break before beginning World Series play against the Yankees. Going into the Series, Philadelphia's players did not believe that the long break would affect them negatively. Their confidence was in large part inspired by the fact that the Phillies had experienced a six-day break in the 2008 World Series before they went on to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to become champions.
To Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, condensing the playoff schedule has two sides to it.
"Does it matter to me?" he said. "It depends on what kind of pitching we have when we get there. It depends how we can swing our pitching. If we can still stay strong with our pitching, yeah. If not, I don't think so."
Putting the Phillies' lengthy breaks in perspective, the 2009 World Series marked the eighth time in history that the featured teams' pre-Game 1 layoffs differed by three or more days as a result of the length of their League Championship Series. In addition to the Phillies' long break in 2008, the Rockies had an eight-day break in '07, compared to the two-day break of the Red Sox, and the Tigers had a six-day break vs. the Cardinals' two-day break in 2006. With the Yankees' triumph in 2009, the team on shorter rest has won five of the previous eight such Fall Classics.
The 2010 postseason calendar has the World Series scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Oct. 27. Scheduling a baseball season, it seems, is already a task akin to quantum physics -- it requires a complex web of union and team requests, numbers and dates -- and of course no one is ever perfectly happy with the results.
"We've talked about [a best-of-seven] first round," Selig said during the owners' meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz., in January. "The problem is, everybody wants to talk about us going into November and then they want to add to the schedule."
At least for now, it appears that the World Series being played into November will become an increasingly familiar event.
Anna Floch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.