Once upon a time there were six, then eight and then ten teams in each of the American and National Leagues. They played 154 and then 162 games. There were no divisions. The top team in each league won the league pennant and went on to the World Series. Such a format, at least in theory, meant that the best team in each league went on to the World Series. But now, as frequent commenter, Bill, mentioned in last night’s game recap, the World Series is perhaps going to consist this season of two teams that were not the best teams in their leagues. As Bill also mentioned, the playoff system currently in place means that the hottest teams carry the day. Whether any or all of this new era is fair is subject for debate and few will ever agree.
In that old system, two of the twelve, sixteen and then twenty teams had something to cheer about in October. The majority of teams went home after the season and the fan base of those teams had nothing to do but say, “I hope next year is better.” There is no doubt that the current system has been beneficial to the financial security of the game. MLB makes an incredible amount of money. Much of that money is generated by the tiered playoff system that allows more teams to compete for the top prize late into the season. Much more is generated from television rights as networks fight over who will show the multi-layered playoffs.
And so it is a trade off between knowing the best two teams are playing in the World Series and drawing huge interest from more fan bases around the country. The Yankees have not always been the best team in this new system. A case could be made that the 1996 and 2000 Yankees were not the best teams in the American League. And yet, those two teams won the World Series. The 2002 Yankees were probably the best team in the American League and did not go to the World Series. The system has helped the New York team and hurt them. It would also be safe to assume that in 1996 and 2000, no Yankee fans were upset about the Yankees’ success in those post seasons.
The Yankees’ season ended yesterday. It is a fresh hurt. Emotions of the day are going to be all over the place. Some want blood spilled. Others want some sort of explanation. Others want to ditch the entire roster and start over next season. Those emotions are all understandable and we saw them all in the comments the past week. The saddest part of it all is that the Yankees did not even compete in the ALCS. Depending on your point of view, they were either out-classed by the Tigers’ pitching or the batters went completely cold. It was ugly and it was frustrating. Perhaps the emotions would be different if the Yankees had at least won a couple of games and made a show of it. But they did not.
The season is over. It ended bitterly for the home town fan base. Again, there will be days, weeks and months of churning to figure out how it all happened and to think about how to avoid it next year. For many, there is disbelief that perhaps the best team in the American League is done for the season. And we all know that nothing short of a World Series win is enough for the Yankees and its fan base. But perhaps there should be a bit of room for remembering some of the great moments of the season, the progress of some players, the season of Jeter, the home stretch of Ichiro, and other memories. And perhaps there should be a least a consideration for the Tigers and their fans who have to be thrilled at this opportunity to take it all the way. No matter how this Yankees’ fan base feels, there is knowledge and experience of how good it feels to be them right now.
Did the best team win the ALCS? Does it matter?