Do you know what I am?

Suddenly everyone is a Los Angeles fan.  I’m talking baseball, of course.

The Los Angeles Angels took the American League West division and faced-off against the wild card Boston Red Sox.

The wild card, for those who don’t know, is an opportunity for the number two teams in both the American and National Leagues to enter the playoffs.  This is supposedly justified by the fact that there are teams in competitive divisions (like the AL East featuring the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Toronto Blue Jays – though the Yankees and the Red Sox are the only two “competitive” teams in the AL East as if evident from the six wild card slots that the Red Sox have garnered since its introduction into MLB in 1994) that will not get 1st place, but will end the regular season with better records than other division clinchers in the same league (see my previous baseball post).

Well, in a very non-Boston Red Sox playoff appearance, the Red Sox were swept by the Angels.  Historically, Boston has consistently dominated the Angels in the playoffs.  Last season the Angels went to the playoffs as the winningest team in baseball and were defeated in the first round (in four games) by the AL East champion Red Sox (the Red Sox went on to lose the ALCS against the Rays).  But this season the Angels accomplished a clean sweep and will face the New York Yankees, the best team in baseball history and the winningest team of the 2009 season (103 wins) for the American League Championship Series – the most coveted pennant.  From the looks of it the Angels will not pull through, but I’ll be rooting for them over the Yanks.

Now onto the National League…

Out of the four division championship series three have been divided by a sweep (four division championship series = eight teams: AL East, Central, West, wild card; NL East Central West, wild card).  The Yankees swept the Twins (as I predicted: “the Twins…move on to an immediate elimination during the first round of the playoffs…have no chance…going up against the Yanks in the first round…“), the Angels swept the Red Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the St Louis Cardinals.  Currently the Philadelphia Phillies are leading 2-1 in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.  The winner of that game will go on to play the Dodgers for the NLCS.  [UPDATE: Phillies win NLDS and move on to face the Dodgers for the NLCS.]

The Dodgers spent a significant portion of this season with more wins than any other team.  But in standard Dodger fashion they lost momentum after the All-Star break.  By the end of the season their record was 3rd in the MLB (1st: NYY, 2nd LAA).  Still, they took their division and will most likely take the NLCS.

If the Angels can win the ALCS (unlikely, but you never know when it’s Angels vs Yankees…) and the Dodgers can win the ALCS, the World Series will pit the Los Angeles Angels against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a first for Los Angeles.  How exciting it is to have that as a possibility this late in the season!  Deep down inside every Angeleno wants to see the two teams play one another in the World Series.  Sure, they play interleague “Freeway Series” during the season, but that feud pales in comparison to the rivalry that would develop during a World Series.  And with this possibility I find that many of my once-indifferent friends (there are many people that are indifferent toward baseball…) are suddenly the biggest Dodgers/Angels fans.  I don’t necessarily blame them, but do you know what I am?  I’m a Detroit Tigers fan.

PS. If by some odd chance there was an Angels/Dodgers World Series, my allegiance would be with the Dodgers 100%.

Travesty of the Decade

The Detroit Tigers (arguably the best team of any sport in world history – I couldn’t argue this in good conscience, but I wish I could) were in the lead in the AL Central (arguably the best division of any sport in world history – I couldn’t argue this in good conscience, but I wish I could) for the vast majority of the season until the unthinkable happened.  The Minnesota Twins began to win, and they didn’t win many games, just enough to catch up.  Let me emphasize how pathetic the AL Central really is:

MLB 2009 Season Leaders by Division

  • AL East: New York Yankees – .636
  • AL Central: Minnesota Twins – .534
  • AL West: Los Angeles Angels – .599
  • NL East: Philadelphia Phillies  – .574
  • NL Central: St Louis Cardinals – .562
  • NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers – .586

To take a division with .534 is pitiful, what is even more pitiful is a look at all of the teams with better records than the Twins that didn’t clinch their division:

  • AL East: Boston Red Sox – .586 *wild card (more discussion on this practice in another post…)
  • AL West: Texas Rangers – .537
  • NL East: Florida Marlins – .537
  • NL Central: Chicago Cubs – .516 (let’s face it, the MLB Central divisions are awful)
  • NL West: Colorado Rockies – .568; San Francisco Giants – .543

So last night I had to go to sleep in Scotland (which is five hours ahead of EDT) with the tie-breaking 163rd game of the season to determine which team – the Tigers or the Twins – would move on to an immediate elimination during the first round of the playoffs looming over me (let’s face it, both teams had/have no chance, especially since they are going up against the Yanks in the first round…). What a thrill!  Two teams that barely won over half of their games this season fighting for the coveted AL Central title.  But alas I had no television and decided it would have been better to check in the morning after the damage had been done.

The game itself was rather epic though.  The Metrodome (Minneapolis) was packed and the teams fought for nearly 12 full innings!  If I had watched it I might have had an asthma attack or died instantly of a broken heart.

So the Tigers, being the historical team that they are, have become the first team in history with a three-game lead and only four games to go in the regular season to totally drop the ball.  Better luck next decade.

Meltdown

Childhood & the All-American Pastime

Ever since baseball swam across the Atlantic Ocean and grew legs to walk upon the Hoboken shore it has been a fiery All-American Pastime.  If you don’t like love baseball you are either a Communist or you’re not a true [red, white, and] blue American.  Or you weren’t an athletic child.

Little League baseball has been the scourge and triumph of young boys for seventy years.  I remember my first years as they were divided into four major categories: tee-ball, farm, minors, majors.  Those years were not good to me.  I would have rather read a book or have built something out of LEGO.  I was afraid of the ball and of human interaction, both of which are key elements of baseball.  Only to add to the torment, at some point I gained weight and achieved the status of ‘husky’.  But, fortunately for me, upon my entrance into high school I grew six inches almost instantly and—for the first time in my life—demonstrated athletic prowess.  Sure soccer (otherwise known as football) is extremely fun, but baseball was and is my true athletic passion, which is attributed to the unique challenges it presents to a player, for instance: you need a sprint and a mind, a glove and a bat, an arm and an eye.

Even throughout my awkward years I still loved the concept of baseball.  I certainly had my aversions: ‘cups’, practising, fastballs near my face while I was at bat, striking out, sitting the bench, etc.—but I also had my passions:  cleats, sunflower seeds, getting on base, making a great catch, the Detroit Tigers, going to watch a professional game, guessing what was going to happen next, etc.  But with my well-rounded appreciation and disdain for the sport nothing could have never prepared me for what the Major League sport seems to have become.

In the golden years an alcoholic could be a magnificent baseball player and even though everyone knew his vice was the bottle, his glory was the bat.  Maybe the fall of this idealism of Major League Baseball came with the Information Age.  Soon everyone knew that the Straw used the straw for other things, beat his wife and the list goes on.  How could a fan love to watch someone with such moral failings play the All-American Pastime?  But the slugfest of 1998 would soon bring back the spirit of the game, at least until performance-enhancing drugs became a hot topic.

That’s where baseball is today, tarnished by unethical behaviour of which performance-enhancing drugs are the crowning glory.  There are massive amounts of illegal drugs administered to willing athletes and recently professional baseball has been front-page news.  Who would’ve thought the highest paid baseball player in history would get caught up in this mess?  He did, as well as the player with the most career home runs in history.  And even the virtuous alliance of brotherhood can get a man mixed up in this heartbreaking moral defeat.

Some people have passionate hatred for baseball.  They might suggest that we adopt basketball, American football, ice hockey, anything over this boring and morally corrupt money pit called Major League Baseball.  But the sport cannot be to blame for the poor decisions of some players.  And this bad judgement is all that we can fault players for.  If baseball fans have a problem with the size of players’ salaries then we can turn off the televised game and not buy the baseball cap or the season tickets.  Fans can make baseball players demigods and when we learn that they are not so perfect it is devastating.

In the end there is something profoundly redemptive about baseball, something honourable and magical that I cannot fully explain (watch Field of Dreams).  And if our remembrances of Joltin’ Joe and Derek Jeter remain free from steroid use the sport will always remain alive—even if you detest the Yankees as I do.

UPDATE:  Thanks to The Onion,

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