The 2012 Major League baseball regular season is over with the completion of a full slate of games played on Wednesday, October 3. When all the smoke cleared from diamonds around the National League and American League, a total of 10 teams of the 30 professional franchises remain in competition for the World Series trophy.
Did I mention 10 teams? Whatever happened to the days of two clubs, winners of the National League and American League pennants, battling for the top crown of the national pastime? Here’s what has happened: Evolution in sports, technology, sociology and you name it. Bluntly put, this isn’t your grandfather’s game anymore.
When you consider that professional baseball was played in Cincinnati in June 1876, at the same time that General George Armstrong Custer was leading the 7th Cavalry to ignominious defeat and massacre at the Little Big Horn, we’re talking about two centuries that have passed since Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright or whoever first suggested hitting a ball with a bat.
Gone are the days when 16 teams comprised the entire major leagues. When Babe Ruth was dominating the game, the National Football League was in its infancy, the National Hockey League was just getting started and the National Basketball Association didn’t even exist. There were no 24-hour sports networks, or TV at all. France Laux announced Cardinals games on that newfangled media outlet, radio.
As America grew in the 20th century, so did professional sports. Major League baseball expanded from those initial 16 teams, and expanded again and again until today there are 30 franchises. The leagues were divided into divisions, with the winners playing each other before one from each league reached the World Series. Wild cards were added in 1995, increasing the post-season list to eight teams.
Commissioner Bud Selig successfully lobbied earlier this year for the addition of another wild-card entrant from each league. The two wild cards from both leagues will have a one-game ‘play-in’ to the division series. The Cardinals are one of those four teams.
But do they deserve to be there? Absolutely. You can make arguments that the Cardinals had only the fifth-best record in the National League this year. So what? The commissioner established this new procedure for post-season play, and the Cardinals qualified.
Since there are now five teams in each league in post-season play, who would detractors insist be the fifth team in the National League? The final record shows that the Redbirds won more games than several teams who contested for that last shot at the World Series sweepstakes. Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Arizona and San Diego all had opportunities in the last two months to wrest away the second wild card from the Cardinals. When the Dodgers lost to the San Francisco Giants Wednesday night, only the Cardinals remained.
Let’s not forget that the Birds did win 88 games this year and finished 14 games over .500. That’s as good as Detroit did in winning the American League Central, thanks to Tiger star power including Triple Crown winner Melky Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.
The Cardinals made it into post-season by finishing with a flurry in September, just as they did in 2011 en route to their 11th World Series championship. They did it with a rookie manager (Mike Matheny) replacing a future Hall of Fame manager (Tony La Russa), with a pitching coach (Derek Lilliquist) replacing a legendary pitching coach (Dave Duncan), and with the teams’ 21st century icon, Albert Pujols, defecting to the Los Angeles Angels. Incidentally, those Angels will be watching the playoffs on TV.
So, yeah, the Redbirds deserve to be in the 2012 post-season, given its new parameters. Anyone with a complaint, kindly send a letter, e-mail or Facebook posting to Commissioner Selig.
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