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Friday Rewind: The Hunger Games
So Baseball’s version of The Hunger Games is now complete. The teams with the FIVE best records in baseball are now out, and none of them really came even close to advancing. As a group, Atlanta (104 wins), Baltimore (101 wins), Los Angeles (100 wins), Tampa Bay (99 wins) and Milwaukee (92 wins) went 1-13 in their playoff games.
They were outscored 82-31.
They were outhomered 31-8.
All three National League division winners are out. Two of the three American League division winners are out.
There will be a lot of talk — already has been a lot of talk — about the playoff format. We won’t have any of that here today, not exactly, but I do have a thought about baseball’s structure, as well as a couple of thoughts on baseball journalism. There are also a couple of pretty exciting book tour announcements! I know you’ll want to stick around for that!
Philadelphia 3, Atlanta 1 (Phillies advance to NLCS)
We haven’t talked enough here about the lovely, awe-inspiring “Why We Love Baseball” story surrounding Trea Turner this year. The story goes a little something like and there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos, it will be a home run, the story goes a little something like this.
Trea Turner was a full-blown disaster for the first four months of the season. It wasn’t just a slump. It was like he had forgotten how to play baseball. On Aug. 2 in a game against the Marlins, Turner went 0-for-5, hit into a double play, and in the 11th with the Phillies an out away from victory, he let Josh Bell’s ground ball go right through him to score the tying run. The Marlins won in the next inning. Turner was despondent. After the game ended, even though the time was approaching midnight, he went into the batting cage to try and find himself.
“Obviously, I’m the reason we lost the game,” he said, and nobody disagreed. The Phillies were running out of ideas. Manager Rob Thomson rested him on consecutive days, just hoping the break might clear his head. Thomson then dropped him down to seventh in the lineup in the hope that would help. But nothing was helping. Turner, who won the batting title in 2021 and was a lifetime .300 hitter coming into the season, was hitting .237 with a .291 on-base percentage. This was lower than rock-bottom; it was subterranean. Nobody thought it was even possible for Trea Turner to play this badly.
Now, Philadelphia fans have a reputation. It is one that, having numerous friends who are Phillies/Eagles/Sixers/Flyers fans, I sense they carry with both pride and scorn. That reputation is they are the meanest, foulest, nastiest, toughest and most vicious fans in American sports, the fans who famously booed (and threw snowballs) at Santa Claus, the fans who never warmed to their greatest player, Mike Schmidt, the fans who got into a huge parking lot fight in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook.”
When I say that Philadelphia fans, at least the ones I know, are somewhat ambivalent about this reputation, I mean that they think it’s wildly exaggerated (I’ve heard numerous times about how the Santa Claus story was entirely overblown and the Schmidt feud was not nearly as big a deal as people made it) but I also think, yeah, Philly fans will carry some pride being considered the toughest. Nobody wants to be the SECOND-TOUGHEST fan base. In any case, they had been booing Turner mercilessly — boos that, honestly, he would have heard no matter where he signed for $300 million — but after the Miami fiasco, something changed, and that something seems to be the brainchild of a Philadelphia social media guy who goes by the name The Philly Captain.
“Hi,” he says as he introduces his YouTube channel. “I’m the Philly Captain. … I go into the neighborhoods, I tell you all the good things and the bad things about the city I love, Philadelphia.”
I mean — I like him already. He’s got a great Philadelphia accent. He loves his town. He would undoubtedly tell you where to go for the best cheesesteak, and he wouldn’t let you go to some tourist trap. I want The Philly Captain to be my friend.
Anyway, after that Miami game, The Philly Captain put out a 37-second plea to fans from his car that went like this:
“Yo guys, can you do me a favor. If you’re going to a Phillies game this weekend, let’s not boo Trea Turner this weekend. Let’s give him a standing ovation every time he comes to bat this weekend. My boy is in his head, and he needs some love — not TOUGH love, not right now, he needs LOVE love. So let’s love Trea Turner this weekend, and give him a standing ovation every time my man comes to bat. (He starts clapping) Come on Trea! Let’s go!”
Now, I don’t know the full reach of The Philly Captain, but he wasn’t alone … various Phillies fans donated money to the V Foundation on Turner’s behalf, and other social media influencers got on the idea of giving Turner a standing ovation. Sure enough, the day after the Miami game, fans did cheer him every time he came up in a 7-5 loss against the Royals. Turner got an RBI single in the game.
The next day, more Turner cheering, and he got two hits, including a double and a homer, and he drove in four runs as the Phillies beat the Royals 9-6. He was so touched by the crowd’s support that he all but teared up, and he got a hit the next day, and the next, and the next, and two hits following that and two more hits following that, and he homered the day after that and he got three hits the day after that and three more hits the day after that and …
“Thank you, Philly,” Turner said on a dozen billboards that suddenly popped up around town.
From Aug. 4 to the end of the season, Turner hit .337/.389/.669 with 16 homers and 9 steals in 48 games. In the six postseason games this year and there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos, it will be a home run, Turner is 12 of 24 with four stolen bases and two home runs, one of those on Thursday in the game that knocked out the Braves once and for all.
It’s the stuff of movies, right?
Happy Friday! The Rewind is free so everyone can enjoy it. Just a reminder that Joe Blogs is a reader-supported newsletter, and I’d love and appreciate your support.
Why is there such division?
In 1994, MLB did something that sort of made sense at the time and now makes absolutely no sense at all, and I want to talk about it. As I said, I don’t really want to talk about baseball’s playoff format right now, it feels like too many people (myself included) are griping about it based on very short-term thinking, and we might need a little time and space before we can really get a handle on it.
This is something a little bit different.
First a quick history: From the dawn of the American League in 1901 until 1968*, baseball was divided into two leagues. I mean, yes, of course, for much of that time there were other leagues, particularly the Negro leagues, but for the most part the baseball most of America followed was divided into the American League and the National League.
Seasons were generally 154 games until 1961 and then 162 games after that, and the team with the best record in each league would play in the World Series, and that was that.
In the 1960s, though, there was much mayhem and movement across the game.
The Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta
The Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland
The old Washington Senators moved to Minnesota
The new Washington Senators were founded (and became the Texas Rangers)
The California Angels were founded
The Houston Astros were founded
The Kansas City Royals were founded
The Montreal Expos were founded
The New York Mets were founded
The San Diego Padres were founded
The Seattle Pilots were founded (and became the Milwaukee Brewers)
I wanted to put all of that up so you could see just how much upheaval there was before the big decision in 1969 to break up each league into two divisions and add an American and National League Championship series. MLB was a fundamentally different league in 1969 than it had been in 1960, and it was believed that the old two-league system was not really viable anymore.
By 1994, four more teams were added — the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies in 1993 — and while this did not seem anything close to the revolution of the 1960s, Bud Selig and the MLB owners had a bold new vision. Their vision was to add another playoff round in each league. Why? Selig made some noise about creating hope for more baseball cities, but it seems to me that the true answer was as green as most answers. MLB had fallen behind on postseason offerings, and that meant falling behind on national television negotiations. More playoff games were coming.
*The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks would not be added until 1998.
But here is where the story takes a turn — MLB was 28 teams then, soon after it would be 30, and there is no elegant mathematical way to reduce 28 regular-season teams to eight playoff teams. So MLB did something inelegant: They divided the league into SIX different divisions, three in each league. At first, the divisions weren’t even, because six doesn’t go into 28 any easier than eight does.
The idea then was to have six division champions and then one wild-card in each league. The four teams in each league would play a division series, THEN a championship series and THEN a World Series.
It was pretty ugly in my view — an odd number of divisions in a league is just silly — but as long as there was only one wild-card team, it at least made a little bit of sense. But, of course, there was no way MLB was going to stay with just one wild-card team. My friend Bill Hancock, who is Executive Director of the College Football Playoff, told me years ago about an axiom he called “bracket creep,” which states that someone will ALWAYS want to add more playoff teams.
And sure enough, in 2012, MLB added two more wild-card teams, and in 2022 they added FOUR more wild-card teams, and now the whole three-division thing in each league makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE AT ALL. I mean, no offense to the Minnesota Twins, who were great fun, but why did they make the playoffs with 87 wins when the Seattle Mariners had 88 wins? Because they won a completely fabricated and dreadful division? It’s absurd.
Then again, having 30 teams and two leagues is absurd. It puts an odd number in each league. I suppose at some point MLB will add two expansion teams — more on this in a bit — and with 32 teams there are so many better mathematical options. But for now, this divisional makeup is absurd. It would be better, in my mind, to just go back to two leagues and however many playoff teams you want are chosen simply by the best records. I also would love to come up with a decisive advantage for the team that wins the league without giving them a long bye but we can worry about that another time.
Hey, if you feel like it, I’d love if you’d share this post with your friends!
Inside baseball (journalism)
So, here’s what happened. Jake Mintz, one of the co-founder of Céspedes Family BBQ and someone I know a little bit and like a lot, was in the Braves clubhouse on Tuesday after the miraculous Atlanta comeback victory over Philadelphia, the one that ended with an incredible Michael Harris II catch and a preposterously heads-up play by third baseman Austin Riley and with Philadelphia’s superhero Bryce Harper getting doubled off first base.
Mintz was doing what he obviously should have been doing, which was observing the Atlanta celebration … and he (along with others, like Washington’s Chelsea Janes) heard Orlando Arcia happily shouting, “ha-ha, atta-boy, Harper!”
He included this detail in his story. Because, you know, this is what we writers tend to do. We observe things. Then we write things down.
Now, look, I’m certainly not the arbiter of journalism ethics. But the mini-uproar that has followed this is so ridiculous, so insulting and so misguided that I do feel the need to say something. The Braves, led by catcher Travis d’Arnaud, complained about Mintz writing down Arcia’s words because of the sanctity of the clubhouse or something. Well, OK, fine, the sun rose in the East again; players are players are players and them complaining about reporters doing their jobs is just part of life.
But then various reporters and media personalities, who should absolutely know better, also complained about it, stating that Arcia’s words were somehow off the record or that stuff shouted out in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse or that people like Jake, who has brought a lot of irreverent fun to his baseball coverage, have no business being in the clubhouse.
It’s all garbage. Listen, Orlando Arcia was yucking it up after the Braves’ victory, and he was doing so in front of a whole bunch of reporters and also people with video cameras. Let me tell you that MLB and the Players Association have dramatically limited the time when media can even be in the clubhouse. Plus, there are now countless places for players to go if they don’t want to be around the media. The idea that what he said, loudly and publicly, is off-limits is beyond ridiculous.
Plus, what he said wasn’t even bad, it wasn’t offensive, it was just some celebratory smack talk. Arcia later said he didn’t think it would get back to Harper, which is silly since he said it in front of at least a dozen reporters — Chelsea got it on tape —but it’s also kind of weak. I mean was he thinking, “Ha-ha, attaboy Harper, oh boy, I sure hope he doesn’t hear about this because he won’t like it, and he is a scary guy, and he might hit two home runs and then stare at me like a meanie?”
Come on, man! If you’re going to do a little light trash-talking, stand behind it!
The Braves had an amazing season. They won 104 games and their lineup might have been the best we’ve ever seen. But they really didn’t show up in this series against Philadelphia. They didn’t show up on the field, where the Phillies outclassed them. But they also didn’t show up off the field, where they griped a bit about the postseason schedule, blamed the media for simply writing down what they saw, and bizarrely even tried trolling Phillies fans.
WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL stuff!
— OK, seriously, how much fun is this? I’m going to be in Nashville, Nov. 1, at The Listening Room Cafe, and I’m going to be doing an event with Country Music Hall of Famer and my friend Marty Stuart! Incredible! Basically, I’m going to be telling baseball stories, and Marty is going to be accompanying me on his guitar (and maybe telling a story or two himself), and, I mean, it’s going to be an unforgettable night, certainly for me. Plus the event is being put on by the Nashville Stars, the group trying to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville (and I believe they’re going to do it) so there’s no TELLING who will be there that night. I’ve heard about a couple of big Nashville baseball fans who might be there, and let’s just say … it could be pretty spectacular.
I don’t believe tickets have gone on sale as I am writing these words, but they might be on sale by the time you’re reading them.
— This Wednesday, Oct. 18, I’ll be at Park Road Books in Charlotte having a conversation with the brilliant Tommy Tomlinson. The event will start at 7 and it is free … I’m told you will want to come early. Like, really early.
— On Oct. 26, 7 p.m., I’ll be at the Zale Auditorium at the Aaron Family JCC, that’s right before World Series Game 1, which, you know will definitely have a Texas team in it and very well might have the Rangers in it! I will be in conversation with Dallas sports television icon Robert Steinfeld. Tickets available here.
— On Nov. 5, 10:30 a.m., I’ll be in Rockville, Md., just outside of Washington, at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington for what they’re calling Bagels and Baseball. I should mention that many of my stops over the next few months will be at JCCs because WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL was selected by the Jewish Book Council and they’ve scheduled me to make a whole bunch of stops. At this one, I’ll be in conversation with Washington media personality Andy Pollin. Tickets available here.
— On Nov. 6, 7 p.m., I’ll be in Cherry Hill, N.J., just outside of Philadelphia, at the Katz JCC. I’m a bit unclear about Cherry Hill ticketing, but you can call (856) 424-4444 for more info.
— On Nov. 8, I’ll be in Atlanta at the Marcus JCC of Atlanta along with Adam Lazarus, author of Wingmen, about the friendship between John Glenn and Ted Williams. Tickets available here.
— On Nov. 12, I’ll be in Toledo, not 100 percent sure of the location yet, but there is information here. And then two days later, on Nov. 14, I’ll be in Houston for what they’re listing as a “special sports-focused program.” Will we be talking about another Astros World Series triumph? Or will I have already talked about a Phillies triumph in Cherry Hill? So many questions. Anyway, Houston tickets available here.
— One last thing: This was a really lovely review of WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL in The Illinois Times, and I’m deeply touched by it.
JoeBlogs Week in Review
Monday: Thoughts from a huge weekend.
Wednesday: Adios to the Orioles.
Thursday: Today’s epic hero.