10/31/09

On Covering the Postseason

As some of you may know, we've started keeping running diaries of late for postseason games over at MLB Notebook. And, really, that's about all the fun there is to be had in writing about the postseason. 

It's weird, since this is often when you see the best baseball, but there just isn't that much to write about. For each round, you can preview the games, and the day after, you can mention some things you thought about from the last game. But though every game is important, there are only so many things one can say about a single game - and that means that, come World Series time, if you're not, say, keeping a live blog of the games, all you can really do is complain about minutiae the next day. And, really, do umpiring failures, a single bad play, or a managerial decision merit so much examination as a full article contains? 

What ends up happening when people write about those minute errors is that they become blown out of proportion - which, we guess, is a crucial part of playoff baseball. Small sample size becomes king; we bow to the heroics of newfound stars, who rise to prominence because they play better than can be expected for awhile, and we behead (figuratively) (we hope) those already anointed stars who fail to live up to our expectations.

We are already staunchly opposed to any small sample-based reaction, but it's impossible to disregard these unimportant-in-the-grand-scale-of-things couple of ABs or IP because, in the postseason, there IS nothing else. There exists no grand scale; there is no statistically significant frame of reference. Such it is that heroes are born, legends are cemented, and otherwise-greats have their names sullied because of perceived failures. Is there something noble and romantic about this process? Sure. Is this the sort of thing that captivates most fans? Sure - and we won't exclude ourselves from that group. But - and maybe this is just us - when we write, we like to look for larger themes or meaningful conclusions. Or, you know, comparisons to popular TV shows. And think about it: what larger theme has there been in these playoffs? There haven't been any - at least any related to on-field performance.  When it comes to actual baseball, you get individual stories - and ones that, really, don't amount to much. Alex Rodriguez shed the "un-clutch" label? Well, that's neat, but it still relies on the fact that in a six-game stretch, he played better than he usully does. And is there any doubt that people will start referring to him as a choker again as soon as he comes up short in another series? It's already started happening in the first two games of this World Series - he's been roundly booed by the Yankee faithful.

No, the only overriding theme we can think of that has come out of this postseason is that the umpiring system needs an overhaul. That's the only thing that's been consistent throughout all the playoff series this year is that the umps have been making bad calls. And is that really what you want to take away from a postseason? We mean, this is the time when we're supposed to be celebrating only the best of baseball, not bemoaning the state of the umpiring.

What we're really getting at here is that in the postseason, we experience a divergence between watching baseball games and writing about them. The great thing - one of the great things - about baseball is the variety. With 30 teams and 162 games, there's plenty of new, interesting things happening every single day that are worth writing about. But in the postseason, there's at most eight teams, and you get a max of 41 games. Everything is magnified, which is great for the legend, the myth, and all that intangible baseball magic. But it's bad for writers looking for something new and interesting to write about. In many ways, we think, this is what creates the magic of the playoffs - yeah, sure, there's the pressure factor that people love to talk about, but how much of it comes from the fact that the media needs something to say before, during, and after every game? And if, like us, you think that it's a lot, then isn't that what really needs to be changed about the playoffs?

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