Baseball people—and that includes myself—are slow to change and accept new ideas. I remember that it took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms.
—BRANCH RICKEY, 1954
Forty years after the Mahatma said that, baseball people are again wringing their hands over a fundamental change in the game. For the first time the World Series can conceivably be won by a team that finishes...painful as it is to write it...second.
Yes, there are now three divisions (East, Central, West) in each league and a new best-of-five round in postseason play. In that new format, the division winner with the best record meets the second-place finisher with the best record while the other two division winners play one another, with the victors moving on to the time-honored best-of-seven league championship series, which determines who's in the best-of-seven World Series, which could possibly produce—if delayed by weather a day or two—baseball's first Mr. November.
All of this has some baseball purists muttering about the apocalypse now. NBC's Bob Costas, who will make his return to the baseball broadcast booth this year, says, "With the wild card, you trash the integrity of the pennant race. Before, you won or went home. That is what made Bucky Dent's and Bobby Thomson's home runs so memorable. Everyone knows that in baseball, more than any other sport, a wild-card team has a better chance of upsetting the best team. Baseball is the one sport where history matters, and these people are ignoring that."
Yes, but history also tells us that there was similar teeth gnashing over the designated hitter, division play, the lowering of the mound, expansion, the bullpen cart...and uniform numbers. The angst over the wild-card team, too, shall pass. The trade-off for realignment, of course, is the doubling of opportunities for postseason play—the greater possibility that fans in such pennant-starved locales as Cleveland, Montreal, Seattle and Texas will at long last have something to cheer about in October. Still, it will all seem a little strange at first. As manager Joe Torre of the NL Central St. Louis Cardinals says, "I'll probably get disoriented when I read the standings the morning after our first game."
So, what else is new in '94? Baseball is starting a novel national-TV triple play, with ESPN, NBC and ABC on the relay. Cleveland and Texas have new ballparks, both designed, a la Camden Yards in Baltimore, to have a nostalgic look and feel. (And what Ranger fan doesn't long for the days of Joe Lovitto and Bill Gogolewski?) Finally, the Astros, the Brewers, the Indians and the Rangers will be breaking in new uniforms, the better to increase profits for Major League Baseball Properties.
All in all, the '94 season promises to be a memorable one—if only because we'll all be trying to remember what teams are in what divisions. This could also go down as a lost season if owners and players decide to play a dangerous game of chicken over a new Basic Agreement. There is already talk of a possible players' walkout before the postseason.
Oh, well. Some things never change.