Doug's Diggings: October is heaven for fans of major sports
For sports fans this is a spectacular time of the year.
The NFL season is in full swing, the baseball playoffs are in progress and the NHL and NBA are getting started. There is only this window of a few weeks all during the year when four major sports are playing at the same time.
I still like to think baseball is king, but have known for some time that the NFL is by far the biggest sports operation -- probably not only in the U.S., but the entire world.
I have also come to the conclusion that baseball is the most difficult sport to turn a bad team into a good team. In football, draft a good quarterback and you can turn a team around in a single season -- for example, the Indianapolis Colts. In 2011 the team ended the season with a 2-14 record. The Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck and the next year they finished 11-5 and advanced to the playoffs.
In basketball a team can add a player or two (eg., Labron James) and become a league power. Not sure about hockey, but there is such parity that teams continuously go from bad to good in short order (and vice versa).
In baseball, however, it takes more than one or two players to turn a team around. In fact, five or six might not do it! Adding Cy Young to the pitching staff won’t do much for you unless you have two, three or four other good starters. Even with good starters, you better have a great closer and good middle relief pitching. On top of that a team has to score a few runs -- you better have good hitters, team speed and a couple of big power hitters.
To make a long story short, turning bad teams, (like the Twins and Brewers) into playoff contenders is a long, tedious process.
I was a bit disappointed this year in the playoffs, hoping a couple of long-struggling teams could advance in the playoffs. It was heartening to see the likes of Pittsburgh, Oakland and Tampa Bay make runs at getting to the World Series. When the dust settled, however, they were all eliminated in the first “real” rounds (not counting the new one-day elimination round). Look how long it took Pittsburgh to post a winning record – something like 20 years. Problem is, they still have a ways to go to match the perennial powers.
You have to like baseball, however, for one reason -- no clock. I was watching the Detroit-Boston game Sunday night. The Tigers took a 5-0 lead and still led 5-1 with two outs in the eighth inning -- only needed to get four more outs. If you compared that score in football, it would be like a team having a 35-7 lead with just under 15 percent of the game left, or less than 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter of a football game.
Of course, David Ortiz hits a grand slam in the eighth to tie the game and Boston wins it in the bottom of the ninth 6-5. I can’t think of a professional football game where a team has come back from a 28-point deficit with less than nine minutes to play. Usually when it’s 35-7 midway through the fourth quarter, teams are in mop-up mode (example, the Vikings-Carolina game Sunday). When playing with a clock, there just is not a chance for teams to stage big comebacks late in a game. That’s true for football, basketball or hockey.
As I said earlier, however, football is king for a lot of reasons. One small item I noted early in the baseball playoffs -- all games were relegated to the TBS cable network. Any NFL playoff game is considered prime time, with the big networks falling all over themselves to get those broadcasts. Nothing against TBS, but I’m sure it doesn’t do much for the TV ratings when there are still many viewers who probably don’t get TBS and others who may have it but didn’t know there were baseball games being broadcast.
You have to admire the NFL. They have turned the promotion of pro football into an art form. People arrange their lives around the NFL schedule! I don’t see anything changing in the future, unless football becomes unfashionable at some point in time. Not sure how that could happen, but I suspect the NFL is somewhat worried about the concussion issue. It would take some sort of outside force like that to turn the tide!
In the meantime, enjoy these few weeks in October when fans are enveloped in all four major sports -- it only happens once a year!