The Latest Error of the Baseball Traditionalists and the Case Against It
Tradition. It would seem that that is the single word everyone falls back on when it comes to baseball. More than any other sport, baseball is a game of tradition. Its long storied history requires, if not demands, that it remain true to the days when Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were the most venerated athletes on Earth.
For the most part, I couldn’t agree more. My favorite will always be the eye test, the idea that the way a player looks in the eyes of a scout should hold more weight than sabermetrics. However, even the most devout eye test supporter cannot deny that sabermetrics have proven their usefulness, and any layman can attest, have taken over the game. If you don’t believe me count how many times you see a shift in a modern game.
In the midst of this lockout and virus shortened season the baseball traditionalists are once again rearing their head for a variety of reasons as Major League Baseball looks to use the 2020 campaign as a petri dish to experiment with long considered ideas of changing the game.
Everyone knows about the calls for a universal Designated Hitter, which will always be the bane of the traditionalists’ existence. An expanded postseason with more teams in the mix is another popular complaint. Today though, I will not be dealing with those gripes. Today I target the most ludicrous argument of them all that I have heard from the traditionalist camp: the 2020 World Series Champion should be considered invalid.
The argument is that the idea of crowning a champion from a 60 game regular season and considering it equal to the champions that played 162 games is invalid, and therefore at the very least there should be an asterisk next to the title.
It’s the Ford Frick line of thinking and it couldn’t be further from the truth. For those who don’t know, Ford Frick was commissioner of MLB in 1961, the year Roger Maris ultimately broke Babe Ruth’s home run record of 60 homers with 61. Frick, the consummate traditionalist, argued the record was invalid because in 1961, MLB expanded the season from 154 games, the number Ruth played, to 162, so unless Maris did it in 154 games, it didn’t count. Sure enough, he needed all 162 to hit the 61st blast, and as a result, for years the record books showed 61* as the record mark.
Yet the baseball world swiftly came to realize how illogical that line of thinking was. There can’t be separate records based on the decades. Baseball evolves just like everything else. The record books have to evolve with it. We are seeing the same epiphany today as the asterisk attached to Barry Bonds’ home run record is starting to fade in the eyes of many as the clamors of the villainy of the steroid era give way to the younger generation.
The idea of putting an asterisk next to a champion simply because of the number of games played is just as ludicrous, if not more. The NFL plays 16 games. The NBA 82. There is no magic number that decides a champion. If a team wins enough games in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, and then make a run to win the championship, they have earned that championship, regardless of the number of games played, and that’s the bottom line