A moment of personal privilege.
This morning I sent a note to the inveterate Chris Dunn, a fine fellow except for his lapse in liking the St. Louis Cardinals, a wildly successful team throughout baseball history that's the longtime intense rival of the beloved Chicago Cubs. All season long, though, he and I have commiserated how ESPN and MLB Network have let their New York bias overwhelm their coverage of baseball and focus egregiously and overwhelming on the New York Yankees and New York Mets, most especially at the expensive of the National League Central division, which did something unprecedented in baseball history since the advent of division play -- for the first time ever, the teams with the three best records in all of baseball (the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and beloved Chicago Cubs) have all come from just one division, the NL Central.
That led to something else related to this, I noted to Chris, when the baseball season ended on Sunday, and when all shows did their round-ups of the year.
I’m admittedly very biased, I wrote this morning, but I was shaking my head at all the end-of-season coverage. Most ESPN and MLB Network were doing just what they also do at the end of the year, lots of season wrap-up stories about the teams that won their divisions and teams that made the Wild Card on the last few days and teams that got home-field advantage and the players and fans celebrating all those achievements and on and on – and every reporter completely ignored was what to me, biased as I am, THE biggest story in baseball this year, far-and-away. (Biased as I am, however, I must mention that Chris and I had talked about this just a few weeks earlier, and even he as a St. Louis rival told me at the time what the St. Louis announcers themselves, huge rivals of the Cubs, had said during a broadcast only the day before.) And that’s that the biggest story in baseball all year, far-and-away, is that after averaging a massive 94 losses over the last four years, and going a lousy 79-89 last year, and this playing four rookies in the starting line-up (of which, it needs to be noted that no team in baseball history has ever made the post-season with even three rookies in their starting line-up), and likely having the Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, and a pitcher who had the lowest ERA after August in the history of baseball, and, above all, after not winning a World Series in 106 freaking years…the Chicago Cubs won 97 games this year, 32 games above .500…and had the THIRD BEST record in ALL of major league baseball, finishing just three games behind St. Louis. And qualified for the playoffs.
As I said, I’m very biased. But even taking a step back, I challenge anyone to come up with a season-story that’s not only better, but even close to that. The Houston Astros had a good story – but they won 11 fewer games, and won the World Series a mere 10 years ago. The Cardinals also had a good story, winning 100 games while losing their ace pitcher for almost the whole season, but they won the division only last year. And that’s sort of it for "Great Stories." Pittsburgh and Toronto had nice stories – but that’s what they were, nice stories. The Cubs story is sort of stunning, and swamped everyone else. Even at the All Star break, analysts were discussing on-air if the Cubs were “for real” this season or would fade, because no one could believe that they’d hold on, presuming they’d fold with all those rookies and just not ready yet. Even Cubs fans, myself included, are fairly bewildered by it.
I’m biased, but when it comes to the best story in baseball this year by far, I still think I’m right. Again – with four rookies, they had the third best record in baseball, winning 28 more games than last year, without a World Series in 106 years. Top that story. Anyone. Try to come close.
And the story in all the year-end recaps has gotten largely overlooked. It was mentioned in passing, but the division winners and “who got in on the last day” and who clinched home-field advantage were all the leads.
The thing is, I thought that I was done with my rant in the morning. But then the afternoon hit.
And lest you think I was exaggerating above, here’s how bad the oversight is.
I was just watching the Baseball Tonight show on ESPN, airing before this evening's the Wild Card game. They were talking to the freaking commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred. And was asked about if the playoffs set-up has turned out like he hoped. And his answer was –
“Oh, it has. We have a great mix. We have some big-market teams. The Yankees, Mets, the Dodgers. And we…”
Hold on! You’re not going to mention the Chicago Cubs as a big market team?? Seriously??? Okay, so maybe he has them in another category. Continue, Mr. Commissioner –
“And we also have some great stories.”
Ahhh, okay, there you go. Great stories. And what story is better this year than the Cubs, picking up 28 games, starting four rookies when no team in history has made the post-season with even three, and a 106 year-old drought, and Jake Arrieta, the pitcher who the Cubs have starting in the Wild Card game has the lowest ERA since August in the entire 145-year history of baseball. That would be an Earned Run Average of a microscopic 0.41. That's an average, over the last two months of the season, of less than half-a-run a game!! Great story, indeed. Go on, sir –
Please, Mr. Commissioner, continue.
“Great stories, like Kansas City making the post-season two years in a row. And Toronto, they haven’t been here in a long time, and what great support they have. So, yes, it’s great.”
Wait?!! Seriously, that’s it????? Toronto hasn’t been here in a long time? What, they won the World Series in 1992, that’s 22 years. How does that compare to 106 years. And great fans? The Cubs have the second smallest park in the majors and drew 2.95 million people, sixth most in the majors out of 30. You’re really not going to mention the Chicago Cubs in what a great mix this is in the playoffs. Not as a big-market team or a great story? (You could also toss in the Cardinals as a great story winning 100 games and great fans, and making the post-season for the 80th year in a row, or whatever. Or two small market Missouri teams.) But really, you’re not going to even MENTION the Chicago Cubs???!!!!
Just freaking sigh.
I have no idea what will happen on Wednesday when the Cubs play in the one-game Wild Card game. They've gotten SO much farther this season than most anyone remotely expected. All I know is what happened before Wednesday. And it was the story of the year in baseball. Far and way.
And -- forget the analysts -- the commissioner of baseball didn't even mention them out of just 10 teams in the post-season. He mentioned five of the 10. Just not the one with the story of the year. Far and away.
We now return you to our regularly-scheduled unbiased reporting.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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