Even before the unbalanced schedule, baseball was unfair. The Orioles would know.
Oct. 1, 2013
Is it fair that the Tampa Bay Rays had to beat the Texas Rangers Monday night in order to advance to the playoffs? Probably not, but baseball hasn't been fair about determining its playoff teams since at least 1968.
To localize the argument, 1968 was the year the Orioles missed the playoffs despite having the exact same record after 162 games as this year's Rays and Rangers. A one-game playoff in 2013 is more fair than anything the Orioles had to deal with back in their glory days.
First, let's establish what was unfair about the Rays having to face the Rangers in Game 163.
The Rays and Rangers finished with identical 91-71 records; however, the Rangers enjoyed the benefit of playing a combined 38 games against the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners thanks to baseball's imbalanced schedule.
The Astros finished 60 games under .500. The Mariners finished 20 games under .500. And for that matter, the Angels finished six games under .500. By comparison, the Rays had only one division opponent, Toronto, with a sub-.500 record, who finished 14 games under.
Conclusion: The Rays had a tougher path to 91 wins than did the Rangers.
If you care to dig deeper into this particular issue, Jeff Sullivan penned a FanGraphs article that attempts to quantify the difference by overall strength of schedule.
FanGraphs provides the statistical argument. I'll introduce the historical argument, which is essentially this: "Boo hoo."
I don't like the unbalanced schedule. I believe it's unfair. However, baseball has been moving farther away from fairness ever since the introduction of East and West divisions in 1969.
If the Earl of Baltimore were still alive, I'd love to hear his unfiltered thoughts in response to complaints this week about fairness. My guess is that his comments would be more colorful than, "Boo hoo."
Weaver took over at the Orioles helm midway through the 1968 season and guided the team to a 48-34 finish, which left them in second place with 91 wins and nothing to show for it. Earl's answer? Win bigger. He led the O's to three consecutive World Series appearances from 1969 to 1971 by winning more than 100 games each season. But even 100 wins wasn't always enough.
Weaver led the Orioles to triple-digit victories in 1980 and watched from home as the 97-win, A.L. West champion Kansas City Royals won the pennant and went to the World Series. There was no unbalanced schedule back then. There was no Interleague play. The Orioles earned more wins than the Royals against the same opponents and missed the playoffs because of nothing more than geography.
Bud Selig took over a sport with $1.7 billion in revenue, four teams in each year's postseason, economic disparity among the clubs and a fixation on sticking with traditions that dated to the 19th century ...
His revolutionary reign produced an $8 billion industry, interleague play, an expanded postseason and two decades of labor peace. But, he also presided over a canceled World Series and long-running drug scandal.
More money. Less tradition. And, I would argue, less fairness. It's the cost of doing business.