The Mercy Rule

Champions and Winners

By David Roth



Major League Baseball spends a lot of time trying to fix things. There is the decade-spanning attempt to "fix" the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in the game, which—like even your more outwardly successful attempts to fix problems involving drugs—is increasingly good at detection and punishment, and hilariously, almost poignantly terrible at actually stopping the use of such drugs. There's the league's attempt to "fix" the All-Star Game, another doomed attempt based in a crucial and sticky misunderstanding: Major League Baseball wants to make the All-Star Game meaningful, must-watch television, but the All-Star Game, like all All-Star Games, cannot be anything but a dorky, leisurely exhibition between hungover athletes trying their best not to get injured. Baseball's attempt to fix the playoffs by expanding them is probably best understood as an attempt to extract another couple games' worth of profit, but the only people really bothered by the prospect of more baseball to watch are crustoid sports columnists for daily newspapers, who are bothered by everything.

One thing that Major League Baseball can't and won't fix, though, is the World Series. The two teams playing in the World Series are not, objectively and subjectively and quite predictably, the two best teams in baseball. They are the most momentum-fortified, or the luckiest, teams in baseball at the moment, and one of them—at the moment, it looks like the San Francisco Giants, who won the Series' first two games, and whose team-wide dedication to hirsute Cali bro-hood qualifies as having personality in the cop-faced world of baseball—will be the World Series champs. They will pour champagne on each other in the clubhouse (and perhaps learn some valuable lessons about polite ejaculation in the process), have some sort of parade, and make a bunch of fans happy. They will be the last team to win a game in 2012, but they won't have been the best or most dominant team to play baseball in 2012. The Tigers were all of seven games over .500 during the regular season to win the drunken sack race that was the American League Central (their record would’ve been good for fourth place in the AL West); the Giants have hit 13 home runs in 12 postseason games, after having clubbed an MLB-worst 106 in 162 regular season ones. It is weird that these are the teams which are playing right now, but it's also the sort of thing that happens in baseball. Major League Baseball, to its credit, seems to know that this is not a problem that needs fixing.

It could be fixed, of course, easily. Luck, and its attendant ridiculousness, still had a say when each league sent only its winningest team to the World Series, but a World Series like this one didn't happen. Baseball clearly has an interest in a longer postseason—those Alec Baldwin Smirking Near Vikings Who Are Clumsily Cashing In Airline Miles On Their Credit Cards commercials need to get shown somewhere, after all. But there's also something inarguably great about the fact that goonish teams keep Cornholio-frenzying their way to World Series wins.

There is, occasionally, an inevitable championship team—the New York Yankees team that won in 2009 was basically The Financial Sector turned into a baseball team, both in terms of its awful inexorability and somberly loathsome self-mythology. But for the most part, the team that wins this World Series will be the sort of team that wins the World Series these days: namely, a team that should by most rights probably not win the World Series. The Giants are a haphazardly constructed collection of excellent pitchers and stupendously goofy position players—their most productive outfielder is a one-man SOON meme who runs as if his feet were being remote-controlled by two different seven-year-olds; their starting third baseman looks like a heavily tattooed children's plush toy; their manager has the tiny, depthless eyes and uncomprehending expression of a much more confused plush toy. The Tigers are, if anything, even weirder—blessed with brilliant starting pitching and a pair of great hitters in the middle of their lineup, and all too willing to surround those stars with players who are either vaguely competent or not-at-all-vaguely incompetent. The best player for Detroit in their four-game sweep of the Yankees in the American League Championship Series was Delmon Young, an outfielder who looks and mostly plays like a dour, hemorrhoid-afflicted version of Urkel-afflicted "Family Matters" paterfamilias Reginald VelJohnson. Young made headlines earlier this year after berating and then assaulting a homeless man in New York while ranting about Jews.

But while neither the Giants nor the Tigers will be remembered as an era-defining team even with a World Series win—and while neither even ranked among the most interesting Ultra-Random World Series Contenders of this postseason—either would make a hugely suitable World Series winner. Baseball is a game that takes its history and itself very seriously—while it lacks the NFL's solemnly batshit addiction to its own corporate-patriotic kitsch, baseball's reverently Spielberg-ian self-sobriety is mostly silly stuff. But what works best about the game, both as entertainment and in a broader sense, is that it relentlessly and mercilessly satirizes—and so humanizes—itself simply by being baseball. The game may not be able to take a joke, but the punchline that's coming—be it in the form of another ridiculous Giants World Series win or the words "Delmon Young, World Series champion"—is coming all the same, and baseball will have take it as it does every year.

Sometime soon, after a couple games or a couple more than that, a goofy and un-great team will stumble gracelessly into baseball's record books, spraying domestic macrobrew on all the sepia photographs of the Greats of the Game and generally making that tongue-in-cheek blow-me gesture every time baseball's grandiose history machine begins to do its thing. It happens every year. The system works.

@David_J_Roth

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