I’m not sure how much you know about the organizational structure of soccer. Most national soccer leagues are divided into a first division, second division, and usually a third and a fourth for smaller and perpetually less successful teams. Unlike most American Big League sports, many major clubs eventually hit the far end of a schedule that often ends by crowning the leading team without a single playoff match. For its lack of year-end drama and Cinderella stories, this most-wins-takes-all system has one strong upside: first division teams face the threat of being knocked down to second division if they fall into the bottom spots in the standings when the season ends, keeping things interesting for struggling clubs with no hope on the horizon. They’ll have a year ahead of playing lesser teams, and carrying the shame of having played poorly enough for relegation to slog through and overcome. On the flip side, the top two teams in the second division get promoted, ensuring lowly clubs and their supporters stay engaged in what happens next.
Of course, since baseball has established a financially closed system of sending and promoting players from within each franchise’s minor league affiliates, there’s no way we’ll ever see the Buffalo Bisons enter the MLB while the Houston Astros go to AAA. It’s a shame in some ways. In others, it’s really unnecessary.
For a minute, forget about the Orioles’ and the remaining six weeks of grueling, pointless struggle they and their fan base have ahead of them. Why? Let’s talk about the Phillies.
Do you even know who the Philadelphia Phillies are? Do you know what league they play in? The standings say they are one of the other four teams who share the National League East with our beleaguered Mets, but I’m not convinced; it certainly doesn’t feel like they do. I seem to recall a few meetings involving a team from Philly after the All-Star break, right? But are they really in our division?
Back when Spring Training broke loose, we wondered how the orphaned pitchers Sandy corralled would pan out, or who in the name of Shea Bridge would wind up manning second base, but during those weeks of heavily tempered optimism Philly was already running in different circles. First there was that press conference to announce The Best Pitching Staff Ever Assembled in the History of Humanity, followed by the press rash punctuated by a gaggle of sycophantic, spineless pundits tagging them for winning the division, if not the pennant outright. For the most part, neither the team nor the journalists appear wrong. Hubris was supposed to be their undoing, sending each marquee starter to the DL, while their plucky, clutch hitters went through Jason Bay-sized droughts, and the Phillie Phans felt a little less proud of themselves. No such luck.
So even though a team like the Atlanta Braves is no longer—to us—the threatening bête noire Braves of the 2000 era, they feel like they’re no more than a week away from forgetting who we are, if they haven’t already. Maybe New York Giants manager Bill Terry really wasn’t kidding when asked about Brooklyn before the 1934 season and he responded with, “Are they still in the league?”
For the future, Selig’s got his designs on sliding a second wild card team into the post-season, but even generous offers like that wouldn’t do us a Buchholz bit of good at present. And the way 2011 has unfolded we don’t need the creation of a second division to feel like we’re fading from relevance. I guess we should be happy we’re not in the basement, either. Yet.
If it comes as any consolation, we’ve got a friendly competition coming up against Philadelphia in a week and I hear they might even start a few of their star players. I guess it depends on whether or not they’ve already clinched home field advantage for the NLCS.
(A parting question: are there any Royals season ticket holders? And if so, do they ever sleep? I mean, besides during games. There’s a team who might benefit from a year in the International League. According to current standings, Kansas City would be safe, but the Columbus Clippers and Pawtucket Red Sox would get promoted. Bet that’d fill a few seats at The K to that 3:10 Wednesday game against Minnesota on September 14th.)