A's taking all the fun out of postseason

BASEBALL

October 14, 1990|By PETER SCHMUCK

The postseason tournament is supposed to feature all that is good about baseball. The competition. The history. The tradition. This is supposed to be pure baseball enjoyment, but something has gone awry.

Perhaps it is the competition. The Oakland Athletics are looking for some, and they didn't find it in the American League Championship Series. The National League playoffs were more evenly matched, but pity the Cincinnati Reds, conquering NL heroes, for they shall inherit the A's.

Some history was made in the AL playoffs, but in a manner that only a network executive could love. The A's and Red Sox played the longest nine-inning playoff game in American League history last Sunday night, which explains why a significant number of East Coast baseball fans couldn't find the final score in their papers the next morning.

The television types start postseason night games at about 8:30 to assure the highest percentage of households will receive the broadcast during prime time, which would make good sense if games lasted 2 1/2 hours, as they did in the pre-Carlton Fisk era. But postseason games generally last about 3 1/2 hours, which means little Johnny had to stay up past midnight last weekend if he wanted to see an authentic late-inning Red Sox collapse.

Tradition? How about those twilight games in California last week. If you wanted to play a World Series game in twilight during baseball's golden age, you would have had to do it without the Babe. He was at happy hour by then.

But enough of this TV-bashing. Baseball wouldn't be the prosperous game it is without the massive television revenues that almost guarantee each team a profit.

The real villains here are the A's, who have spent that money so well that the concept of parity in the American League has become solely an Eastern philosophy. The same cannot be said of any National League team, so don't expect the World Series to be much more competitive than the AL playoffs.

* Speaking of parity, the off-season has begun for the AL East, where every club has to feel that a couple of key acquisitions could mean a chance to be humiliated by Oakland in next year's playoffs.

The free-agent filing period could begin as soon as next Sunday (depending on the length of the World Series) and the winter meetings are just seven weeks away, so most clubs are hard at work formulating their plans for the off-season.

Here's a capsule look at what the Baltimore Orioles' six competitors will be trying to accomplish:

* Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox aren't exactly in a position to stand pat, especially with the possibility that Mike Boddicker and Tom Brunansky will become free agents and move on. Boston needs to add a starting pitcher rather than subtract one, so look for the team to make a big play for Tom Browning or Teddy Higuera. The Red Sox also might be looking to replace shortstop Luis Rivera.

* Cleveland Indians: They are looking to unload outfielder Cory Snyder, whose substantial power has been offset by his inability to make consistent contact the past two years. Cleveland would like to re-sign free-agent left-hander Bud Black, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for the stretch drive because there was doubt he would be willing to return in 1991. The Indians also must decide whether to re-sign potential free agent Candy Maldonado and whether to release veteran first baseman Keith Hernandez.

* Detroit Tigers: It is no secret in the Motor City that the Tigers need lots of help in the starting rotation. Manager Sparky Anderson wants Higuera. The question is whether the club will spend $9 million to sign the injury-prone left-hander to a three-year contract. The Tigers also would like to acquire a No. 5 hitter to back up Cecil Fielder in the lineup (Brunansky perhaps?) and must decide whether to re-sign potential free agent Larry Sheets.

* Milwaukee Brewers: Higuera will be a major off-season preoccupation, since the Brewers can ill afford to lose one of baseball's best starting pitchers. Rob Deer also can become a free agent, but the team is not quite so high on re-signing him. Otherwise, the Brewers are in the same position they have been the past several years. If they ever could get everybody healthy at once, they would be a solid contender.

* New York Yankees: Third base will be the top off-season priority for the Yankees, who are rumored to be interested in potential free agent Terry Pendleton, a switch hitter. The club needs to balance its predominantly right-handed lineup. The Yankees also need more pitching and are thought to be interested in signing Browning if he leaves the Reds for free agency. Danny Jackson and Higuera also are possibilities, but the Yankees organization is understandably gun-shy when it comes to injury-prone pitchers.

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