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The last of 2008

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Game Called. Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill.

Game Called. Where in the golden light
the bugle rolled the reveille.
The shadows creep where night falls deep,
and taps has called the end of play.
The game is done, the score is in,
the final cheer and jeer have passed.
But in the night, beyond the fight,
the player finds his rest at last.

    -- Grantland Rice

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of the 2008 World Series, who finally got to polish off Game Five last night, more than 48 hours after throwing out the first pitch. Could that be the longest single sporting event [uninterrupted by other games for either team] in American history? I leave that one to you, for research. Mind you, it doesn't quite compare with the so-called 'Timeless Test Match', a game of cricket between England and South Africa in 1939. That took nine days of play, between 3-13 March. And they still didn't reach a winner: it had to be abandoned without a result being reached, because otherwise the England team would have missed the boat home. [The reason it took so long is because Fox insisted on a 4 am start time each day, so they could screen the game in prime-time... :-)]

It was, undeniably, a bit of a fizzling flop as ways to end the season go - not with a bang, but with a whimper. That might be appropriate, as I do not think this year will be one that is remembered as a classic - outside of Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, at least. This may be partly the result of the increased parity; in the third millennium, we've now had seven different winners and thirteen different teams reach the World Series. While parity is admirable, it may be at the expense of truly memorable performances or dynasties: the last team even to reach the World Series in consecutive seasons was the 2000-2001 Yankees.

Similarly, I'm wondering if the 100 victory team is heading the way of the 30-win pitcher - a relic of a bygone era which will never be seen again, because the game has fundamentally changed. The Angels just snuck in there this season, the first Amerian League team to reach that mark since the 2004 Yankees. The 2005 Cardinals were the last to pass 97 in the NL, and Arizona's 90 wins, the top mark last year, was the lowest total for a full season since the '59 Dodgers won the pennant with 88. And they played six games less in those days.

This goes for home-runs too, perhaps even to a greater degree, though the reason there is both more obvious, and welcome. Miguel Cabrera had the most American League home-runs with a mere 37, the fewest for almost twenty years [The 1989 titile went to Fred McGriff's 36]. In 1996, this year's winning tally would not even have been enough to put Cabrera in the top ten for the league. That season, there was one homer hit every 28.8 at-bats in the AL; the figure increased to one every 34.4 at-bats this season. The days of waiting for the three-run bomb are becoming increasingly distant.

Though batting average was sharp down in the National League - the overall figure of .260 was the lowest since 2002 - Chipper Jones (.364) and Albert Pujols (.357) bucked the trend. It's been a while since two players outside of Colorado hit above .350 in the same year - you've got to go back to 1997, when Piazza and Gwynn ruled the plate. Jones hit .400 until June 18th, prompting the perennial talk about whether someone can do that for the whole season. That was the latest date in the year anyone's batting average has started with a four, since Nomar hit .403 after the first game of a double-header on July 20, 2000.

Anyway, thanks to 'Charmer for running the Gameday Threads during the post-season, which was an enjoyable diversion. I guess the next step is to look forward to the off-season, and here are some important dates you might want to remember between now and Opening Day for Arizona in 2009:

  • November 14th: free agents may start to negotiate and/or sign with any team
  • December 8th: Hall of Fame voting results announced
  • December 8-11th: Winter meetings in Las Vegas
  • December 11th: Rule 5 Draft
  • February 14th: Pitchers and catchers report
  • February 25th (approx): Spring Training games begin. This and the item above are earlier this year, because...
  • March 5-23rd: World Baseball Classic. Nothing in Arizona this year. :-(
  • April 5th: Opening Day
  • April 6th: Diamondbacks' first game

And if you thought this year's post-season was bad, because of the late start in 2009, we could be watching Game Seven of the World Series start on November 5. Unless Selig remembers his promise to tighten up the schedule in the post-season, we'll have to pray all the games involve teams from warm-weather cities and/or domes. Otherwise, Thanksgiving dinner could be followed, not by the NFL, but the World Series...

Couple of other links that either showed up too late or were missed from the link-dump on Tuesday. Josh Byrnes was interviewed in the Republic, saying ""A lot of these guys, their best years are ahead of them... There are some areas of our roster we need to improve upon; we have every intention of doing so in the off-season." Interestingly, free-agency seems as likely as a trade, though looking at the FA talent out there, that hints at moving Reynolds to second and getting a left-handed third-baseman. Russell Branyan? Ramon Vazquez? Well, we'll be crossing that one when we come to it. Full discussion on that next week, I think.

The piece ends on a depressing note, "Another starting pitcher would be a consideration if the team and free agent Randy Johnson can't come to terms - another strong possibility." That's certainly the case if the numbers being tossed around on the Fox local sports broadcast last night are true: Johnson wanting $7-8m, while the Diamondbacks are only offering $3-4m. Ouch. If that is indeed the case, then Moorad needs to check down the back of the office sofa, because you are not going to find 30 starts at a sub-four ERA [Johnson's output last season] for anything like four million on the free-agent market.

And if anyone is interested in the goings-on behind the SB Nation curtain, Blez just posted a piece on the ongoing growth of the network. It may be the off-season in baseball, but it looks like the behemoth which is the SportsBlogs Nation will continue to grow down the line.