By Ross Newhan
With their spectacular and improbable comeback from a 10 1/2 game deficit in late August to World Series winner, the St. Louis Cardinals became the fifth wild card team to successfully negotiate the post-season since the wild card's creation in 1993. They joined the Florida Marlins of 1997 and 2003, the Angels of 2002 and the Boston Red Sox of 2004.
The task is eventually going to become more difficult, which has been a goal of baseball's managers and general managers for several years.
It won't happen in 2012, but 2013 or soon after is a strong possibility.
Angel manager Mike Scioscia, a member of Commissioner Bud Selig's special 14 member committee to investigate realignment and expansion of the postseason, suggested as much in a private chat Saturday.
The process would be two-fold:
1--The American and National leagues would be realigned with 15 teams in each and five teams in every division.
2--A second wild card based on the next best record in each league would be added to the playoffs with the two wild card teams in each league playing one play-in game, the winner qualifying for the division series in each league.
"The playoffs would never take the form of any of the other sports where eight or 10 teams qualify, but this would be a safety valve for a second wild card team which might have won 90 or more games but now is totally out," Scioscia said. "This year, for example, you would have had Boston and Tampa Bay playing a one game play-in (in the American League and Atlanta and St. Louis in the National)."
Scioscia wouldn't say this, but his managerial and GM colleagues have long believed that the wild card in each league should pay a price for not having won any of the three divisions. A play-in game would force the two wild cards to use either their best or second best pitchers, meaning that pitcher wouldn't be pitching the division series opener and might be limited to just one start in that five game series.
Thus, winning a division would still carry the highest premium and reward.
Jerry Dipoto made an impressive debut in his introductory news conference as the Angels new GM Saturday, but the only way to judge any general manager is by his performance.
Owner Arte Moreno said Dipoto will have "complete power" and the semi-security of a three year contract wtih two option years.
However, his relationship with Scioscia, whose contract runs through 2018 and matter of factly said he will continue voicing his opinions, will be watched closely.
Give Dipoto credit, however, for both dismissing his concern about that subject and welcoming Scioscia's opinion with a touch of humor.
Speaking of the interviewing process with Moreno and club president John Carpino, the new GM said:
"I never woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering if I was going to get steamrolled by Mike. At no time did this become a sticking point for me.
"I've worked in this business my entire adult life, for 24 years, and what might look unusual outside the league is very common to me. I love the opinion of baseball people and talking to strong-minded people."
Dipoto, having participated in just about every phase of the sport and it's management, has faced tougher crucibles than working with Scioscia, which is undoubtedly over-stating the assignment of working with the personable but strong willed manager.
The new general manager revealed he battled thyroid cancer in the 90s, dealt with a blood clot that briefly stopped his heart and coped wth a bulging disc that contributed to the end of his playing career.
His philosophies and opinions about the game are contained in a 45 page book that he calls a "living document" and began compiling five years ago. He is a strong believer in on-base percentage, but sources insist he is on the fringes of the computer-dominated Moneyball school and not a full-fledged advocate.
In that imperfect but classic Game 6 of the World Series, I thought Texas manager Ron Washington made his costliest mistake of the Series when he used Derek Holland in relief rather than saving him for a potential start in Game 7. Washington stuck with his season-long rotation, using Matt Harrison despite the dominance of Holland in his 4-0 Game 4 victory over the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols made $16 million in the final year of a seven year, $100 million contract. He will be 32 in January.Is he really going to find a semi-similar contract anywhere except St. Louis?
The out of the blue emergence of David Freese as MVP of both the World Series and League Championship Series should serve as motivation for any young player who has thought of giving up the game or has become mentally blown out at the idea of another year in the minors. As the father of a former big leaguer, the percentage of those who have actually been given the privilege of living the dream is so small compared to those whose dreams have died on a distant sandlot is so small that the idea of giving up the uniform volunarily should be a bridge crossed only if there is no other choice.
If Steve Garvey truly has a group capable of paying whatever price the Dodgers are going to sell for in the apparent settlement between Selig and Frank McCourt he should play it cool and stop appearing on the talk radio circuit discussing his plans for the team and Dodger Stadium. The names of several prospective buyers have yet to surface, according to Los Angeles based sources I have talked to, and Garvey fits the category of longshot, although this soap opera has been so crazy no one can saying anything with absolute certainty.
Information on David Newhan's baseball academy: DavidNewhan.com