Thursday, January 7, 2010

Baseball's Global Series

Another international baseball event in the design stages I think is another great idea.

Japanese sports media reported Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball (the Japanese pro baseball league) are attempting to establish a series where the champions of both leagues play each other.

While MLB wanted to see its best players wear the uniforms of their countries and play a tournament to grow the game, this could prove to be a better event. It potentially could grow the game within the two countries where baseball is the most popular.

The main problem with the World Baseball Classic has been the unfamiliar site of the game's best players playing for their countries. Players with more than one heritage, like Alex Rodriguez or Mike Piazza, both of whom are heroes in America and spend most of their time living in America, ended up playing for foreign countries in the WBC. This proposal would pit two professional clubs against each other.

And unlike the WBC, which is staged in March during MLB's spring training, the Global World Series could be staged in the late fall. The World Series ends in late October, and the Japan Series is staged around the same time. Could the two leagues broker a deal to play a seven-game series around Thanksgiving?

This past year would have been the prime chance to inaugurate the series. The leagues' two most dominant franchises, the New York Yankees and Yomiuri Giants, both were champions in 2009. It was the Yankees' 27th title and the Giants' 21st. Imagine the two teams facing off to determine which dynasty was superior.

Alternating years could determine home-field advantage. If the U.S. had home-field in 2009, the Yankees could have played three games in Japan, presumably Tokyo, then fly back to a warm west-coast city like Los Angeles or Phoenix to play the final four games. One big story line would be the Japanese players attached to American teams heading home: How would Hideki Matsui play in his return to Japan to face-off against his former team -- he played for Yomiuri from 1994-2002?

If baseball were looking to add an event for a captive audience after Thanksgiving, this is the opportunity. NFL football on Thursday, followed by baseball on Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday.

A multi-country club championship already is staged in Asia between the champions of professional leagues of Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China. The Caribbean Series, already extremely popular in that area, involves winter league clubs in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

Regular readers of this blog know I am a proponent of the WBC (See here, here and here). That event is important to grow the game outside countries like the U.S. and Japan, where it is traditionally strong. This event is a reward for the two countries where baseball is a major sport. The two teams will not have to worry about getting in shape, pitch counts and injuries ruining seasons. There will be no concerns about building team chemistry. It will just be a series to determine who's better.

I love this idea because I like seeing how our favorite sports are played outside our borders. I hope the two sides can work out a deal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

NFL Playoff predictions

This may not be the year to trust the No. 1 seeds in the NFL playoffs, especially in the AFC, where four of the six teams could win the Super Bowl. Here are a few of my thoughts and predictions on the AFC as Wildcard Weekend approaches:
  • The Baltimore Ravens will surprise a lot of people, but that shouldn't surprise anyone.

The Ravens enter the playoffs with the necessary fundamentals to win January and February games: They run the ball and play tough defense. Ray Rice has emerged as a workhorse and Willis McGahee is consistently good. The Ravens face the Patriots, who will go without the perfect slot receiver, Wes Welker, and a banged up Tom Brady at quarterback.

This match-up has all the makings for an upset. The Ravens defense may not be as stingy as in the past, but the offense is picking up the slack. Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback than a year ago and if the running game is clicking, the Patriots won't spend much time on the field.

  • I have no confidence in the Bengals.

Chad Ochocinco hurt himself in warm-ups Sunday, but is expected to play against the Jets this weekend. The Jets thoroughly waxed the Bengals on Sunday. The Bengals ended the season losing three out of four and did not beat a team with a winning record since winning over the Steelers in week 10. The Bengals are in because they started fast and destroyed all the teams in their division. They have not proven anything in the last month of the season.

  • The 2010 playoffs are shaping up to strongly resemble the 2006 playoffs.

The Colts had a chance at perfection, only to lose late in the year and then rest all their starters. Sound familiar? In 2006, the Colts won 13 in a row, lost, then chose not to take the last three games seriously. The 6-seeded Steelers had had win their final four games to qualify for the post-season and entered scored the upset.

Hmm...The Colts started 14-0, only to lose late in the year and rest all their starters. They will open the playoffs Jan. 16, having not played a meaningful game in a month. Did they learn their lesson? It doesn't appear so.

  • The Ravens could end up in the Super Bowl.

The similarities are striking: The Ravens are a lot better than their record indicates and the AFC has no dominant team in the playoffs this year. They have playoff experience, having come close to beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship last year (The Steelers in the 2006 playoffs lost in the AFC Championship the previous year). The No. 1 seed enters the playoffs rusty and will play a No. 6 seed that can play tough defense. I don't think it's unthinkable that the Ravens knock out the Patriots, then upset the Colts and head to San Diego for the AFC Championship. At that stage, the records don't matter.

This may be the year the Ravens get back over the hump.