There’s a breathless hush in the close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!” Henry Newbolt
…and, preferably, stay just where you are.
the dreaded tank
just be the last in rank
you’re picking first
about as popular as Robert Durst.
There was an end of season soccer game in England recently which it was calculated up front would be worth two hundred and fifty million dollars to the winning club over the next 12 months, the winner being promoted to the ranks of the elite level next season. This would be their proportional share of an unusually lucrative new TV contract divided equally between all the clubs in the Premier League including the three that had just been promoted into it. Conversely there would be no hosannas for the bottom three clubs, they are relegated and get none of this. (There is though a golden parachute payment, to soften the blow as it were, to say a dollared bye bye – something like fifty million this time goes to each of the three relegated teams. Get well soon.)
Getting promoted to that league is Nirvana, to be relegated from it the stuff of nightmares. There are twenty teams at the top, spread throughout the country. Three up, three down. Every end of season. The last few weeks are frantic. Huge pressure on managers and front office to avoid the drop – firings and hirings, journalistic wallow.
The bottom three clubs in that top league relegated to the next lower level suffer an automatic and immediate massive loss of revenue. Players/management earnings plummet by about half, their contracts increasingly containing a clause that so stipulates. From necessity, nobody can argue. Motivation to avoid? High!
No tanking here. Toward season’s end the battles at the bottom of the table can attract as much if not more attention and drama as those at the top. This happens every year. The pressure is relentless if you’re a bad team. You try, you really try. High drama. If the Yankees finish last in the American League East down they go and are replaced by, say, the Jersey Jolts or whoever has won the lower league attached to the NL East. It is statistically quite likely that they will be back the following year, the Jolts finding their first foray into the big time somewhat intimidating and Yankee pride, mortified, vowing never again. But no guarantee. And, over time, the ups and downs, there can be power shifts.
Some of them, a few, drop and never come back from the nether regions. Most manage a return. One English team barely avoided relegation on the last day of last season, stayed up and won the whole thing this year at odds of five thousand to one. (Five million bucks for a thousand- what was i thinking…we Brits love mad bets like this, pure romance. Aussies even worse.)
There’s one additional factor that comes into play here, the fan reaction to your team being relegated. Strangely, it’s more often than not positive. The player’s struggles over the last twenty games or so are manifest to the fan, they can see the intense effort that was put out to avoid the drop. In the off season that follows rah-rah broadsides are all over the media – we are going straight back up. Maybe. But there is communal belief, everyone pulling together.
This extra dimension towards the end of each season adds a whole new level of meaningful drama to the watching audience. But the structure of Baseball is against change as basic as this , for perfectly good logistical reasons. For relegation and promotion to work here you would have to create over time a second group of say 30 teams across the country playing each other in the next biggest markets, each independent, but each attached to one of the existing 6 ML Divisions. The last team in each of those ML Divisions would be relegated. It would be one up one down in each division.
So it would never work here of course. Or would it, given time? What is geographically structured, vested in place, is hallowed, rightly. If only there was some way to be rid of the anti climactic blah that settles in each mid August for half the teams and their fans.
(But you have something special built in to your system here that Europe does not – thirty clubs each with a graduated Minor League system of their own to nourish youth which the avid fan can identify with, follow, enjoy, statisfy and dream about. As we are doing now with the Braves. Vague attempts to create something like this in Europe have rarely got beyond the Nursery/Youth stage of a few leading clubs with little interplay with other organizations.)
One final thought, the killer app that will never let promotion/relegation happen here. Stats, all millions of them. Corrupted the moment a team and its players disappear and then return a year or two later. Or maybe never. For the individual and the team. Every individual, every team. Going all the way back. You wouldn’t like that, would you.
Neither would I, at all. Unconscionable. But I do miss the double drama each season’s end. Top and bottom.
The Jersey Jolts
though not without their folts
aspire to glory
they’ve sent the Yankees to a lower storey.