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Joe K. Morris: Armchair AllStar

HERE’S TO THE WILDCARDS: I’ve decided I like wildcards. unless I’m at the poker table. If I’m playing cards I prefer everything be kept on the straight up. You can ask any of the people that have ever shared a card table with me and they’ll tell you I’m not a happy camper when some bozo starts calling wildcards.

I used to feel that way about wild cards for sports playoffs. I was a firm believer that if you were “just this close” to making the playoffs that you deserve to be on the sidelines. “Get your ducks in a row and win more next year and you won’t have to worry about it,” was my philosophy on the matter.

Being a Cubs fan changed my way of thinking on the matter. One problem the Cubs have is the misconception that they stink year in and year out. That’s not necessarily the case. If you look through the pages of the baseball record books you’ll see that the Cubs were very often the second-best team in the old National League Eastern Division. A closer look will show you that the Cubs were the second-best team in baseball for many of those years, playing behind juggernauts wearing the colors of the New York Mets. For all those wins they got naught in the way of rewards, because even though they had the second most wins of any team in the game, the NL East could only send a single representative to the post-season.

I lay awake at night sometimes wondering how things might be if the Cubs could have crashed the playoff party just once in all those years. In 1986 and 1988 the Cubs were the only team in the National League that could beat the Mets on a regular basis, but had to watch at home in October because the Mets completely dismantled the rest of the NL on the way to the post-season. If the Cubs could have had a shot in any of those years then Steve Bartman might just be some moron that interfered with a foul ball instead of the most hated man in Chicago since Elliott Ness. (Go ahead youngsters and jump on Google to figure out that reference.)

I was able to watch all of last week’s closing night hysteria live as it happened. Watching the Braves and Phillies was absolutely excruciating. I’m not a big Braves fan. I’m a Cubs fan so it’s contrary to flow of my life energy to ever cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals. For that matter I don’t think I’m able to cheer for any team that would choose the cardinal for a mascot, but that’s a column for another time. I wanted the Braves to win so badly that it almost hurt, but all through their extra-innings affair with the Phils I could just feel disappointment looming. Of course I was right to feel that way. It took half the night, but the Braves were finally able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and send the [email protected]#$% Cards to the post-season.

I immediately tuned in to Baltimore and Boston. I made it just in time to have my spirits lifted when the Orioles sent the Red Sox to showers to await the outcome of the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. I don’t profess any great love for the Orioles, but the only time I can cheer for the Red Sox is when they play the Yankees or the North Korean All Stars. To top off my evening I watched Evan Longoria belt an extra-inning home run to not only beat the Yankees and cap a comeback from seven runs down, but to also put the Red Sox on the golf course for the winter.

Without the wildcard last Wednesday night’s games would have meant nothing, and nobody would have been treated to all the fun of watching the night unfold.

NASCAR added the wildcard into its version of the playoff chase this year. After the first 26 races the two drivers in the top twenty in points that had the most wins and weren’t in the top ten--guaranteeing themselves a spot in the title chase--were put into the Chase for the Championship. Just like it was fun to watch who would win baseball’s wildcard spots, it was equally entertaining to see which NASCAR drivers would crash the postseason party. With one race remaining in NASCAR’s regular season no less than six drivers could have stolen the last spot in the chase. In the end veteran Denny Hamlin and upstart rookie Brad Keselowski made the Chase. Hamlin flirted with the top ten all year, so he ‘earned’ his spot. Keselowski started slow in February and then faded, but had a crazy summer that netted him three wins and six top ten finishes down the stretch to put the rookie in the title hunt. So far Hamlin has fallen flat in the Chase, but Keselowski is hanging in and could be a factor before the next seven races are finished.

The way things are starting in the NFL certain fans and teams should really love the wildcard. Fast starts by some teams and slow starts by others have shaken up the NFL standings, and there are some teams already fighting for the wildcard berth into the post-season. I’m sure as the leaves begin to fall and the nights get colder it’s going to be interesting to watch how the playoff races in football unfold.

Instead of hating the wildcard the purists should embrace it. It makes things interesting and it gives the ‘little guys’ a chance to crash the big kids’ party every so often. The wildcards don’t always show up well in the postseason, but we have had wildcard champs from every major league now thanks to the Mavericks, Red Sox, and Ravens.

I plan to enjoy watching baseball wildcards to see how far they can go, then I’m going to settle in to see which NFL teams can pull it together down the stretch to grab those last couple of invites into footballs postseason party. But let’s keep wildcards on the playing field, I still think they have no business at the poker table.
•••
Now that I’m back you can expect me to write two or three times more in the coming months. I might be moved to write more if you would send me a little mail now and then.

JOE K. MORRIS
PO Box 107
Woodbury, KY 42288

Or email to: [email protected]

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