Author Archives: Stan Deaton

Major League Sour Grapes

The Philadelphia Phillies are National League champions? The same team that finished in third place in the National League East?

According to Major League Baseball, they are. MLB, in its infinite wisdom, expanded the baseball playoffs this year to three wild card teams in each league, to join the three division champions, up from two wild cards in previous years.

Wild card teams are made up of the three best teams in each league that didn’t win their divisions. It was originally designed when first implemented in 1997 to reward the best second-place team but was then expanded to two and now three in each league. It’s designed to create and prolong fan interest as the season goes along in cities whose teams are not in a division race, and in that regard it’s working.

They are, literally, wild cards, mixed in with the division winners in the playoffs, and, as in poker, they can create chaos and havoc with the established order of the universe. That’s what happened this year.

The Phillies were the 6th and lowest seed in the National League. To get to the World Series, they beat the NL Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals in a best-of-three series, then beat the NL East champion Atlanta Braves in a best-of-five, then beat the 5-seed San Diego Padres—another wild card team—in the National League Championship Series. The Padres, by the way, finished an astounding 22 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West, a very, very distant second place. They then got hot and beat the Dodgers in a short best-of-five series and the regular season was rendered moot.

The problems here are legion. First, as I pointed out in a previous post, baseball’s season is 162 games long, roughly 6 months, the longest of any major North American sport. After 162 games, you know which teams are the best. There aren’t any secrets in MLB. After 162 games, the Phillies finished firmly in third place in the National League East, 14 games out of first place. In other words, not even close to being division champs. As their seeding suggests, they were the 6th best team in the entire league over 6 months.

But they were just good enough to secure that 3rd and final wild-card spot, and they made the playoffs. Then they got hot and beat teams in a short series that were much better than they were in the regular season, and here we are.

And as often happens in the playoffs, teams that weren’t hot during the season can get hot in a short series. Other hot teams suddenly can’t hit or pitch. Some teams’ bats go cold, their pitching misfires, the bullpen melts down. (See Braves, Atlanta.)

Other teams who languished along for 6 months barely winning more than they lost can get into the playoffs now, get hot for three weeks, and win a championship. This has happened for years in pro hockey (the NHL) and basketball (NBA and WNBA), and now it’s happening in Major League Baseball.

No doubt this creates interest in cities like San Diego and Philadelphia, both of which city’s teams were nowhere near first place for most of the season. But it’s also made the regular season irrelevant, it seems to me, as it is in those other leagues. Now you just have to be good enough to grab that 6th seed, and anything can happen, in part because you don’t have to win a best-of-seven series in every round.

Unencumbered by the thought process, here’s what I would suggest to baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred when he calls: the wild card teams should start the playoffs by playing each other—6 vs. 5 in a one-game playoff—with the winner advancing to play the 4-seed in a one-game playoff. (I would make this round a best-of-seven, but that would keep the division winners on ice for too long.) The winner of the wild card tournament then moves on to play the highest-seeded division winner in a best-of-seven. There should be some reward for winning your division, and the road should be extremely hard for a wild card team to get to the World Series. No way should the Championship Series have not one but TWO wild card teams. They didn’t earn an easier path through all those 162 games when they had infinite opportunities to show they belonged. If a wild card team is going to win, it shouldn’t get away with getting hot in a very short series against higher-seeded division winners.

There are those who will say this is sour grapes, that I’m just unhappy that my beloved Braves got beat by a team that finished 14 games behind them in the regular season. That this is a classic case of, if you don’t like the outcome then attack the process. And they’d be absolutely right. The same thing happened in 1997, the first year of the Wild Card, when the second-place Florida Marlins beat the division-winning Braves and eventually won the World Series. What was the point of the regular season if a second-place team was actually champion? The wild card teams have gone on to win the World Series 6 other times in the 25 years since then—the Angels in 2002, the Marlins again in 2003, the Red Sox in 2004, the Cardinals in 2011, the Giants in 2014, and the Nationals most recently in 2019. Those teams were at least the best of the second-place teams.

And I’m well aware that the Braves won just one more game last year than the Phillies did this year. The difference, of course, is that last year’s Braves were NL East division champions, not 3rd-place finishers. Beyond that, though, their stories are remarkably similar—nobody picked the Braves to win anything last year or to get past the mighty Dodgers or the Astros, but they got hot just when they needed to. It all came together in the playoffs, as it has this year for the Phillies. Clearly getting hot for a few weeks is more productive than killing yourself to win a division title that is relatively meaningless in the new baseball universe.

It would be very unsporting of me to say that I hope that the American League champion (and AL West division winning) Houston Astros destroy the third-place Phillies in the World Series that starts on Friday, just to maintain the order of the baseball universe. Very unsporting. So, I’ll just leave it to your imagination as to what I might be wishing for in this series. If the Phillies win, they will indeed be World Series champions, if not the best team in baseball. I’ll leave it at that.

Waiter, I’ll have one order of grapes—and please make them very, very sour.

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Winning the American Revolution

On the anniversary of the American victory at Yorktown, Stan looks back at how the event unfolded and the role of some notable Georgians that led to the British surrender at Yorktown 241 years ago, resulting ultimately in American independence.


Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Casimir Pulaski

On the 243rd anniversary of the Siege of Savannah, Dr. Deaton looks at Casimir Pulaski’s role in the American Revolution and legends and uncertainties over Pulaski’s death and remains.

124 Years and Holding

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane,
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain”

            Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

Hurricane Ian has moved through Florida and is headed northeast, expected to make landfall sometime on Friday afternoon, September 30, just east of here in South Carolina, exact destination unknown. For a while it looked like it was headed straight for us here in Savannah, and with a wobble here or there, it may still. Outside my window the skies are dark, and the trees are already bent low with the winds, which, coming from the north, have also refreshingly brought fall here as well.

As the week progressed, there was the usual range of opinions here about the storm’s impact. Some felt that our area would get nothing more than a typical afternoon summer storm. Others feared a Hurricane Camille redux—she of the nearly-200 mph winds that hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969. DIY and grocery stores have seen the usual panic-buying, and I can personally attest that one local adult beverage retailer was doing business yesterday worthy of St. Patrick’s Day.

Ian is the fourth-strongest hurricane to ever hit Florida’s west coast, and ranks with Charley (2004), Michael (2018), and Andrew (1992) among the most powerful storms in US history.

There have only been four Category 5 hurricanes in US history—winds at 157 mph and beyond—and Ian missed making it five by only 2 mph. Those four are: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (storms were not named until 1953, and not for men until 1979), considered the strongest storm ever to hit the US when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 2 with wind speeds estimated at 185 mph. It killed 409 people.

The aforementioned Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969, with sustained winds of 170 mph, killing 250 people. There is a legendary story of a group of revelers that holed up in a Gulf Coast apartment building in Pass Christian, Mississippi, ignoring all evacuation warnings. The apartment building was literally blown away by winds that gusted to 200 mph. The party-goers, according to folklore, were never seen again. Legend or not, the actual devastation was catastrophic.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 is next, with 165 mph winds that destroyed 50,000 homes in south Florida and killed 23. Andrew’s damage was estimated at $26 billion, the costliest storm ever up to that time, not surpassed till Katrina thirteen years later in 2005. Incidentally, Katrina’s winds at sea reached 175 mph but it hit New Orleans as a Category 3, killing 1,800 and costing $125 billion, reinforcing the maxim that the strongest storms are not necessarily the deadliest.

Finally, you may remember Michael in 2018, which hit the Florida panhandle after rapidly intensifying to wind speeds of 165 mph.

Here in Georgia, Hurricane Matthew skirted our coast without making landfall in October 2016, bringing lots of wind, rain, and storm damage. The last hurricane to make landfall in Georgia was David 43 years ago in 1979 as a Category 1. For those keeping score, we’ve not had a direct hit in Georgia from a major storm—at Category 3 or above—in 124 years, since 1898. For those interested in the history of hurricanes in Georgia, I covered all of this in a 2017 podcast that you can listen to here.

For the record, there’s been only one Hurricane Stan, a Category 1 storm in 2005, and there won’t be another—the name was retired for Atlantic storms that year and replaced by Sean.

Whatever happens this week, there’s bound to be more Ians to come, given the frequency and intensity of recent storms and the wildly fluctuating global weather. Eventually Georgia’s 124-year-old streak is bound to end. Here’s hoping I’ve retired to Scotland by then.

Stay safe.

A Tribute from Across the Pond

This past Monday Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London was watched by more than 4 billion people worldwide. It was an historic occasion, the likes of which has never been seen in the United States and rarely anywhere else. There were the inevitable comparisons to the funerals of Princess Diana and Winston Churchill, but neither could match the stature of this one, nor did those of her royal predecessors, all of which took place before the rise of the global media that now connects the world in ways that were unthinkable before.

No funeral of a US president will ever rise to anything like the level of public mourning and grief that we witnessed for twelve days in Great Britain. And there are many reasons for that. American heads of state are elected leaders who, at best, now have the support of about half the electorate. There simply is no unifying figure here whose death would bring us together—not in politics, or sport, or popular culture. If you can think of one, I’m willing to listen. The sad truth is that when one former president dies, many people will gleefully dance in the streets; when another former president dies, people on the other side of the aisle will do the same. In both cases, it will be a sad and sorry spectacle for our country, but somewhat inevitable in the hyper-partisan world in which we live. In this country, politics is now a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred war to the death. It may be in the UK as well, but the Queen transcended that.

For this reason and others, I found myself over the last two weeks envious of our British friends who could and did unite around the Queen in the days after her death. I’m not so naïve as to believe that all Brits liked the Queen or support the monarch—they most certainly do not—but in that unmatched British way, those who don’t kept mostly quiet while the rest of the country paid tribute. What we witnessed instead was a dignified and historic national commemoration of a life that was unmatched in duty and service.

I asked an English friend to talk about this historic moment, to sum up what the Queen and these two weeks have meant to the British people, and what it was like to witness it all close up. What follows is an eloquent tribute.

“Uniquely, we have a constitutional monarchy where the Head of State is unelected and so is ‘above politics’ but nominally has a constitutional oversight of government business. In practice, of course, it is unlikely that the Monarch would over-ride the government, whereas an elected head of state probably would. I don’t need to give you examples of elected heads of state acting like dictators, fixing elections, and over-riding government, most of whom are already in their pockets. We have one or two people who would love to be elected our President, but do we want them? The problem is that if there was an election for head of state, one of them would get in and then probably go the way of others in other countries!

This was the Queen’s strength. She never made her political views public, never criticized the government, but undoubtedly made her views known by suggestion to the Prime Minister of the day in her weekly audiences. King Charles III, when he was the heir to the throne, often meddled in Government business and policy, giving often sensible but unwarranted advice, albeit in private, to Ministers. This will now have to stop, and it is to be hoped that he understands this.

The other strength our late Queen showed was in her character. Although surrounded by the trappings of royalty, away from the limelight, so one reads, she was down to earth, amusing, sharp as a tack, highly intelligent and a thoroughly nice person with a backbone of steel. She had the unfailing knack of getting on with all she met, and this can’t have been easy on State visits: Nicolae Ceausescu, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, to mention a few and then, of course, at the Commonwealth conferences there were people like Robert Mugabe!

I believe that her crowning show of tact and diplomacy was shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, a reformed senior member of the IRA. This act did more than anything else to find a solution to peace in Northern Ireland

The issue for the future is whether or not Charles can continue in that vein. He will never be his mother, but on the strength of the last few days, while he might not have all her qualities, he has shown an awareness, compassion, and sensibility which I don’t think many people thought he possessed. All this while grieving in public for a mother he adored.

The Queen’s funeral was watched by 28 million people in the UK, a quarter of a million filed past her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall and the numbers who witnessed the coffin as it was carried on its various journeys were impossible to count. One only has to look at the TV coverage to see the numbers involved. This perhaps will be her greatest legacy, that in her death she united the country. Divisions of race, creed, and culture were ignored, and people came together, some in grief and some not, to remember her.

The King’s Consort, Camilla, summed it up. When the Queen came to the throne, she was a lone woman in a male-dominated club of world leaders. When she died, she was revered and respected by nearly all and was perhaps the most prominent statesman in the world, a fact borne out in that over 100 countries were represented at the funeral. This was ‘soft power’ working to the good of the UK, and the world.

The funeral itself was simple, but the pageantry and precision which surrounded it will never be forgotten. Could any other country have put on such a display?

We have lost a much-loved Monarch, the likes of whom is unlikely to be seen again in the country, or indeed, anywhere else in the world.”