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Short-Series Hysteria Suddenly, a five-game playoff seems perilously brief to Yankees fans

Whereas in other sports, fans accept the playoffs as the
appropriate way of determining a league's champion, certain
pockets of resistance remain in the national pastime. These
flat-earth sorts scorn the postseason as a dangerous and
subversive device. This is especially fashionable nowadays in New
York, where the most fervent Yankee worshippers rant on about how
their mighty pinstripers have been so rampant upon the greensward
in the regular season that should they actually lose in the
playoffs, it would be unfair, wrong and Bad for Baseball.

What makes this rationale so interesting is that, previously,
whenever somebody else's juggernaut was gored in the postseason
by a noble New York team, that was deemed correct. And right. And
Good for Baseball. The victory of the lesser Giants in 1954 over
the 111-43 Indians was accepted in Gotham as an artistic triumph
of right over might. The upset by the modest Mets of '69 over the
109-win Orioles was even decreed a miracle. More recently, as
superb Atlanta teams have foundered in the postseason, this has,
in New York, been treated, snidely, as a failure of the Braves,
not of the playoffs.

But, listen, say the Yankees cultists: It would be a travesty of
justice in 1998 if our Yankees were to come a cropper in a short
series. (In New York now, short series is always said like a
dirty word.)

However, the fact is that the postseason has become a more honest
trial. What has happened in the regular season is that a few rich
teams buy up almost all the pennant raffle chances. Only in the
playoffs do actual players count more than depth charts, can the
surprising and idiosyncratic trump the expensive and the
expected. The 1998 Yankees are a marvelous aggregate, but they
are not so much a team as a fancy zoological or art collection. A
Renoir is on the market? Bid whatever it takes. A black rhino?
Bring it here. A Cuban defector? Buy him!

Thank god for the wild card, which allows some slim hope for the
impecunious. In fact baseball should add one special wild card,
to be awarded to the best of the poverty franchises--much in the
manner that the NCAA, in generous dispensation, allows into its
basketball tournament the champions of underprivileged basketball
conferences, such as the SWAC. Oh, would that we could cheer in
October for the gallant, undermanned Expos or Brewers, as we did
in March for brave little Valparaiso.

The Yankees may be a glorious art exhibition to admire in the
standings, but, happily, baseball is still a game that must be
played upon the green field. Now, what would really be Good for
Baseball this year? The Yankees win 300 regular-season games and
then the World Series is played between the Cubs and the Red Sox.

--Frank Deford

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON [Jorge Posada and two other New York Yankees players]