Monday, August 27, 2007

Inaugural season post-mortem

Before I get to the stats, some general comments on the inaugural season.

If I were to sum up the IBL's first season in one phrase, it would be "widely varying quality".

That applies across the board: the players, the teams, the organization, the ballparks, the announcers.

The players. Some of them looked like they could make in the major leagues; others seemed way out of their depth. The best pitchers had impressive power and control, clearly dominating the plate. The worst were frequently dropping pitches in the dirt and hitting batters. The same could be said for hitting and fielding. Batting averages for regular players ranged from around .150 to .450. At times the play was beautiful, at others embarrassing. As pitcher Leon Feingold put it, "A third of the players can play high-level minor league ball, a third belong in this league, and a third are pure amateurs."

The teams. Here, the standings speak for themselves. Win percentages ranged from .220 to .707. Beit Shemesh dominated the standings from day one, and never dropped from first place, with Tel Aviv hot on their heels and Modiin a respectable third. Petach Tikva, meanwhile, could barely eke out a win, and their fielding was often laughable. I don't know how much of this variation to attribute to the luck of the draw versus management, but it's no fun watching a completely uncompetitive team.

I did feel that the play generally improved as the season progressed, presumably due to the teams learning how to work together - opening day was just a few days after the players landed in Israel and met each other for the first time. You could really see the first few weeks as a sort of spring training.

Netanya in particular had a late surge in the last two weeks of the season, when they suddenly got their act together and played competitively. It was too late to make a difference, though.

The organization. When you think of all the logistics that went into this season, it's amazing it happened at all. Founder Larry Baras described it well:

175 brand new employees from 7 different countries. 6,000 miles away in a markedly foreign culture. Having to provide 120 beds, 21,600 meals, 3,510 bags of ice, 410 bus rides. An exchange rate of a varying 4.35 shekels to dollars. 125 sets of flight arrangements to and from 87 different cities. 7,200 balls, 340 bats, 75 resin bags.... Season One of the IBL has been mostly a start-up behemoth, one that required all of our collective strengths to effect a sustaining liftoff.

Even the television broadcasts on Sport 5, which ran weekly for over a month, were professionally executed with intelligent, insightful commentary for a Hebrew-speaking audience.

Yet some of the screwups were just silly. I can understand that Tel Aviv's Sportek field was not ready yet on opening day. But how is it that no one seemed to discover this until game day arrived?

Why did it take so long to get the teams to actually visit the cities they supposedly represented?

Why was there so little effort to reach out beyond the natural audience of North Americans?

The ballparks. Did I mention Gezer field?

To be fair, quirky, unique ballparks is a feature of baseball, one which distinguishes it from other major sports. But Gezer's field barely meets the rulebook's minimum requirements, with a very short right field fence and a sharp slope in the far outfield. (Actually, with the lighting pole in right field, it doesn't even meet the minimum.) Meanwhile, Yarkon field is up to semiprofessional standards, with proper bleachers all around. I do appreciate the variety of experiences offered by the three parks, but a bit more work is still needed.

The announcers. Most of the announcers made an effort to announce the game in both English and Hebrew, with varying degrees of success. There was some inconsistency on terminology: Is an out "pasul" or "psilah"? (I prefer "psilah", but most announcers didn't.) Is an inning a "sivuv", "sevev" or "maarchon", or just an "inning"? At least agree on the glossary, folks. Some announcers announced the outcome of each play; others didn't. One actually summarized the game rules in Hebrew between innings - Kol Hakavod! Overall, the announcers were good, but they could have been better.

The upshot. It's easy to find fault with a new league in an unfamiliar environment for baseball. But when it comes down to it, I had a ball! I attended far more games than I imagined I would, and enjoyed just about every minute of it. I'm willing to view the problems as challenges, not failures, and look forward to an even better job next season.

Most importantly, I'm hoping the league goes from strength to strength, because I may have become addicted. (Hence this blog to get me through the off-season!)

Finally, some season post-mortems from the media:

And finally finally, (since ultimately I want to talk about stats), journalist Elli Wohlgelernter digs up the dirt behind the scenes of the IBL's first season:

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