Somehow, the people who invented and designed our favorite sports seemed to get just about everything right. In baseball, 90 feet between the basepaths is perfect geometry. In hoops, it is impossible to even conjure a 17-foot free throw, or a 13-footer; 15 is just right. Football fields were supposed to be 100 yards long (sorry, Canada).
Sometimes, some tweaking has been necessary. A man named Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, invented the shot clock to make basketball watchable. The forward pass, as Knute Rockne proved a century ago, was a good idea, as it turns out. Eliminating two-line-pass offsides has been a key hockey alteration.
It’s hard to argue with any of it. Much of it is perfect.
Seven is perfect, as in best-of-seven playoff series, as in the absolute perfect formula for determining who should advance and who should go home and, sometimes, who should schedule a parade for two days from now.
Now, you might not agree with this perfection Sunday morning and afternoon if your hockey proclivities favor the Rangers, who will face the Penguins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first-round series at Madison Square Garden. You will start pacing at brunch. You will start to call and text your fellow Rangers fans not long after. You will stress-eat and sweat and chew your fingernails to the quick.
Game 7 does that to you. Look, the Rangers have already survived two elimination games and lived to tell about both, even after spotting Pittsburgh two early goals in each. But that was different. That was desperation, and survival. Now, a win vaults the Rangers into the conference semifinals. Now there is something to gain, and something to lose, in equal measure. And whoever wins, across seven games, that’s a fair arbiter of who should win.
We can thank baseball for showing us the way with this. The first World Series in 1903 was a best-of-nine, before it opted for best-of-seven beginning in 1905. But by 1919 the game had grown so wildly popular, the owners figured more is better. In ’19-21 it returned to best-of-nine. The karmic sporting gods voiced their loud displeasure by introducing the Black Sox scandal, which very nearly murdered the sport.
By 1922, it was back to best-of-seven, and there it has stayed.
Sometimes, sheer logistics necessitates a “short series.” Baseball used the one-game play-in for wild-card teams (and now will go two-out-of-three), then a best-of-five in the Division Series before heading back to best-of-seven in the LCS and World Series. There have been times when both the NHL and the NBA had five-game series in the first round of the playoffs.
Go back even further and you stumble across the regrettable “mini-series”: best two-of-three. Now the National League used that format four different times to settle first-place ties, and that makes sense. But in basketball and hockey, what the mini-series did was introduce an unwanted fluke scenario to the proceedings.
(Rangers fans of a certain vintage can no doubt recite chapter and verse to the 1975 mini-series with the Islanders, which essentially gave birth to the Islanders as a legit franchise as well as one of the most heated rivalries in the sport.)
This is different. This is better. This is perfect. This is Game 7, finale of a best-of-seven, and if the Penguins may have preferred that this be a best-of-five (since they’d be easing into the next round already, and Sidney Crosby’s ears wouldn’t be ringing) … well, this isn’t 1983 anymore. You have to win four out of seven.
And now, you only need one out of one.
Though, as far as Pittsburgh and New York are concerned, this is also the final game of one of those infernal mini-series. In 2014 the Rangers beat the Penguins in a 2-1 thriller in Game 7 after recovering from a 3-1 deficit. And the only other time the cities have met in a Game 7? The 1960 World Series. Bill Mazerosky.
And there you have all the beauty of Game 7. Agony. Ecstasy. In equal measure.
The great Bob Ryan has kept a scorecard at every baseball game—every single one—he’s ever attended. He has turned that into a clever and engaging book, “In Scoring Position: 40 Years of a Baseball Love Affair,” co-written by Bill Chuck. It is just a wonderful and fun read.
Thoughts go out to ex-Mets catcher and coach John Stearns, battling serious illness in Denver. His Mets teammates have made a point of reaching out to him daily — organized by Doug Flynn, who reports that Johnny Bench has also reached out to The Bad Dude.
We always thought this group of Yankees could be an awful lot of fun if they ever started to click on offense. And now we have the proof.
The most underrate part of “Winning Time,” which wrapped season one on HBO last week? Wood Harris as Spencer Haywood. It took me a few episodes to recognize the former Avon Barksdale (from “The Wire”), and he is still an electrifying actor.
Whack Back at Vac
Allen Reich: This is an intervention. Stop falling in love with these Mets before they break your heart. Have you noticed their beating averages? Three runs a game isn’t going to cut it when they start playing the powerhouses. A losing streak is inevitable. Take it from a wise 68-year-old Mets fan: Save yourself, son, before it’s too late.
VAC: Remember last Sunday when I said it was a little jarring seeing so many happy Mets fans…?
Frank Giordano: I usually turn the sound off for Joe Buck and Chris Collinsworth. Now next year I get to turn off the so-called GOAT. Doesn’t it make us long for the days of Marty Glickman?
VAC: Curt Gowdy would be able to have his own fleet of private planes at his disposal if he were only born a few decades later.
@Zekezaleski: As a young boy from Olean, NY, St. Bonaventure basketball in 1970 was magical, and Bob Lanier was it. God bless.
@MikeVacc: It has been a very sad week for my alma mater, which will forever be graced by the fact that Lanier spent more than half a century as his most famous alumnus.
Arthur von Bulin: I believe if the umpires went back to the old chest protection, they could remain centered on home plate and not guess at outside pitches while hiding behind catchers and batters.
VAC: Good luck getting umpires to agree to that, but I do think this is right.