MLB Wild Card: Second Team Good for the Game?
I’ve been around this grand game of baseball for a long time—more than half a century.
I can recall a time before the designated hitter rule, a time when the pitcher’s mound was a majestic 15” instead of the gentle swell of 10” it is today.
I can recall a time when the postseason was composed of the team with the best record in the American League playing the team with the best record from the National League for all the marbles, and Major League Baseball crowned a world champion by the second week in October.
I can recall my boyhood idol, a Hall of Famer on his first ballot and the youngest player ever to win the batting title, Al Kaline, turning down $100,000 salary for playing a kid’s game. He pissed off a lot of his teammates for doing that because it meant that, if the star of the team wasn’t being paid a hundred Gs, none of them would be, either.
I’m a purist, pure and simple. I don’t like the unbalanced schedule and feel that interleague play was only a gimmick to draw fans out to the ballpark in the aftermath of the last player’s strike. I’d rather see the Tigers play the Yankees five or six more times, along with teams outside the Central Division, than play the Rockies and Diamondbacks.
On top of that, American League teams are at a distinct disadvantage when playing in National League parks, where National League pitchers face live pitching all year long.
MLB says the unbalanced schedule creates new rivalries between older clubs and expansion teams. But at what cost? New York’s and Detroit’s teams go back to the early years of the 20th century, when the Yankees were the Highlanders, when Cobb and Ruth played.
I don’t much care for instant replay in baseball. Missed calls have always been a part of the game; but in a 162-game season, they tend to even out: the home team may get burned one night on a bad call but be the beneficiary of one the next night. Unlike the NFL, a blown call in baseball isn’t going to end a team’s season.
Is the Wildcard Showdown good for MLB?
And where do you draw the line? Do you call balls and strikes from the center field camera? Use it on checked swings?
I’d much rather see a manager storm from the dugout, spittle flying, to kick dirt on an umpire’s shoes and fling his cap into the dirt and get ejected, than see him casually stroll out to ask for a review.
Sure, Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game a couple years ago when Jim Joyce admitted to making the wrong call on a bang-bang play at first base that blew up in his face when replays showed he was clearly wrong. But in my mind, I attended the only perfect game in MLB that doesn’t appear in any record book. There’s something Field of Dreams-ish about that.
Everyone who watched the replays knows that Galarraga, after getting the next batter out, threw a perfect game. That Joyce later admitted, tearfully, that he blew the call, was all I needed to hear to make it right.
Besides, many fans complain the games are already too long; adding instant replay will only prolong them.
All of which brings me to the point of this article.
I understand the reasoning behind the postseason format in baseball. It generates fan excitement and gives more teams a chance to make the show come October.
It also dilutes the talent pool. A team limping into the postseason as a wild-card team with 85 wins can get hot and, in the LCS, oust a team with 105 wins in the regular season and advance to the Fall Classic.
I can accept that. After all, any given team can beat any other team on any given night during the regular season. It shouldn’t be any different during the postseason.
But let’s be honest: the reason behind the postseason format in baseball is revenue, pure and simple. The deeper a team goes into the postseason, the more revenue is derived for the owner from ticket prices that inflate with each successive series.
By adding an additional wildcard team to each league, MLB hopes to recreate, with the one-game winner advance formula, the excitement of last season’s final day of the regular season, when the postseason fates of four teams across both leagues were decided.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros to win the National League wild-card berth after the Atlanta Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies.
While in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Yankees with home run heroics in the 9th inning and later, in extra innings, to win the American League wild-card berth after the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox.
But consider this: MLB has never used the term “playoffs,” preferring instead to use the term “postseason.”
The one-game “playoff” was reserved for two teams tied at the end of the regular season.
Consider further that baseball has always been composed of series. During the regular season, most games are composed of three-game series between two teams, with occasional four-game and two-game sets.
The postseason consisted of two five-game Divisional Series and a seven-game League Championship Series, followed by the seven-game World Series.
Under the new format, the postseason commences with the Wild-card Showdown, with the winner of this single deciding game going on to meet the team with the best divisional record, even if those teams are from the same division. This is MLB’s idea of the seeded format the other professional team sports use.
Not only does this reek of the NFL playoff format, it departs from the baseball tradition of playing a series of games.
I’ve already admitted to being a purist when it comes to my baseball; I’ll admit to being old fashioned and even admit to being old.
But for this postseason format to satisfy this old curmudgeon, I’d like to see a five-game Wild-card Showdown. To compensate for these additional games, MLB should make the League Championship Series five games.
We’d then have three five-game postseason series leading up to the seven-game World Series, which would only add to the glamour of the traditional seven-game Fall Classic.
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