MLB Wild Card Expansion: Why Bud Selig and Company Must Add Playoff Spots
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Major League Baseball is poised to add an extra wild card team for both leagues beginning in 2012.
The playoff expansion was reportedly met with very little friction among GM's during this week's General Managers Meetings, and the debate is expected to continue December 7th when executives from all franchises convene in Orlando for the Winter Meetings. Commissioner Bud Selig was quoted as saying, "We will move ahead (with the process) and move ahead pretty quickly."
If/when this expansion is finalized, which could be as early as the Owners Meetings in Paradise, AZ on January 12-13, it will be music to the ears of every MLB franchise, even the New York Yankees (who would have benefited from the proposed expansion in 2008). Almost every year, there is a team or (in some cases) multiple teams in a very competitive division that win more games than a team in a much less competitive division who won that division--- yet still get snubbed from the lone wild card spot because there was only one other team who performed better. Let's take a look at instances of this flaw in the past 8 years:
2009: Texas Snubbed
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Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers tie for the AL Central title at 86-76 and must have a one-game playoff to determine the victor (Twins win). However, the Texas Rangers went 87-75 in the AL West and didn't make it.
2008: Yankees and Mets Left Out; Subway Series Opportunity Squandered
Yankees pose for a final photo op at The House That Ruth Built--- but had there been an additional wild-card in 2008, there would have been a breathtaking 3-game Wild-Card series between the Yankees and Red Sox. Talk about sending that stadium out right...
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American League: Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins tie for the AL Central title at 88-74 and play a one-game playoff to determine the victor (White Sox win). However, the New York Yankees finish 3rd in the AL East at 89-73
National League: Four teams--- the New York Mets (89-73), Houston Astros (86-75), St. Louis Cardinals (86-76) and Florida Marlins (84-77)--- all finish with a better record than the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78), yet none of them make the playoffs.
2007: Mets Epic Collapse May Have Been Prevented
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Two teams--- the San Diego Padres (89-74 after losing one-game playoff for NL West) and the New York Mets (88-74)--- both finish with a better record than the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs (85-77), yet neither make the playoffs.
2006: Cardinal Sin?
World Series MVP David Eckstein and teammate Scott Spiezio celebrate the Cardinals World Series Victory.
The Philadelphia Phillies (85-77) finish with a better record than the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals (83-78), yet don't make the playoffs. The Cardinals go on to win the World Series.
2005: Mediocrity Rewarded (Again)
Three teams (all in the NL East)--- the Philadelphia Phillies (88-74), Florida Marlins (83-79) and New York Mets (83-79)--- all finish with a better record than the NL West champion San Diego Padres (82-80), yet none make the playoffs.
2003: 93 Wins Not Good Enough
Seattle Mariners 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, whose only playoff appearance was in his rookie campaign in 2001, when the Mariners won an American League record 116 games
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The Seattle Mariners (93-68) finish with a better record than the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins (90-72), yet don't make the playoffs.
Expanding the Wild Card Must be Done
The 2004 Boston Red Sox, the American League Wild-Card team, celebrate the franchise's first title in 86 years
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Take a good look at that list. A staggering thirteen teams have been snubbed from the playoffs just in the last 6 seasons simply because they happen to be geographically located in a stronger division (isn't that discrimination? Slap a lawsuit on the commissioner's office).
We know the MLB isn't going to change the rule granting divisional champions an automatic playoff berth, nor should they (the other major American sports follow the same format because it keeps more teams in contention, which raises attendance and merchandise sales, and therefore, you guessed it, makes the league more money). But what the NFL, NBA, and NHL does do that the MLB currently doesn't is have multiple wild card teams in each league, which not only addresses the issue of underwhelming divisional winners stealing playoff berths from better teams by adding another (in college sports jargon) "at-large" spot, but it also makes the league more money since more teams are in contention (which makes it more surprising that the MLB hasn't jumped on this by now).
The NFL puts 12 out of their 32 teams in the playoffs, and the NBA and NHL puts more than half their league in, at 16 out of 30. The MLB, since 1995, has only 8 playoff teams out of their 30 franchises. Some would argue 8 out of 30 is fairer, keeping the average teams out of it, which plagues the NBA and NHL playoffs.
But when you look at the 13 teams who have been snubbed from the MLB playoffs in the past 6 years in place of weaker teams, while also considering the historical success of the wild card in baseball (four wild-card teams--- the 1997 Florida Marlins, 2002 Anaheim Angels, 2003 Florida Marlins, and 2004 Boston Red Sox--- all won the World Series, and that's just since the wild card's inception in 1995), it's clear that expanding the playoff teams to 10 by adding another wild card in each league is the right move.
Commissioner Selig, the General Managers, and most of Major League Baseball apparently agree, and after the current labor deal expires on December 11th, 2011, I expect the MLB to have two wild card spots allotted in each league going into the 2012 season.