Today, what was thought to be inevitable became reality when Ken Rosenthal broke a story that details Major League Baseball's intent to announce as soon as tomorrow that a second wild-card team will be added to each league's playoff pool for the upcoming 2012 season.
I'm not one of those baseball fans that constantly harps on any change to the national pastime. I like that the designated hitter is in one league and not the other. I believe that the All-Star Game in baseball is by far the most watchable All-Star Game of any of our nation's major team sports.
I'm not too enamored by the new wild-card format, and here's why. It's not formulated in the spirit of baseball. Baseball is, more than any other sport ,a true marathon. One-hundred-and-sixty-two games a year. Baseball is a nightly summer tradition.
There's always a baseball game on. A game need not be an all-encompassing event like an NFL game is. Football fans wait all week for that one game. It's not better or worse; it's just one of those things that makes the sports different. Being different is important. It's good to be different.
If everything was formatted and formulated just like the NFL, the things about the NFL that everyone loves would cease to be unique to the NFL. They'd become more common, and in turn, less of a novelty.
Baseball has nearly twice the number of regular season games that a full NBA season has (162-82). Yet baseball's regular season is far more important since eight of 30 teams make the postseason, while in the NBA, 16 of the league's 30 teams are eligible for the playoffs.
That's twice as many teams with only half as many games. The best teams in the NBA play for home court in the closing weeks of an NBA season, while the best teams in baseball sometimes play for their very postseason lives as the regular season concludes.
Adding one playoff team to each league won't dramatically change that aspect of baseball, but adding one additional team to each league and then creating a one-game playoff to allow one of two teams to advance to the next round of the playoffs runs counter to how baseball functions as a sport.
Baseball requires patience.
Patience is, of course, one of those things in short supply in our modern world. We're used to things happening instantly. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since modern technology has made instant results possible far more frequently than at any time in human history.
Being a baseball fan absolutely requires a degree of patience not found in other sports, or even in many other sectors of society. There's no clock in baseball. The games can last for a long time. That causes complaints among many of its critics, but it's also one of the only team sports that can accurately be paired with the word "leisurely."
In addition, the current system creates a circumstance in which the regular season has significant meaning. The long season starts in early spring and ends as the leaves are changing; that season still means a lot. One need only to look at how the season ended in 2011 to appreciate the current system. The final night of last year's regular season featured four teams competing for two playoff spots.
Two teams, the Braves and Red Sox, lost and missed the postseason altogether. Two other teams, the Rays and Cardinals, gained entry to the playoffs, and one of those teams, the Cardinals, would go on to win the World Series.
Now, the league has added another playoff team to each league, and how will the two wild-card teams determine who remains in the hunt for a World Series title? In a one game, winner-take-all playoff.
Nothing could stray further from the manner in which baseball is best appreciated than the one game winner-take-all format. The best thing about best-of-five and best-of-seven series is that they do a pretty good job of eliminating the potential for a flukey one-game result that alters or ends the unlucky team's season. If a team can beat another team four out of seven times, then they probably are the better team.
If a team can beat a team in one game, then maybe they're just lucky. Baseball for years has put its emphasis on forcing teams to put together a complete body of work that eventually bears out its best teams. Now, one team will advance through an entire 162-game season, lose one more game and then go home.
Another team will also navigate a very tough 162-game regular season. They'll win one more game and then get a chance to win a series of best-of types of series to hopefully win a World Series. That dynamic makes sense when it's been employed to settle ties.
Last season almost featured not one, but two one-game playoffs after the end of the regular season. Had the final night of the season ended differently, the Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox and Rays could both have paired off in one-game playoffs to settle wild-card ties.
That would have been fine. Tiebreakers are tiebreakers.
The new plan is not in place to break a tie. It will take two teams, one with a better record than the other and put all of those two teams' eggs in one basket. One game, winner take all. Too many random variables can come into play and impact that circumstance. One that really is unnecessary. If baseball's plan is to expand the playoffs, how do an additional two games really help anyone?
If the plan is to really include more teams in the playoff picture, then allow the new team to at the very least play a best-of-five series. One more game for one more team just seems like a cheap and easy way out. Avoiding those types of situations is why the NFL has taken steps to make their overtimes in the playoffs more competitive. Rather than allowing a field goal to win an overtime which too often placed too much importance on winning a coin flip the league has created a system where one team has to score a touchdown or both teams must be allowed the opportunity to score a touchdown.
By limiting the new playoff to one game, baseball has inserted a baseball equivalent of a "coin flip." It's a silly way to enact a new rule. It diminishes some of what makes baseball "baseball." That's a bad move.