Oftentimes, change is something people are wary of, especially in sports. After all, the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra is always an easier option than considering the benefits of modification or revision.
But, as talks continue regarding the expansion of the Major League Baseball playoff system, change is looking more like a realistic possibility for America’s pastime.
As was announced in April, talks are ongoing on if, and how, Commissioner Bud Selig will pave the way for a 10-team playoff system featuring two wild-card teams from each league. The two wild-card teams would then play in a single elimination or best-of-three series that would decide who proceeds to play in the next round.
The reasons for the change, besides the evident monetary benefits, are obvious.
Firstly, an expansion would finally create a balance of fairness between the division winners and wild-card teams. In the current system, which has been in effect since 1995, the best second-place team from each league earns a position in the postseason lineup.
But the flaw in this plan is a lack of distinction between winning a division and winning the wild-card. There’s simply no penalty given to the wild-card teams (besides a lack of home-field advantage in the first two rounds; a penalty that can also be linked to some division winners).
It’s a flaw that, even today, continues to disrupt the integrity of the playoff set-up. A second wild-card team in each league would fix this problem.
It would also create a greater field of competition across the country. Teams, and their fans, who maybe never get a fair shot of winning their division, like the Orioles and Blue Jays, would finally have the opportunity to make a run at something meaningful.
Additionally, a race like Red Sox-Yankees would again carry meaning. Currently, it’s almost a given that both teams will make the playoffs. But if the division winner receives notable and distinguishable benefits over the second-place finisher, the annual fight for the AL East would become even more fascinating and meaningful.
Many have compared the proposal to the current NBA and NHL postseason system. These comparisons are, simply put, ludicrous. Ten, not 16 teams would make the playoffs. There would not be any sub-.500 teams in contention for a World Series berth. Most teams in baseball would still fail to reach the postseason in any capacity.
In the end, a short series or one-game playoff between two wild-card teams would have a minimal effect on the division champions of each league. But, the wild-card team would be penalized for not winning the division.
They would have a potentially muddled pitching rotation and a lack of rest or preparation for the second round. Finally, the system would be fair.
There used to be a time when the postseason solely consisted of the World Series, played by teams with the best record in the American and National League. As seen with past changes to the playoffs, more teams, more fans, and a bigger market, creates a need for an extended postseason.
It doesn’t cheapen, or lessen the grandeur of the World Series. It enhances it.
When the final pitch is thrown and the final out recorded, the last team standing would undoubtedly be deserving of the glory and magnificence that comes with a championship.
And if that team happens to be a wild-card, they would have earned the right to be there. Their road to that point would justly be more difficult than that of the division winners.
Baseball purists argue that continuously altering the format of postseason play only succeeds in tarnishing and ruining the sanctity and tradition of the game.
What's often missed in this argument, however, is that this is still the same game it was one hundred years ago. Three strikes are still an out, four balls are still a walk. The pitcher still pitches 60 feet six inches to home, and the batter still runs 90 feet to first. All the fundamental practices of baseball remain.
The playoffs might not be definitively broken. They might not need to be fixed. But the expansion of the MLB postseason is something that can benefit everybody involved—from the owners and coaches to the players and fans. Change, in this instance, is necessary.