As a nation, we have been expanding for over 400 years. New land, new technology, new era’s in this great nation’s life have been a constant theme. It’s no surprise that one of our most prized possessions, sports, has gone through some serious tinkering as well.
Baseball is America’s past time. Football is America’s game. Both are looking at possible changes in the next few years that could see their post season and regular season expand respectively. You hear so much about the National Football League’s imminent expansion so you don’t want to hear me babble on about that. But you won’t be spared with the Major League Baseball playoffs looking at a possible change.
The playoffs have quadrupled since it’s original format. From the merging of the National and American Leagues in 1903 until 1968, the teams with the best record in both the NL and AL played each other in the World Series. But it expanded to two teams in each league at the start of the 1969 season to play each other for a chance to represent their league in the World Series. That format halted after the 1993 season to bring us to our current system of four teams in each League.
With there being an East, Central and West division and 30 teams in each league, a winner from each division along with a Wild Card (the team with the best record of non-division winners) all compete for a chance to play in the Fall Classic.
Talks started up this past year in adding another Wild Card team. With the AL East being a prime example of a playoff-worthy team being left out of the hunt, fans are starting to wonder if that’s fair.
The proposal is adding a second Wild Card team to the playoffs, having them face each other in a three or five-game series and then go up against the top team in the league. All three division winners would get a bye for that round, allowing them a week to rest up and prepare for the playoffs.
By doing this, it allows two more teams a chance at playing in the World Series, a very fair system.
But it has it’s flaws. The NFL allows 12 teams (six in each conference) to compete in the playoffs out of 32 teams. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association have 16 teams (eight in each conference) compete out of 30 teams in the league. With that amount of teams, it waters down the competition in the playoffs.
It also expands the playoffs, forcing them to drag on. It takes a month and a half for the Stanley Cup to be raised and two months before a champion is crowned in the NBA. With how grueling the Stanley Cup playoffs are, their system works and it has even seen some lower seeds do damage in the playoffs. But a team that backs into the playoffs doesn’t stand a chance against one of the three or four elite teams in the NBA, forcing fans to lose interest for the first month or more of the playoffs and wait until they see the match-ups they want.
The other fear is how late the season in baseball has been running. You’re seeing players freezing to death in Philadelphia in 2008, in Philly and New York in 2009 and San Francisco in 2010. A World Series game was postponed midway through and resumed two days later, a first in baseball history, in 2008 because of rain. Even new apparel was created for the players and fans with a new hat being introduced with ear flaps.
There is no longer a Mr. October but a Mr. November (who fans in Philadelphia claim to be Carlos Ruiz). How do you fix that? Shrink the regular season back to 154 games? That’s a lot of money lost in revenue, beer and food, and merchandise. Owners will throw a fit.
But despite those fears fans bring up with watering down the playoffs in baseball, I just don’t see this falling on its face. You still get three division winners and the two Wild Card teams are only playing for a chance to play the top seed. Every team will be competent and there will be no loss in fan interest. MLB will still boast the best playoff format and that will continue to be a good thing.
Look at what Wild Card teams have done since being added to the format. The Florida Marlins have never won a division title yet have won two World Championships as the Wild Card team in 1997 and 2003. In 2002, the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants became the first Wild Card teams to meet up in the Fall Classic with the Angels taking the series. The 2004 Red Sox are probably the most notable Wild Card winner, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit in the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees to win before sweeping the Houston Astros, another Wild Card team, in the World Series.
The Detroit Tigers in 2006 lost to the Cardinals in the World Series. The Colorado Rockies made a late season surge and snuck into the playoffs as a Wild Card. They made it all the way to the World Series before being bounced by the Boston Red Sox.
Other crazy Wild Card teams include the 2001 Oakland Athletics, who were the only Wild Card team to win over 100 games.
The Wild Card has thrown some crazy competition into the playoffs. A quarter of the last 16 champions have been Wild Cards with them representing a quarter of the playoff competitors. This expansion will merely be another great step in bettering the game of baseball. It’s the right move, Bud Selig. Make it happen.