Unless you have been living under a baseball-shaped rock, you have heard multiple reports that the Major League Baseball Players Association likes Bud Selig’s recent proposal to add a second wild card team in each league.
Everywhere I look, it seems that members of the media presume this additional wild card berth will benefit the Rays by easing a path to the postseason. I think that is precisely the reason this is bad for baseball. Simply put, it shouldn’t be easy to get to October.
Baseball’s postseason exclusivity is one of the few advantages baseball has on other major professional sports. The NBA and NHL have expanded their playoff structure so far that the interminable regular season seems almost pointless. (a baseball executive friend of mine once said ” So wait, in the NBA the team with the worst record doesn’t get the number 1 pick, more than half the teams make the playoffs, and the team with the best record has to play two more months of basketball to win it all. Why do they even play a regular season?”)
As a Rays fan, I felt compelled to absorb every second of 2008 and 2010 because I know it isn’t guaranteed. Heck, it isn’t even guaranteed in Boston or New York. When your favorite baseball team makes the postseason, it is awesome. If your favorite football team makes the NFL playoffs, maybe you pay close attention but you don’t cancel everything else in your life because there is a pretty good chance they will be there 2 out of the next 3 years.
Howard Bryant makes another compelling argument against this proposal on ESPN.com. (You have to dig through a lot of sepia-toned reminiscing about San Francisco before you get to the meat of his argument). The proposal has the two wild card teams playing a one-game do-or-die play-in before the divisional series.
This new, proposed system would have created these outlandish scenarios in other years past: In 1997, the Yankees finished 12 games better than the Angels but would have had to meet them in the play-in game. In 2001, the 102-win A’s would have had to beat the Twins, even after finishing 17 games better.
Take it one local step further. Looking back, does anyone really believe the 2009 Rays deserved to be a lucky bounce in a play-in game from the ALDS? Of course not. Tony Phillips caps this point better than me by telling Bryant, “In baseball, after 162 [expletive] games, that what you are. You don’t need more games.”
Nevertheless, it seems the Keystone Commissioner will pursue this hair-brained idea because the 2010 World Series had poor ratings. Nothing like making a knee-jerk reaction to one incident. That always goes well. Right? How are the All-Star Game’s ratings now that it “counts?”
In the end, you don’t increase postseason TV ratings by increasing the possibility that Boston, New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago get in. You increase postseason TV ratings by promoting teams other than Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
How many nationally televised games did San Francisco play before 11 p.m. Eastern during the regular season? How many times did MLB feature the upstart and exciting Texas Rangers? By contrast, the NBA season is just a few weeks old and I have already seen Oklahoma City and Utah multiple times on national television in prime time. If Bud Selig were running the NBA, is there any doubt that the Heat and Celtics would play every national game and no one outside of the fanatics would have any idea that Kevin Durant and Paul Millsap are fun to watch?
Of course, that is the kind of self-criticism that is prohibited in the Major League Baseball offices. Better to just imitate the NFL and homogenize a century of baseball tradition in the pursuit of a quick fix to an imaginary problem.