Major League Baseball has announced that starting this season the playoffs will be expanded with two Wild Card teams in each league instead of one. The Wild Card teams will play one elimination game with the winner going on to play one of the three division winners in their league.
This is not such a bad idea, as I wrote last summer.
Originally posted on July 12, 2011
I consider myself somewhat of a baseball traditionalist. I despise the Designated Hitter, as early readers of this blog know. I believe former great Dick Allen
was right about Astro Turf when he said, "if a cow don't eat it, I
don't want to play on it." I find inter-league play to be an
unnecessary gimmick. And I worry that instant replay will become more
But, despite my distrust of most proposals to mess with the
Great Game, I am not so rigid that I can't accept any change. After
all, without change, we'd have 16 teams made up of all white players
using tiny gloves and a mushy ball.
Until the early 1960s, there were 16 teams, 8 in each league. The
season was 154 games long, and the teams that won the American League
and National League pennants played each other in the World Series.
Then, beginning in 1961, new teams
were gradually added and the regular season expanded to 162 games. By
1969, there were 24 teams. Each league was split into two divisions
with six teams each and a round of playoffs was added with the division
winners playing each other to determine who would play in the World
Series. This seemed to make sense since without dividing the 12-team
leagues in half, there would be too many teams dwelling at the bottom
half of the standings with no chance of climbing to the top.
In 1994, when the teams were split into three divisions in each league
and the playoffs added a wild card -- a team with the next best record
after the division winners -- it seemed that things had gone too far.
It would only be a matter of time before baseball became like the NBA,
with endless rounds of playoffs that made the regular season
meaningless. But I was wrong. There are now 30 teams in the two
leagues, and the 3-division split and wild card has made for some very
exciting races with teams that otherwise would have been eliminated from
post-season play far earlier in the season. The advent of the wild
card has, thus, actually made the regular season more meaningful.
The problem with the wild card is that it gives a team that doesn't win
its division the same chance in the post season as the other playoff
teams. The way it works now is that the wild card simply becomes one of
four playoff teams in each league. This doesn't seem fair to the other
three teams who gain no real advantage for winning their respective
divisions. It also gives two teams battling for the division title less
incentive to fight if out to the last game if one of them will get the
wild card berth anyway. So, while the wild card gives many more teams a
stake in the regular season, it also has the potential as the season
winds down, when the games should be most exciting, to undermine the
This is why I am actually in favor of the proposal to expand the
playoffs. The plan would be to include two wild card teams instead of
one in each league, with each league's wild cards meeting in a playoff
with the winner then joining the other playoff teams in the next round.
This system would give the division winners a decided advantage over
the wild card teams while still giving other teams a chance at becoming
the wild card and a shot at post season glory. Such a plan would only
work, however, if the regular season is compressed -- through a shorter
pre-season, scheduled double headers, reduction or elimination of
interleague games - so that baseball is not being played in the frigid
cold in November.
One plan that won't work, but is reportedly being considered,
is moving a National League team to the American League, so each league
has 15 teams, getting rid of divisions altogether, and having five
teams in each league in the playoffs. The most glaring problem with
this scenario is that with an odd number of teams in each league, there
would have to be one American League team playing a National League team
throughout the season. Now there are two brief intervals during the
year with inter-league play, which is annoying enough. As Keith Olbermann said
in lambasting this plan, perpetual inter-league play would "shatter the
concepts of the American and National Leagues as we know them."
Inter-league play dilutes some of the mystique of the All Star Game and
World Series, which used to be the only times when players in each
league played each other. It forces National League teams to use a
designated hitter when the AL team is at home, and forces American
League pitchers who never otherwise hit to do so when the NL team
hosts. And since not all teams can play each other, it gives an
arbitrary and unfair advantage to teams who get to play lesser teams in
the other league.
Another option would be to return to having 16 teams, 8 in each league,
like the Old Days. That might not be so bad if we could keep the other
changes that have made the game so great, while getting rid of the