Bodley: Division Series is too short
Special Committee must push Selig to extend first round
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- It's grossly unfair, if not ridiculous, for Major League teams to play a 162-game regular season, make the playoffs, then risk everything they've worked so hard for in a skimpy five-game Division Series.
It's nothing but Russian Roulette.
The credibility of the long haul over six grueling months goes out the window. The time has come to change the first round to a best-of-seven, just like the two Championship Series and the World Series.
Consider: The three-tiered postseason format has been used for 15 years, and during that period 11 of the 32 teams that had the most regular-season victories in their league failed to make it past the first round.
Hopefully, the newly minted Special Committee for On-Field Matters will get Commissioner Bud Selig's ear and force the issue.
Correction: It already has his ear, but now must force the issue.
The Major League Players Association, at its annual board meeting last month, is already aboard. It said it would like to see the first round expanded to a best-of-seven.
The 14-man committee met face-to-face with Selig for the first time Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the quarterly Owners' Meetings at a resort in Paradise Valley.
The session lasted nearly four hours, not breaking up until the sun was setting in the Arizona desert.
Selig asked committee members not to discuss specifics of the meeting; he did the talking and sidestepped most reporters' questions.
He said 15 to 20 issues were discussed, adding "nobody was bashful. It was a great exchange of ideas on many subjects. I don't want to get into the subjects. I said there would be no sacred cows and there were no sacred cows."
With veteran managers Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Tony La Russa and Mike Scioscia on the committee, expanding the Division Series obviously received a lot of attention.
No one would like to see credibility added to the Division Series more than Torre, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager.
"I say that after winning two, five-game Division Series in a row," he told me Thursday prior to the committee meeting. "You work like hell all season, and the chances are the better team loses. It's not always going to happen, but more times than not, it will.
"We beat the Cubs in 2008, and they had the best record. The Angels won a hundred games and lost that same year. Those teams weren't really challenged [during the season]."
Torre believes teams that coast to the playoffs with a big lead don't have the emotional edge a team battling to win its division late in the year has.
"By the time you sort of get your legs under you, it's gotten away from you," he said. "The Angels lose the first two games [in the 2008 ALDS]. Now they win in Boston and lose an extra-inning game. I thought they had the momentum when they lost that game. There's a chance they could have won it in a longer series."
One of the major issues this committee is discussing involves controversial open dates during last season's postseason.
When Selig said after Thursday's meeting he's certain some of the committee's recommendations will be enacted for the 2010 season, eliminating those long layoffs definitely will be one.
"There are days we can eliminate and should," said Selig, not elaborating. "It's not as easy as it looks."
If that, in fact, happens, it seems to me, with creative juggling, the first rounds of the postseason could be compacted and accommodate a best-of-seven first round.
Torre remembers in 1996, when managing the Yankees, his team won the American League pennant, then had to wait eight days before Game 1 of the World Series.
"Sometimes those layoffs cannot be avoided," he said. "And that long layoff in '96 certainly showed, because we got walloped the first two games (12-1 and 4-0) by Atlanta, but won the next four."
An ideal way to adopt a best-of-seven first round would be to reduce the regular season to 154 games. That's how many games teams played prior to 1961, when the number was increased to 162.
In reality, even though Selig has often said he's fond of the 154-game season, it won't happen, because teams in this money-driven era can't afford to give up revenue from eight games.
"I don't know what the answer is," said Torre. "Playing the World Series in November is scary." He mentioned the possibility of playing November baseball at Minnesota's new open-air stadium, Target Field, noting what the weather is usually like there that time of the fall.
Selig said "we've talked about that [extending the first round] a lot, but the problem is, nobody wants to go into November, yet they want to add onto the schedule."
To most managers, the first round is the most frightening, if not the most difficult, of the postseason. A best-of-seven, those I've spoken with insist, is the only fair format.
"I never really polled everybody, but conversationally, for the most part, they like a seven-game first round," Torre said. "The whole key to the postseason is having a key pitcher. Those are the teams that usually win, but it shouldn't be decided in such a short series."
Selig's special committee, which will meet again before the start of Spring Training, has a mile-long laundry list of issues, including pace of game, whether to expand video instant replay, umpiring -- you name it.
I'm just hopeful it does the right thing and puts extending the Division Series to a best-of-seven atop its agenda.
After all, baseball isn't Russian Roulette.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.