Though a purist at heart, Selig also an innovator
Once upon a time, pennant winners from the National and American Leagues finished their seasons and got together in the much-anticipated World Series. It was an exciting time.
Not so fast: In 1969, a huge hurdle was added, the two League Championship Series, prior to the first pitch of the World Series.
That wasn't enough. In 1994 (before the strike shut down baseball), two Wild Cards were established and another round of playoffs added. Now, for a team to be crowned champion, it must win 11 games.
That, too, is about to change. There have been intense discussions for over a year that another round of playoffs with two more teams (i.e. the Wild Card Tournament) is necessary. And it's coming.
During the General Managers Meetings in November, it became obvious as I talked with most of them that they were pushing to add at least two teams to the eight-team postseason.
For over a year, they've been invited to quarterly Owners Meetings. Discussions with the "bosses" have been ongoing.
Commissioner Bud Selig said last week during a session with the Associated Press Sports Editors "We're moving to expanding the playoffs, but there's a myriad of details to work out. Ten is a fair number."
For this to happen, it must be included in a new collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association -- a CBA that is being negotiated behind closed doors as we speak. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11.
Michael Weiner, union executive director, says the players have been discussing "many different scenarios. Our discussions have covered all of the factors involved with scheduling, mainly competitive considerations, revenue generation and demands on the players."
Bottom line: It's going to happen, beginning in 2012.
Selig is the most innovative Commissioner baseball has had. He considers himself a passionate purist and a devoted historian of the game.
That said, he has never backed away from making dramatic, if not controversial, changes.
I'm also a traditionalist. Changes make me nervous, if not angry, even if they are innovative.
Over the years, Selig and I have had friendly, but sometimes heated, disagreements over changes to the game.
I thought Interleague Play was ridiculous. It diluted the credibility of the season-long marathon, the 162-game schedule. Teams from opposing leagues shouldn't meet until the World Series.
Adding Wild Card teams to the playoffs further watered down the postseason.
Major League Baseball is special, not like the NFL, where 12 of 32 teams go to the postseason. Or the NBA and NHL, which have 16 of 30 teams in the playoffs. I've always felt baseball is held to a higher standard.
I'd make these arguments to the commissioner, and he'd listen, soothe my feelings by saying that he, too, is a purist. In the end, he was adamant he'll always do what's best for the game.
And video replay? Isn't the human element and the second-guessing of controversial calls by umpires what makes baseball so special?
To say I was wrong is an understatement.
Selig's legacy will be all about improvements he's made. Baseball has grown tremendously during his reign.
Interleague Play has been enormously successful. Adding Wild Cards and expanding the playoffs has made down-to-the-wire September baseball exciting and more meaningful. Teams that previously would have been eliminated now have hope.
Video replay has worked and, according to Selig, it's about to be expanded. This all leads to the 10-team playoff system.
In the new format, a second Wild Card team would be added in each league. The two Wild Cards would meet in each league, with the winners advancing to play one of the three division winners in each league.
Whether to have this Wild Card Tournament a one-game winner-take-all, or a best-of-three series has not been decided.
I favor a one-game playoff. It would be a sudden-death type thing -- just one crucial game. It would create great television. Plus, the World Series should not be played in November, so a one-game playoff wouldn't expand the postseason that much.
This also would make winning the division much more important. Home-field advantage is now the goal. Teams often aren't too concerned about whether they win the division or go the playoffs as the Wild Card.
Under the new format, winning the division would become even more important. Losing in the Wild Card Tournament would be feared. It would add even more importance to the regular season because teams would fight to the wire to win their divisions.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a member of Selig's special committee for on-field matters, believes the new round "would be good for baseball as long as it doesn't get crazy and get too watered down. It's never going to get to the point where you show up and you're in the playoffs. Baseball is like any other business. You have to give your customers what they want."
Most fans I've talked with want it.
Last year, under this proposal, the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres would have made it to the postseason.
Selig insists he's retiring after next season. If he sticks to his word, this change might be the last of his impressive list of innovations.
One thing is certain: He calls himself a traditionalist for a sport built on tradition. He has managed to tweak it even if the changes have deep down gone against his will.
Now, if he could just do something about the designated hitter.
Either eliminate it or add it to the National League.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.