© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
11/30/11 12:21 AM EST
Expanded playoffs will grow on traditionalists
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
I understand why Major League Baseball expanded its playoff system by giving each league two Wild Card teams instead of one. I just don't like it. It's a traditionalist thing. Give me at least one day game during the World Series, no designated hitters, true doubleheaders a couple of times each season for every team, and all will be well with the sport that only should do something huge about once every century or so. We can dream, can't we? As for reality, baseball has to change over the years, because as the saying goes: When you're standing still, you're going backwards. Remember? There once was segregation in the game, but along came the dynamic duo of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey to improve baseball and society. Other changes included everything from the Cincinnati Reds introducing the first night games eight decades ago to the banning of spitballs -- whether Gaylord Perry got the memo or not -- to the lowering of the pitcher's mound following the 1968 season. Now baseball wants to do the logical by increasing its number of postseason teams. The more playoff games you have after a regular season for your professional sport, the more revenue you'll receive from broadcasting rights, gate receipts and other means. For verification, look at the postseason situation of the three other major pro sports leagues in North America. More than a third of all NFL teams make the playoffs, which translates into 12 out of 32. The NBA and the NHL each have 30 teams, and more than half of them (16) make the playoffs. In contrast, out of the 30 baseball teams comprising the National and American Leagues, the three division winners from each league make the playoffs, along with a Wild Card team from each league. That's eight playoff teams for baseball. That's nothing. Well, comparatively speaking with the other sports. Thus, we had the following baseball news in recent days: While trying not to tamper too much with the status quo, the owners and players agreed along the way to a new deal to push their number of postseason teams to 10. Excluding division winners, the two teams in each league with the best records will meet in a one-game playoff of Wild Cards, starting with either the 2012 or '13 season. The winner of those games will advance to the Division Series. Sounds harmless enough. I mean, even if you join me as a traditionalist, what's the problem? Let's start with the obvious: If baseball's new playoff setup was around this season, September 2011 never would have happened. I know neither the Boston Red Sox nor the Atlanta Braves wouldn't have minded such a thing, but I'm referring to everybody else. While the Red Sox blew the biggest September lead in history for a team trying to reach the playoffs -- nine games, the Braves blew the second-biggest lead for the month at 8 1/2 games. The journey toward implosion for both teams was so dramatic that the universe was riveted throughout. There also was the flip side to it all, and it was as breathtaking as the implosion side. First, there were the Tampa Bay Rays, who kept overcoming awful years from several key players and a lack of hitting in general to make the Red Sox squirm when they weren't screaming. With great pitching, timely hitting and shrewd managing from Joe Maddon, the Rays eventually caught and passed the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card spot. Then there were the St. Louis Cardinals, who stumbled through the summer with Albert Pujols operating as good instead of great. They also were without Adam Wainwright since Spring Training to put their starting pitching in a bind, and they had the dreaded bullpen by committee. Not only did the Cardinals top the Braves for the NL Wild Card berth, but the Cardinals ignored the fact that the Philadelphia Phillies had baseball's best record and shocked them in the Division Series. Afterward, the Cardinals won the NL pennant after clinching in Milwaukee, where the Brewers had the best home record in baseball. Then, during the World Series, the Cardinals became one of the most improbable world champions by surviving the Texas Rangers in a thrilling Game 7. You've guessed it: If the new playoff rules were in effect this year, the Red Sox and the Braves would have made the postseason without much of a sweat. The same goes for the Rays and the Cardinals. We would have missed one of the greatest pennant races in the history of the Major Leagues. Wait a minute. According to traditionalists, wasn't 1993 supposedly the last great pennant race that we would ever see? Yep. The San Francisco Giants won 103 games back then in the old National League West, and you could make the case that it was their best team ever. It was Barry Bonds' first year with the Giants after leaving the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he won his second consecutive MVP Award and third overall along the way to seven. Even beyond Bonds, those Giants were terrors at the plate. They led the NL in batting average and slugging percentage. They also had splendid pitching, with two 20-game winners in Bill Swift and John Burkett and with closer Rod Beck collecting 48 saves. They missed the playoffs. The Braves won 104 games to win the division. Since there wasn't a Wild Card system back then, those Giants missed the playoffs, all right. They were tagged as baseball's last team to miss the playoffs involving a squeaker down the stretch. It's just that, nearly two decades and a Wild Card system later, it happened again. Twice, with the Red Sox and the Cardinals. What this means is that September drama can return in future years under the new system. Who's to say you won't have multiple teams vying for each of those four Wild Card spots? By the way, prior to 1969, there were no divisions in baseball. You just had the NL and the AL, which meant teams only reached the postseason by winning their league. With so many good teams left out of October baseball in most years, the move to two divisions in each league was an instant success. It gave us the Miracle Mets, for instance. They chased down a loaded Chicago Cubs team in September in the old NL East for an unlikely division title. Then the Mets did the impossible by capturing a world championship, and the two-division critics stopped grumbling. Guess I should hush in advance.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.