8/21/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Expanded postseason format benefits the game
Move from four to 10 playoff teams has increased excitement for fans
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
There are still arguments about whether this is actually progress or just overcrowding. But with five weeks left in the regular season, there are 18 Major League clubs that can still consider themselves solidly in contention for postseason berths.
At the same time in 1993 -- the last full season before the expanded postseason system was enacted to include a Wild Card team in each league -- there were, at most, 10 teams within reach of postseason qualification. At that time, of course, there were only four postseason spots available. Now, there are 10.
Some baseball traditionalists may never warm to the expanded postseason format. But then they may also not warm to night baseball, Interleague Play or deli sandwiches at the concession stands.
In a way, we owe the Wild Card to the 1993 San Francisco Giants. Those Giants won 103 games -- more than all but one Major League club that year. Unfortunately for them, that one other club was in their division, the National League West. That was the Atlanta Braves, who won 104 games.
As Dusty Baker, who managed those Giants, always said after the fact, San Francisco never really got anything for winning those 103 games. But the Giants made an impression on then-acting Commissioner Bud Selig. If a team could win 103 games, Selig believed, surely it deserved a place in baseball's postseason.
And so, the following season MLB had six divisions rather than four, and after that 1994 season that ended prematurely because of a strike, baseball emerged in '95 with one Wild Card team in each league and a postseason field that doubled from four teams to eight.
There were howls of protests from purists, but despite them, Selig prevailed -- by a large margin. It didn't hurt that the Wild Card teams turned out to be more than simply competitive. In 1997, the third year of the expanded postseason, the World Series champions were the Florida Marlins, that season's NL Wild Card entry.
The Marlins repeated the feat in 2003. In 2002, both World Series teams -- the Giants and the eventual champions, the Angels -- qualified for the postseason as Wild Card teams. In '04, when the Red Sox famously ended their 86-year World Series championship drought, they entered the postseason field as a Wild Card team.
The quality of postseason play had not suffered irreparable harm by the addition of the Wild Cards. It was probably only a matter of time before Major League Baseball added more teams to the postseason mix. That time was 2012, when one more Wild Card team was added from each league, bringing the total number of participants to 10.
This may be as much as the traffic will readily bear. But the latest expansion of the Wild Card field did bring one needed refinement. To the repeated complaint that Wild Card teams were not penalized enough for not winning division titles, the Wild Card teams now meet in a one-game playoff.
There's the penalty for not winning a division title -- a potential one-and-done postseason experience. There is renewed incentive for winning a division, if only to avoid that one game in which anything could happen. Still, reaching that one game beats the alternative, which is being one of the 20 teams that didn't get that far.
Baseball's late-season drama has been further enhanced by the game's increased competitive balance. Yes, baseball has 2 1/2 times as many teams reaching the postseason as it did 21 years ago. But it also has more teams that are financially and competitively capable of battling for a postseason spot than it did in the 1990s.
Spreading around the drama, the excitement, the chase, the race, the ups, the downs and the daily permutations has made the game a much bigger draw in more places. It has broadened the game's reach. It has made the game more widely entertaining. It has made the game more entertaining, period.
OK, the days when there were two leagues, two pennant winners and one World Series were simpler times. Maybe there was a sort of purity in that. But that was before modern medicine, a man on the moon and the snowmobile, if you know what I mean.
Life changes. Baseball does, too. Or at least it did in this case. The current system with 10 postseason spots available has been one development that has been good for both the sport of baseball and the business of baseball.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.