By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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Am I the only one who is a bit unsettled watching these Major League Baseball playoffs? I can’t imagine that I am.
When the new 10-team postseason playoff format was announced prior to the season, I had my doubts. Whereas the NHL and the NBA allow 16 teams into its postseason field — and the NFL allows 12 — Major League Baseball has only allowed eight teams into its postseason tournament since a Wild Card team in each league was added in 1994.
Eight teams always felt right to me, it had a nice ring to it. I’m a fan of the NFL playoffs, but the NHL and NBA playoffs tend to go on endlessly, with seven-game series after seven-game series after seven-game series.
The baseball playoffs always went smoothly and had a certain flow that was absent in the other leagues, the NFL not withstanding.
But an extra team in each league?
The idea didn’t sit well with me from the start.
I guess I was afraid of baseball falling into the trap of the other leagues, gradually expanding its playoff format until — like the NBA and the NHL — more teams were rewarded with entrance into the postseason than those that weren’t.
Despite my premonitions, I knew that the addition of two extra teams would likely make for some thrilling pennant races down the stretch. Sure enough, the first-year format did just that. The race for the second Wild Card in the National League kept baseball fans in cities across America riveted until the final week of the season, and the race for the American League East title became that much more important. If the Yankees were to blow their lead, all of a sudden the mighty Bombers would have to play a one-game playoff to gain entry into the American League Division Series. Enthralling drama, to say the least.
The Orioles fell short and ended up in that position instead, bouncing the listless Rangers to advance to the ALDS.
Now my problem doesn’t lie with the 2-3 division series format (the team with the worse record hosts the first two games) as opposed to the traditional 2-2-1 format (the team with the better record hosts the first two games and then a deciding Game 5, if necessary). First of all, the schedule will return to the 2-2-1 model next season. Problem solved. Secondly, I don’t see the major issue with the 2-3 schedule. If you remember, that used to be the norm for the divisional-playoff round. (Remember the Yankees-Mariners ALDS in 1995 when the Yanks won the first two games in the Bronx before losing the next three at the Kingdome?)
Where my problem lies is the advent of the one-game playoff. In both leagues. Every season. For the remainder of time, or at least the forseeable future. That, my fellow baseball friends, I have a major issue with.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I watched — and thoroughly enjoyed — both Wild Card playoff games. The incredibly high stakes of winner-takes-all, all-or-nothing contests make for competitive, intriguing sport. And I got into it, as I know millions of other baseball fans did. It was extraordinarily exciting.
But exciting doesn’t make it right. And it certainly doesn’t make it fair.
First let’s take a look at the American League Wild Card game. Interestingly enough, both the Orioles and Rangers finished the season with identical 93-69 records. In the traditional Wild Card format, these teams would have played in a one-game playoff anyway. By virtue of those circumstances, I have no complaints there. But really, how often do teams — after a 162-game season — finish with the same exact record and have to play a Game 163. Sure, it happens, but it’s not a common occurrence. There was no controversy in the AL this season, but if you think it will work out that cozily for Bud Selig every year you’ve got another thing coming.
Now let’s move to the National League Wild Card game, where the situation got very dicey. Forget the brutal infield fly rule call that cost the Braves a chance to stage a legitimate comeback. The bottom line is that they shouldn’t have even been playing in that game. After 162 games of baseball, Atlanta won six more — six! — games than St. Louis, in a far better division, by the way. The MLB season is a marathon — not a sprint — and the Braves proved over six months that they are a better team than the Cardinals.
So their reward was a one-game playoff, where anything can — and did — happen? I fully understand the concept of awarding division winners and forcing Wild Card teams to have to fight for their lives. But when a team wins six more games than another over the course of a 162-game season, that team’s fate shouldn’t come down to nine innings of baseball. I don’t care that Atlanta had home-field advantage. Yes, being at Turner Field was an advantage for the Braves, but not enough so that it significantly gave them an edge. The Braves had a definitively more successful season than the Cards in 2012, and their supposed advantage was playing in the friendly confines of their own ballpark?
Come on, now.
Unlike every other sport on earth, baseball is truly the only game where any team can beat any team on any given day. Period.
The Astros were absolutely abysmal this season, but you know what? Those lovable losers in Houston still found themselves on the right side of the scorecard 55 times. Think about that for a second. 55.
The bottom line is that regardless of how much I dislike the Braves — and I strongly dislike the Braves — they should be the ones playing the Nationals right now, vying for a spot in the National League Championship Series.
The Cardinals should be getting their drives ready on the golf course.
And the fact that it’s the other way around is completely unjust. It’s a black eye for baseball and it devalues the accomplishments of the regular season. Relatively speaking, it’s an utter disgrace. And these unfortunate situations will continue to play out, year after year after year.
If Commissioner Selig is so insistent on having an extra Wild Card team in each league, then I have a solution. Is it a perfect solution? By no stretch of the imagination. It has its holes, and many would cry foul if it was ever implemented, but I can guarantee than it’s far more fair than what’s currently in place.
Are you listening, Buddy boy? If you somehow read this column, which you most certainly will not, please pay close attention to what I’m saying and consider changing your completely asinine format as soon as possible.
Hear me out, now. How about, in each league, both Wild Card teams play a best-of-three series in the higher-seeded club’s ballpark. Now I know you don’t want to lengthen the season much more than you already have — it’s already longer now due to the one-game playoff — so we’ll just lengthen it one more day at a maximum. We can’t shorten the season to 159 or 160 games because that would mean that every team loses late-season revenue. The owners would understandably never go for it.
So here goes nothing.
I propose that both series begin with a day-night doubleheader. If the host team takes both games, then the second Wild Card team packs their bags and gets their offseason under way. If the clubs split, however, they play the deciding third game the following evening.
As I mentioned earlier, more so than in any other sport, a baseball team has a great chance to beat another baseball team on any given day, regardless of the teams’ contrast in talent. The same goes for a series. But in a three-game set at home, the better team should win. Would the home team walk away victorious all the time? Of course not. But it would have a far better shot of advancing to the real postseason. And it is entitled to have a far better shot. It earned it.
Many fans — and plenty of players — would complain about the difficulties and disadvantages of playing a doubleheader, and how tough they are to sweep. I don’t want to hear it. You didn’t win the division, so that is what you to have to deal with. And as for complaints of fatigue and lethargy as a result of playing two games in one day, that I really don’t want to hear.
Baseball is one of my true loves, my true passions in life. I respect the game to the fullest, and it has a certain romanticism that other sports simply don’t have. But let’s face it — ballplayers simply don’t work that hard over the course of a three-hour game. There’s a reason that the schedule has 162 games on the docket. Baseball players aren’t getting drilled by linemen, they’re not keeping up with point guards at lightening speed and they’re not fighting on the ice. Oh, and I’d love to see a middle reliever play five sets with Rafael Nadal.
I’m not saying that baseball players aren’t incredibly talented and remarkably skilled — I’ve maintained for years that hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports — but outside of the catcher, ballplayers don’t take the toll on their bodies that other professional athletes do on a daily basis. They can play twice in one day. End of story.
And remember, Mr. Selig, this wouldn’t exactly be a new phenomenon. Remember that fairly memorable moment in baseball history called ‘The Shot Heard ‘Round The World?” Well that walk-off home run by Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson in 1951 came in a best-of-three pennant playoff series.
From a business perspective, could you imagine the excitement that a playoff doubleheader amid a best-of-three series would bring? Not only would the league enjoy additional profit from ticket prices, concessions and parking, but the energy would be through the roof.
And it would be just, which is really all that matters in the end.
What do you think of the new playoff format? How would you go about changing it for next season, if at all? Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below…
Brad Kallet is a web producer for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MiLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter here.