By Ed Coleman
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You’ll excuse me if I don’t genuflect Bud Selig’s way as he continues to take bows for the new playoff format instituted this season. I never liked the idea before, don’t like it now, won’t like it in the future.
But it was a ratings success, so you know it’s definitely not going away.
A 3.7 overnight rating translated to the Braves-Cardinals and Rangers-Orioles games drawing an average of 4.6 million viewers — higher than the average of 4.2 million viewers for the entire 2011 Division Series. That was up 61 percent from last year’s first day of playoff coverage, while TBS finished second among all TV networks in prime time (8-11 p.m.) last Friday with a 4.4 rating.
My main problem is this: In a sport that is comprised of 162 games spread over six (sometimes seven) months, and that features mostly three-game series, several four-games series and occasional two-game series, you end up deciding a playoff spot and advancement with a wham-bam-thank-you-maam, winner-take-all, one-game showdown. Oh, the drama.
Fair? I think not. But who cares if it draws ratings.
Texas — a team which twice came within one strike of winning last year’s World Series — was in first place for a major-league best 178 days this season. Deserving of a three- or five-game series? Nope. One and done. Atlanta finished six games ahead of St. Louis in the National League this year. Doesn’t matter. One and done as well.
Look, I’m not searching for excuses or feeling sorry for either team. The Rangers lost nine of their final 13 games to blow the AL West crown. They had a four-game lead with six to play and still blew it. The Braves committed three throwing errors – the most crucial by retiring Hall-of-Famer-to-be Chipper Jones in the fourth inning – to hand the game to the Cardinals on a silver platter.
Baseball has twice as many regular-season games as both the NBA and the NHL (what’s that?), yet both those leagues have best-of-seven playoff series throughout. Not baseball. The second wild card spurs artificial races for a one-game playoff, not necessarily something to aspire to. Did anyone think the Phillies or Brewers or Dodgers had a realistic chance to make the postseason? Tampa Bay got hot late, but they, the Angels, the White Sox, in the AL? Not really.
The National League would have been settled well ahead of time this year. So be it. But ironically, under the old system of one wild-card team in each league making the playoffs, Baltimore and Texas – both of which finished 93-69 – would have been playing a winner-take-all play-in game to decide a playoff spot.
Anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.
It was all a money grab anyway, as so many things in baseball are. The wild-card winners this season had the first two division series games at home. That won’t happen next year. The only reason it existed this year is because they couldn’t cram the games in any other way. So why not just wait until next season before implementing it, when you can have it the way you ultimately want it? Oh, then you wouldn’t have the extra money this year, of course. How silly of me.
Ah, baseball under Bud. Don’t worry about what’s right or wrong, or better yet what makes sense. We’ll just keep making it up as we go along. And if the ratings are there, we must be right. Of course.
C U soon
Do you have a big, big problem with the new format — or was it a stroke of genius from the commish? Be heard in the comments below!