Don’t look now, but Major League Baseball may finally be listening to me. Commissioner Bud Selig told the Associated Press this week that the owners favor expansion of the playoffs to 10 teams with the two wild card teams in each league playing a one-game, win or go home, play in game. This is exactly what I wrote in support of back in September!
Yes, I realize that it wasn’t my idea originally and I was just adding my voice in support of Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. But as I mentioned in my post, Selig’s reaction to Verducci’s proposal was far from supportive. Clearly, he and the other owners later read MY eloquent and convincing argument and changed their minds.
The players and managers, understandably, prefer a best of three series for the wild card teams in any expanded system. Of course they don’t like the idea of playing 162 games only to face a single elimination game. That’s a ton of pressure for that game. But you know what, that’s the beauty of this idea… they don’t HAVE to face that situation. They could, instead, win their dang division!
And let’s be honest, the last thing that MLB needs is to lengthen the overall playoff timeline by the number of days it would take to fit in a “best of three” series, which would obviously require allowing for travel time, in addition to the three games themselves. You also do not want to have the six division champions sitting around for at least five days while the wild cards play games.
But the most compelling reason to adopt the single-game play-in approach is to reinsert meaning in to the race to win division championships. If two teams are coming down to the final week with a shot at winning their division, there should be absolutely no doubt that those teams are going to go all out to win that title. No manager should be in a situation where he can weigh potential match ups and determine whether he even wants his team to put in the effort to win their division (see: Yankees, New York, 2010).
A one-game play in would give a clear advantage to division champions over wild card teams and that’s the way it should be. It would also create real excitement for Major League Baseball with what amounts to at least two “game 163” contests every season (there could be more, of course, since it’s still possible to have teams tie for playoff spots). ESPN would have been downright giddy last year at the prospect of showing a Yankee-RedSox wild card game (assuming, of course, that the Yankees wouldn’t have actually put some effort in to winning the AL East instead of coasting the last week) and Padres fans would have at least been able to see their team have one playoff game and perhaps more, instead of seeing their surprising club slump their way out of the playoff hunt.
I have never attended a sporting event with more electricity and drama than the Twins/Tigers game 163 in 2009 and with this proposal, MLB can guarantee at least two games every post season with “game seven” drama. From the league’s and the fan’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer.
Folks, I am SO enthused about the prospect of MLB adopting this playoff approach next year that, if Bud Selig can pull off implementing it, I’m going to have to back off of some of my criticism of him as Commissioner. Now, granted, if the owners had just replaced Bud with me a year or two ago, we’d already have this system in place, but better late than never.
Then again, I do still have the whole blackout issue to hold against Selig.