For MLB, More Might Be Merrier
The Major League Baseball regular season has wrapped, leaving us with eight teams vying to be World Series Champion. Of all the major team professional sports, Baseball’s season is the purest test–a long 162 game grind with just a few playoff spots available. In MLB, only 27% of the clubs make it to the second season. Contrast that with the NFL (where 38% make the playoffs) and the NBA (where more than half the teams play on–and the others, presumably, get participation trophies) and one can truly appreciate the accomplishment it is for a team to qualify for Baseball’s championship tournament.
But as laudable as this purity is, I think the good of the game requires that MLB add a fifth team in each league to the post-season mix. I don’t think Baseball compromises itself with 10 playoff teams–that’s still just 33% of the overall field, still more select than either the NFL or NBA.
The reason I suggest this is because Baseball is getting swallowed up in September by the start of the NFL season (not to mention all the attention given to the opening of NCAA football). MLB needs more teams in the mix, more markets involved in “pennant races” to help stem this tide. Having two more teams shines a brighter light on the sport and allows it to play a more meaningful role on the Fall stage.
Expanding the field wouldn’t have to unduly expand the length of the post-season. The way I see it, the two Wild Card teams could square off in a best two-out-of-three series hosted by the club with the better record. It would run Tuesday through Thursday with the series winner opening the next round (a 3 of 5 series) against the division winner with the best record on Saturday. That adds three days to the playoffs, as they presently start on Wednesday.
This season, BOS would have won the second AL Wild Card and would be headed to NY for the three game playoff series. Personally, I could care less about another BoSox/Yanquis match up. (Don’t we see them playing each other every weekend all season long already?) But it would be huge for MLB to have two of its flagship teams with national followings squaring off in the post-season when they otherwise wouldn’t.
The NL’s San Diego/ATL series would have much less national interest, but it would engage another market in the post-season and the race for the final spot would have given a couple of other clubs and their fans reason to remain excited down the stretch.
I don’t see a downside to adding a second Wild Card to the MLB playoff slate. But I can see it creating new enthusiasm for Baseball at a time when the sporting public is beginning to look away. Moreover, for fans of teams that are frequently out of the post-season mix, the extra slot would provide another reason to hope, and as Commissioner Bud Selig as noted, hope is what being a fan is all about