On Major League Baseball’s latest cash grab: Playoff Expansion

selig83458409.jpgMajor League
Baseball never ceases to surprise me with the things they do for quick and easy
cash.  You know, ignoring the now quite
obvious influx of steroids in the game throughout the 90s and early 2000s,
making the All-Star game “count” by establishing which league gets home field advantage
in the World Series; that kind of thing.

Next on the
list of obvious cash grabs is MLB’s discussion of an expanded playoff
system.  Let me explain:

MLB
Commissioner Bug Selig wants to
expand the MLB playoffs to include an additional wild card team from each
league.  The three division winners from
each league will get a bye to the ALDS, while the wild card teams will duke it
out in a one game or best-of-three playoff.

Teams get
more money through television revenue, as does the league.  Teams also get more money from ticket sales
from the added playoff games.  MLB
recognizes how well the NFL, NBA and NHL do from a large and drawn out playoff
system, but here’s why baseball is
and should be considered different.

First off,
baseball is already nearly an all-year-round thing.  This is great, because I love baseball, but
the fact is that Spring Training starts in early February with games starting a
month later, and games continue until late October.  Adding any
kind of additional playoff games, however small they may be, adds to this.

But the major
reason this is a bad idea is the inherent parity in baseball.  It is nearly impossible on any given night to
predict who will win a game, even if you have the Yankees playing the Orioles,
there is a good chance that the O’s will come away with a win.  Baseball is more parodied than any other
sport.  This is why there are 162 games in a season.

The NFL has
16 games because after 16 games, the best teams are the best teams.  In other words, there are no flukes.  Generally by that time, the cream of the crop
has established itself.  The NBA and NHL
need 82 games to establish this, but it’s still only half the season MLB puts
forth.

Here’s
why:  In 2009, the NFL had no less than
10 teams with 10 or more wins, or a .625 winning percentage.  That’s nearly a third of the league.  By comparison, a .625 winning percentage in
MLB gets you 101 wins.  That’s not just a
good team, that’s an elite one.  In 2010,
MLB produced ZERO teams with that
many wins.  In fact, there have been ten
101-game winners since 2001.

The NBA had 12
teams with a winning percentage of more than .610 in 2009-10.  That would be like having 12 99-win teams in
one season in MLB.  The NHL had 11 teams
with that winning percentage.

Up until
1994, MLB had just four of its teams
make the playoffs.  After a grueling 162
game schedule to determine who the best teams were, it was important to allow
only select few of them to compete for the ultimate prize of the World
Series.  It gave some validity to playing
so many regular season games.  There was
no such thing as a fluke.  You had to be
among the game’s elite to even stand a chance.

In 1994, the
league expanded to 8 teams making the playoffs. 
Still not as many as the NFL’s 12, or the NBA’s and NHL’s 16, but twice
as many as it had previously had.  Even
with all those teams making the playoffs in other leagues, there is rarely a
fluke winner.  The good teams are
generally so much better than the mediocre ones, that it is rare to see a low
playoff seed win it all.  When they do,
it’s a Cinderella-story where all the stars had to align perfectly to give the
struggling team a chance.

In baseball,
even under the current 8-team playoff format, any team that makes the playoffs
could win.  Which isn’t so bad; for the
most part, those 8 teams are pretty good. 
Only the 2006 Cardinals could be considered a “fluke” winner with an
83-win regular season, which was still good enough to win their division.

If you expand
baseball’s playoffs any further, it will give more mediocre teams a chance at
winning it all, and therefore will further devalue the already borderline
arduous 162-game regular season.

Not only
that, but the idea of having the wild card teams play in a one-game or
best-of-three playoff series is also awful. 
Teams with one good ace pitcher and an otherwise mediocre or bad team
will win those almost every time.  Horrid
idea.  Baseball is a team game, not a
tennis match.

Don’t get me
wrong, there is a massive positive to
this that I’m leaving out.  A 10-team
playoff format would give the Jays a solid chance at making it; and for that
matter, a lot of small market teams would have a similar chance, and that’s
great for the fans of those teams who have suffered too long.  But there has to be a way of giving those
teams a better chance, without devaluing the regular season.  I won’t say salary cap because I’ve long been
against that in baseball (even though I’m a socialist), but that’s a post for
another day.

This will never
happen, but my approach has been to abolish the division format.  Bring back the balanced schedule and get rid
of the divisions.  Just have the AL and the
NL.  Like the good old days.  The top four teams in each league make the
playoffs.  Simple.  This will allow good teams who languish in
tough division (i.e. The Jays) to have a better chance at competing with the
big boys.  Will this solve all the
problems?  No.  In fact, it will create new ones, but it’s
better than expanding the playoffs to 10 teams and rendering most of the
regular season useless.

2 Comments

“But the major reason this is a bad idea is the inherent parody in baseball.” Travis, you mean “parity” not “parody”, correct? At first I thought it was an intentional pun, but as I read further (where you later on in the same paragraph use “parody” again) there was no humorous payoff.

Kelly Hoppe,
Windsor ON

As you can see, that university education is coming in handy. Or did I mean ‘parody’?

Thanks Kelly, I’ll fix it.

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