We used to be in there, now we’re out here
Baseball owners continue to be the dumbest in sports. First they gave up financial control of their game to the players in the 1980s, then they let commissioner Bud Selig institute the ridiculous “All-Star winner gets home field in the World Series” mandate. Now this.
A designed one-game play-in? In baseball? What’s the point?
It was bad enough when the NCAA instituted that silliness with its new “opening round” of the NCAA tournament, but at least it was the same loser-out format that has always made March Madness, along with the NFL playoffs, the best postseason structure in sports.
Playoff series in baseball, the NBA and the NHL are too long and boring — marathon affairs that are a reflection of the super-long seasons that precede them. Unless you are a diehard fan of those sports or a fan of one of the top teams, you tend to lose interest long before they finally get to the championship series seven months later.
The one thing that makes baseball playoffs better than the NBA and NHL is the fact that the season means something — the playoff field is not watered down with average teams as it is in the NBA and NHL, and even in the NCAA tournament. An extra team in each league will not hurt the quality of the baseball postseason, but the way Selig and the boys are doing it is simply stupid.
The best postseasons easily belong to the NFL (by football’s nature, every game is a playoff game) and college basketball (despite the presence of small schools who have no chance). Loser-out games are the most exciting way to conduct playoffs, and that’s why the NFL postseason and March Madness are the most thrilling times of the sports year.
Baseball obviously thinks so, too, or it wouldn’t have completely departed from its series structure to add a silly play-in game.
All this amounts to is formalizing on an annual basis the kind of brief excitement we saw on the final day of last season, when four teams’ postseason prospects were riding on their last game. It was the kind of day that enthralled even casual baseball fans.
Baseball already has the occasional one-game playoff, like the Mariners had against the Angels in 1995 and the sport has had five other times since then.
But Selig and the boys are trying to instill the kind of excitement that is reserved for the sports with the best postseasons — the thrilling threat of one-and-done that exists only in the NFL and college basketball (oh, and in Game 7s in the NBA and NHL).
Actually, there is a great probability that baseball has added more than just a couple of one-game playoffs, since there are bound to be tiebreakers that need to be settled and missed games that now will have to be made up. In 2008, the Twins played a makeup game vs. the Royals to force a one-game playoff vs. the White Sox for the AL Central. There will be a lot more of that going on for the wild cards.
It’s very easy to foresee a team having to play three (or even four, in the case of a multiple-team tie and round-robin tiebreaker) one-game playoffs to qualify for a five-game series against a division winner. There has never been a round-robin tiebreaker, but with an extra wild card in each league now, the odds of that happening go way up.
As fun as that might be, it also is the fatal flaw in this silly idea. What kind of playoff series do you think you would get from a team that had just played three loser-out games in a row? A 3-0 blowout loss, that’s what. The wild-card team would have exhausted itself just to get there, while the division winner would be nice and rested. So, just like that, the excitement generated by the furious finish and race to see who got to play in the first series would melt down into a boring sweep.
In an otherwise slow-moving, leisurely game that spans most of the year and loses fans as teams become irrelevant, Selig and his desperate cohorts are trying to maintain interest and build the excitement to a crescendo in the final days before the playoffs.
Fans of this system like it because of the March Madness-style excitement. Most detractors don’t like it simply because they don’t like wild cards and designated hitters. We don’t like it because it is a half-assed way for the owners to get butts in their seats and eyes on the TV in August and September, when most sports fans have turned their attention to football.
If you’re going to expand your playoffs, use the same system you have in place. Or, better yet, make all of your playoffs one-game, loser-out affairs. Now that would be exciting.
Two former sports reporters freed from the constraints of traditional print media write about the hot topics on both the Seattle and national sports scene. No deadlines, no word count, no press box decorum — we're Outside The Press Box.