"A Thrilling Conclusion"
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 21:10
There has been talk about Major League Baseball’s new winner-take-all, wild-card playoff game. Many people, talking heads included, seem to find it a shameless money grab. They claim it devalues the formerly sacred regular season by allowing an inferior team to upset an obviously better one in the frenetic space of three hours.
Their point has some validity. But the new postseason game adds intrigue and a good deal of excitement to a sport that could use it. With the NFL having faced two labor struggles in the past 14 months, the opportunity is now for baseball to make a move towards reclaiming its spot as America’s most popular sport. I don’t think it will get there, but it certainly should benefit from the NFL’s woes.
A quick refresher before we get more into the facets of the wild card. In 1903, Major League Baseball began the World Series, with the team from the American League with the best record meeting the National League’s best team for a winner-take-all showdown. In 1969, baseball created two divisions in each league and added another series. In 1994, they added another division in each league and a wild card and expanded the playoffs to three rounds.
Traditionalists decried the moves, just as they criticized the second wild card that was added this year. Major League Baseball’s regular season has no value now that the second, or third, or even fourth-best team in the league can win the division, they said. In fact, a wild-card team has won the World Series four of the past 10 years.
So does it diminish the regular season? Perhaps a bit, but I’d argue what baseball loses in the 162-game push it gains with the one-game showdown.
Take this year, for example. The Texas Rangers, winners of the American League pennant the past two years and one of the favorites throughout the entire year, spent 156 of 162 game days in first in the AL West. Yet the Oakland A’s passed them on the last day of the regular season, relegating the Rangers to one of the two wild card spots.
They took on the Baltimore Orioles, who were making their first playoff appearance since 1997 when Monica Lewinsky was unknown to the world, Tubby Raymond was the head coach of Delaware’s football team and the Nintendo 64 was relatively new. Clearly, it has been a while since the Orioles were relevant.
Baltimore was an afterthought back in March, but the squad had a dream season, and then upset the Rangers—in Texas, no less. That loss eliminated the team that some had crowned as the champion back in April. The dream season continues for the Orioles, and that game exemplifies why the second wild card is great for baseball. It’s nine innings of chaotic awesomeness where anything can happen.
Over in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished six games behind the Atlanta Braves, knocked out the Braves. Now we get the divisional matchups, where we look to see if the Cardinals can duplicate last season’s magic, or if the Orioles can keep winning against all odds.
The best team doesn’t always win the championship, be it in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA or NHL. This isn’t European soccer, where the team with the best record is crowned champion without playing any additional games. That format may be more fair, but playoffs are more exciting. Look at the Cardinals’ miraculous run last season. They were 10.5 games out of the wild card on Aug. 24, and wound up catching fire.
They crept into the postseason on the last day of the year, then beat three teams with better records to win the World Series. It was an incredible season, one that couldn’t have happened without playoffs.
We have a tradition here of determining our champion with a playoff. It might not be the unprejudiced way of picking the best team, but it is the most fun. And isn’t that what sports are about?
It’s a fun time to be a baseball fan. We’ve got an exciting postseason full of drama.
Veteran Braves’ third baseman Chipper Jones called the one-game playoff dumb and unfair, saying that “anything can happen in one game.” Well, he’s right about one thing—anything can occur in one game. That is why it’s great.
Matt Bittle is a Sports Editor at The Review. Send questions, comments and a division pennant to email@example.com