November 16, 2010

Baseball doesn’t need to move forward, it needs to look back

Bud Selig is at it again, tinkering with the game based on some knee jerk reaction to an isolated incident.  He wants to add another wild card team to each league, forcing them to a one game play-in to round out the field.  This blogger over at The Ray Area hit the nail on the head — actually hit all the nails, because there are dozens of reasons — on why this is a stupid idea.

But that doesn’t mean that the postseason in baseball is perfect.  It can definitely be changed to be more fair, but that doesn’t mean expanding the postseason. It means eliminating the divisions.

Once upon a time, there was the American League, and there was the National League, and whoever won the regular season in each league won the pennant, and those winning teams met in the World Series.  They were not separated into division winners and wild cards because there were no divisions.  There wasn’t a tournament, there was just a World Series.

Starting in 1969, each league split teams into an East Division and a West Division, and the winners of each division met in the League Championship Series, and the winners of that series met in the World Series. It wasn’t until 1994 that we got to the “three divisions, three postseason rounds” structure that we have today.  Best of 5 in the League Division Series where the wild card team plays the best division winner, Best of 7 in the League Championship Series, Best of 7 in the World Series.

You hear a number of people complaining that the current structure isn’t fair because it’s too hard to make the postseason from a tough division.  The AL East is the problem child here because of the perceived competitive inequity between the Yankees/Red Sox and everyone else in the division.  “At least one of those teams will always be in the playoffs, so we paupers are fighting for the wild card every year!” they say (but not really, because no one talks like that). Or you’ll see one of the juggernauts point at other divisions and say “We’re in third place in the AL East but if we were in this other division, we’d be winning it!” Boston fans said this about Texas pretty much for the entire month of September.

What it boils down to is a perceived lack of fairness about who makes the postseason.  This is a valid argument and should be remedied.  But the remedy is not “make it easier to make the postseason.” That does nothing to correct the perceived unfairness, it just means that you’re expanding the unfair system.

Quick and dirty solution: Eliminate the divisions.  Eliminate inter-league play.  Force a balanced schedule.  Let the top 4 teams from each league go to the postseason.

Stop coddling teams and fan bases by only letting them fall to 5th place (or 4th or 6th, as the case may be).  Let the Pirates finish in 16th place a couple times — and print it in the newspaper every day (or on ESPN.com, since there are no newspapers) — and see what that does to the front office. 

Most importantly, increase the odds that the four best teams from each league are the ones who make the postseason.  Now that everyone in the American League has to play the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays, and EVERYONE ELSE an equal number of times, and now that the four teams with the best records make the playoffs, there isn’t a lot to cry foul over.  There were 162 games of equal competition.  If you miss the top four after that, you need to stop finger pointing and start navel gazing.

The interesting thing about this solution is that it makes the postseason more fair while leaving its structure completely intact — it’s the regular season that changes.  That’s what Bud needs to realize before it’s too late.  You cannot make the postseason more fair by keeping the same unfair system of selecting postseason teams.

  1. bendawson reblogged this from ihaveregrets and added:
    This. This. This. This. This.
  2. ironicallyearnest reblogged this from ihaveregrets and added:
    I’m with Matt.
  3. ihaveregrets posted this