Thursday, November 17, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Leave it to the Astros to go and screw everything up. I'm not sure exactly HOW it happened, but the new owner of the Astros (Jim Crane) got Bud Selig and Major League baseball to sign-off on moving the team to the American League as part of his deal to buy the team. In addition to the Astros' move from the NL Central to the AL West, MLB will be adding a second wild-card team to each league and will, most likely, implement a one-game playoff between the two wild card teams in each league (a play-in game, if you will). Oh, and because each league now contains the same odd amount of teams (15), 'Inter-league Play' will now be a regular, every-day part of the baseball schedule.

My first reaction to these changes is all negative. Wasn't this past season's September and October evidence enough that what baseball has/had is working? You had two teams make the playoffs on the very final day of the regular season, you had several compelling and interesting playoff series and you had a 7-game World Series for the 2nd consecutive year. I know it's not like this every year, but even in recent memory there has been plenty of similarly exciting stuff happening at the end of the season (back-to-back Game 163s in 2008 and 2009 for the Twins comes immediately to mind). I can't help but feel that one change in particular hasn't been purely media motivated, and the change I'm referring to is the addition of a second wild-card in each league.

For years now, the Eastcoast Sports Programming Network (ESPN) talking heads have been bitching about the fact that there are three playoff-worthy teams in the AL East and only two of them can make it into the post-season. Other lesser AL East teams like the Orioles and Jays have publicly stated that they don't feel they can realistically compete with the payrolls in their own division and thus cannot field teams that can compete for precious few playoff spots. In swoops Bud Selig to save the day! Make no mistake, these moves are motivated PURELY by revenue opportunities...not for the betterment of the game of baseball. The game is fine the way it is/was.

My second reaction to this news was more rational. It's going to happen, might as well accept it. I do like it in one aspect and one aspect alone. I feel as though the wild-card teams should have a disadvantage of some sort. They didn't win a division and not having home-field advantage is not disadvantage enough. If you have a one-game playoff between the two wild-card teams, then each wild-card team will likely (but not necessarily) be forced to use their respective aces...this will give them a distinct disadvantage, especially in the first round of the playoffs where the series' are only a maximum of 5 games in length. I actually like the change from that perspective, but from every other perspective I think it is a needless change.

I also an idea for one further change MLB might as well make to go along with all of the other changes they're talking about. Do away with the Designated Hitter OR do away with pitchers hitting in the National League. Now that you're going to have year-round Interleague Play, why play with two sets of rules? Year-round Interleague Play is already going to further disrupt the precious idea of a "balanced schedule" so why compound the problem by continuing to hold on to separate rules in each league? DH's are already worthless for 10 games of the season as things currently stand and now they're adding several Interleague games to every team's schedule...

Like I said earlier, all of these changes are motivated purely by revenue - I just wish that Bud Selig and MLB would come clean about it. To say that these changes will "improve the game of baseball" is like slapping every baseball fan in the face. We all know how great baseball has been over the past few months. Nobody even once broached the subject of adding extra wild-card teams to the mix until the Tampa Bay Rays started winning...and adding another wild doesn't even guarantee extra drama. As Bill from The Platoon Advantage pointed out on Twitter (@Bill_TPA), the two sudden-death wild-card teams in the American League in 2001 would have been the Oakland Athletics (102-60) and the Minnesota Twins (85-77) - hardly would have seemed fair to make the A's play a one-game playoff...


  1. I'm not sure I've ever agreed with anything Bud Selig has done as Commissioner... until now. I'm actually all in favor of the changes. I love the one-game play in for two WC teams in each league.

    It doesn't require extending the playoffs any longer than a game 163 does (unless there's also a game 163 needed to break a tie), it means there's actually incentive to WIN YOUR DIVISION instead of coasting once you have a WC spot locked up so you can set your rotation, but most of all it means that we are guaranteed AT LEAST TWO "deciding games" every year.

    This postseason was great, ending in a "deciding game" 7 of the WS, but how often does that happen? There are years when none of the playoff series have a dramatic "deciding game".

    The "win or go home" game163 between the Twins and Tigers a couple years ago was the most dramatic game I've ever attended. Now there will be at least two games with the same stakes on the line every season.

    As for the Astros moving to the AL, I'm indifferent... but just for the record, it wasn't their new owner that convinced Bud to let his team move to the AL. Just the opposite, he didn't want to but it became a condition of allowing the purchase to go through. He got the team at a discounted price in return for allowing the switch.

  2. Jim, thanks for the comment and for the clarification about how this all happened (I read more and saw that Crane got a $70M "discount" in exchange for a move to the AL).

    I like your take on the changes, I'm not sure I agree but it will be interesting to see how things play out. I'm not crazy about year-round Interleague play and I'm also a bit insulted that these changes were pushed on the premise that it will "make the game better". Let's call it what it is: a revenue generator.