by John Furgele
Change is hard and most people resist it. But, there is another saying, “change or die.” And, that is the operable word for baseball as they move forward. Baseball will enjoy some attention now that the playoffs are here, something that doesn’t happen much during the season. Football has taken over in America. It dominates the talk 365 days per year. From arrests, deflate gate and poor officiating; it rules the sports landscape with an iron fist despite the fact that the games are boring, poorly played and nondescript.
The Wild Card games just concluded with the road teams—Chicago and Houston—prevailing over Pittsburgh and New York. The results were not surprising because both road teams had the dominant pitcher and in baseball, it’s all about pitching. That is the underlying problem with the one game playoff to see who gets into Division Series play.
Baseball is sport comprised of series. During its 162 game season, teams play two, three or four game series. Then, the season ends and the four and five seeds engage in a one game playoff. That just doesn’t make sense. A team plays 162 games, qualifies for the playoffs and then has a one game showdown to see who advances? The worst team can beat the best team in a one game playoff, yet the 98 win Pirates had to take on the 97 win Cubs to advance to Division Series play against the Cardinals. Does that really makes sense? Sure, the drama of a winner-take-all is exciting, but that’s not how baseball is built. Never has been. What can be done to make the playoff experience more compelling?
Expand. Baseball needs to have an even number of teams in each league, so there doesn’t have to be interleague play each day of the regular season. By condensing interleague play, teams can make accommodations when they play in the other league’s park. American League teams can call up the extra pitcher for NL park games while National League teams can add the extra bat when they play in an AL park.
Eliminate Divisions. This is not a misprint. It’s 2015, divisions are so passé it’s no longer funny. Does winning a division really mean anything anymore? In today’s sports, it’s all about winning or at least playing for the championship. The San Francisco Giants didn’t win their division in 2014, but they won the World Series; in 20 years, are people going to remember that they didn’t win their division? The Florida Marlins have two World Series championships and zero division titles. Divisional play is no longer an essential ingredient of sports today.
Once divisions are eliminated, baseball can establish the table format. Line the teams up 1-16 with teams playing each other 10 times. That equals 150 games with 12 interleague games. There are some that want MLB to reduce the schedule to 154 games, but that isn’t going to happen. Why would a team play 77 home games, when they can play 81? Every time I hear talk of reducing the schedule, I cringe because it’s nothing more than reactionary thinking.
Four or Six: Right now, five teams from each league make the playoffs and that just isn’t right. Baseball needs to decide whether to take four teams from each league or six? With six, the top two seeds would get a bye while 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 in a best-of-3 series. After that the four remaining teams in each league would play best-of-7s in both the Division Series and League Championship Series. There really is no place for a best-of-5 series. The NHL and NBA got rid of these a long time ago and it’s time for baseball to do the same. My personal choice is to take the top four, but the playoffs are where the attention—and money—is so one couldn’t blame baseball for taking more teams. It does keep more cities interested in baseball and that’s never a bad thing.
Having a table it makes things fair. When the New York Yankees and Houston Astros are competing for a playoff spot, it makes no sense for the Yankees to play the Red Sox 19 times and the Astros only 6. Give each team 10 cracks at each other. If the Cubs and Mets are competing for seeding, it needs to be fair. Think about it, the Pirates and Cubs won 98 and 97 games respectively and had to play a one game playoff while the 92 win Dodgers and 90 win Mets had a “bye” into the Division Series. The NFL does this too and believes there is integrity when the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers get to host the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals in a Wild Card game. There is no merit or integrity in this at all. The NFL should also rid itself of divisions, but that’s another column.
Divisional play didn’t enter the landscape in baseball until 1969. Back then, there were east and west divisions in each league. Prior to 1969, there were eight or 10 teams in each league and only the league winners were rewarded with a direct trip to the World Series. Take the best teams, play an even schedule and make sure the best teams get the chance to win a championship. Why is this so hard?
In 1980, the Yankees were the AL East champion with a 103-59 record. The Baltimore Orioles finished second to New York with a 100-62 record while the Kansas City Royals won the West with a record of 97-65. Sure, the Royals were an excellent team, but the Orioles had nothing to show for winning 100 games.
In 1993, the Atlanta Braves won the NL West at 104-58, edging out the 103-59 Giants. The Braves played the 97-65 Phillies in the NLCS. Had there been a table with the top four teams making the playoffs, the seeds would have looked like this:
San Francisco 103-59
The Braves reward would be to play the worst qualifying team, the Expos, while the Giants and Phillies would have squared off in the 2-3 series. But, for some reason, winning the division was more important than winning more games. I’ve never considered myself a bright man, but I don’t think I’m stupid either. It’s 2015 and it is time for all of us to get new parts for our head. The time is right for sports to make some radical changes. Remember when the microwave came out? There were those who refused to use it, but eventually they came around. Remember the flip-phone? The problem with sports leagues is that they often cater to the oven and flip-phone people, while the young, tech-savvy people ignore their product.
The one game Wild Card started in 2012 and many are calling for it to be a best-of-3 series. Of course, baseball trots out excuse after excuse to not change it, citing things like letting it breathe, the drama, exciting television and so on and so forth. This is an example of being behind the times. The time to move was yesterday, yet baseball—and other sports—prefer to be stuck in the mud.
Yes, I’m crazy, sometimes, when I’m alone I plot out college football realignment, as well as creating a third Triple A baseball league, but I do believe there are others like me who don’t understand why the 90 win Mets haven’t started the playoffs while the 98 win Pirates are already home for the winter. But, as long as it makes sense to MLB officials, I guess I’m wrong.