Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yay, Nobody!

Major League Baseball announced today that two more wild cards are being added, such that 10 of the 30 teams will make the postseason. Mediocre folks should be very pleased at the thought of increasingly rewarding mediocrity, but that’s beside the point. You know, from 1903 through 1968, people were perfectly okay with only one team from each league reaching the postseason. True, I prefer rewarding more than just two teams for having outstanding seasons, but any system MLB uses will have its detractors. For instance, I don’t like wild cards, period, because palpably second-place teams get to make the postseason. Having just division winners make the playoffs at least presents the appearance of only first-place teams battling for a championship. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that the introduction of wild-card berths has made the pennant races more exciting, or at least agonizing.

During at least one Giants radio broadcast this past season, announcers Jon Miller and Dave Flemming discussed the proposal of adding a second wild-card team to each league, with a single-game wild-card playoff. They seemed to feel that this would eliminate the current problem, which is that first-place teams don’t seem to be rewarded a whole lot for finishing first (except for home-field advantage against the wild card in the Division Series). They have a point: How many wild cards have reached (and won) the World Series since 1995? A lone wild-card playoff game in each league would, at least, eliminate one wild card team from the picture, while the other will have been “penalized” by having to play that grueling “extra” do-or-die game. (I hope that game will count only in postseason statistics, as opposed to the current system in which one-game playoffs are counted as regular-season contests.)

I’d still prefer each league to have four divisions with four teams each, but those who disagree feel that there’s too much of a chance that sub-.500 teams will reach the playoffs (or, worse, go all the way). But that’s what they said when the leagues split into two divisions in 1969, and it hasn’t happened yet. Under my four-by-four setup, only first-place teams would make the playoffs (except that you know MLB would add approximately one wild-card berth per division). Another option, which may be reasonable, is to just put the four best teams—regardless of divisions—into the playoffs (or add wild cards if you feel you must), such that if a division winner goes 79-83, almost certainly there’d be enough teams with better records to keep that team out of the postseason; they'd still get to be division champions, but better teams would make the postseason.

MLB announced yet another coup, namely that the Houston Astros will be moving to the American League for the 2013 season. Right now I’m picturing someone plopping a big glob of peanut butter on the carpet, then trying to clean it up with Windex and a paper napkin—smearing and smearing it, making things worse on the whole, but managing nevertheless to scoop up enough of the peanut butter to enable you to feel like something has been accomplished. The glob was the Brewers. The Astros are the Windex. Nobody is the napkin. Okay, maybe the ever-present threat of contraction is the napkin.

The reason the Brewers moved in the first place, ostensibly, is that before the 1998 season, MLB wanted to put the Diamondbacks in one league and the Devil Rays in the other, meaning that to have an even number of teams in each league, one existing team would be forced to switch leagues. This way, see, they wouldn’t have to schedule interleague games every single day.

But now, instead of moving the team that caused the trouble back to the league where they found it, MLB is displacing another team because of an apparent belief that the more frequent matchups between the two Texas teams will lead to nirvana. Oh, and did I mention the bit about the Astros’ move signifying that each league will have 15 teams, thus ensuring interleague games every single day?

The peanut butter analogy, now that I think about it, might be a less apt one than the amputation of the wrong limb, again and again. I’d love to believe that only MLB could remove the wrong leg twice from the same patient, but I think I’ll go ahead and not believe it.

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