Do you not feel shame, Major League Baseball? Do you not feel the hot tears of embarrassment and grief streaming down your rosy cheeks in the way you have so callously murdered baseball’s 2012 season by adding a second Wild Card team to each league? Jeff Passan thinks you should,
It is the middle of September, and baseball is celebrating a pair of teams [Philadelphia and Milwaukee] that have clawed their way back to around .500. Their refusal to fold is laudable, certainly, and their re-admittance to the wild-card shuffle should invigorate fan bases that were ruing September. And that’s about the only positive thing baseball gets from this watered-down race that rewards the pedestrian and manufactures and force-feeds drama where it need not be…. The number of deeply flawed and disappointing teams nonetheless in the playoff hunt is disheartening. Contention and bad baseball are not supposed to mix in September.
Passan goes on to talk about 9 franchises that he identifies as still being “legitimate” contenders for the postseason (including the 71-76 San Diego Padres, who sit six games out with six teams in front of them with 15 games to play, truly stretching the definition of “contender” past any and all reasonable measure).
Good god, spare us your moralizing, Jeff. “Shameful?” Baseball is not a great moral undertaking. It’s a game and a business that provides entertainment to millions and millions of North Americans. Shameful? I suppose if your goal is to shut down interest in baseball’s postseason chase for a better part of a month in those nine cities, and cede the fall to football for a month, that would be a disappointment. But I cannot see how it’s at all shameful that fans have a reason to keep talking about their teams and buying tickets for games deep into September.
I sympathize with the notion that baseball is watering down the postseason and making it possible for a worse team to win the World Series. I mean, I like to see excellence rewarded too. I like it, in an abstract philosophical sense, when the best teams win.
That said, my highly principled stand in favor of the great and powerful being allowed to steamroll their weaker counterparts reaches a hasty conclusion when I watch the actual games and start rooting for my own favorite team and players. Or when I start instinctively rooting for the underdogs, or for getting to watch historically great performances, or…whatever. You know, there are a million different awesome reasons to watch the postseason, and frankly, I think the most depressing one would be tuning in “to watch the best team win.”
But, you know, even if you want that best team to win, division winners get the added benefit of extra rest and getting to face a tired Wild Card recipient in the first round. So it’s not like MLB has unduly burdened the successful in their effort to promote competition and excitement among the former also-rans.
Without the second Wild Card, the following teams would simply be making tee times in preparation for the end of the season in two weeks: the Cardinals, Dodgers, Brewers, Pirates, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Angels, and Rays. That’s eight teams in contention that otherwise wouldn’t be. Eight teams giving fans a reason to come out to the ballpark and to play out each September contest like it’s a must win game. Eight teams taking part of September away from football. Why the hell shouldn’t baseball give hope to the hopeless and muscle in on some market share, especially when so much of baseball’s financial success is driven by local revenues?
The worst part, to me, is that all this outrage Passan, and others like him, have stored up about this supposed affront to baseball history doesn’t even matter. No one is particularly aggrieved that the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1987 despite being outscored in the regular season.
Heck, we aren’t even up in arms about the Cardinals’ wins in 2006 and 2011. No one is even going to care what the World Series winner’s regular season record was a year from now. The only reason this puts us out at all is that we have to explain to dummies that winning the World Series doesn’t inherently make their favorite team the best in baseball. That we have to explain luck, and small sample sizes, and the basic randomness of the universe to them. Which is really, as semi-enlightened baseball fans, is what we’re supposed to be doing anyway.
And in the meantime, we have all this “manufactured” and “force-fed” drama to keep us entertained. This is the same drama that was manufactured out of the ether in 1903 when the American and National Leagues decided to play a World Series. It’s the same drama that was force-fed to you in 1969, when the leagues each split into two divisions. And it’s identical to the drama crammed down your throat in 1994 when the league introduced the Wild Card, which has been one of the most wildly successful innovations in modern baseball history.
It’s like going through DisneyWorld’s Haunted Mansion with some jackass 13 year old who keeps pointing out all the ghosts are fake. Dude, just shut up and enjoy the ride. Stop trying to make it miserable for all the other families who are just trying to have fun, you joyless curmudgeon. Our vacation will be over soon enough and we’ll be facing a long winter of baseball-less drudgery. Stop trying to make life miserable.