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.

Comments (6)

  1. Good article. And Jeff Passan ignores the point the the wildcard is truly a lot ‘wilder’ than it used to be. It was a genuine ticket to the postseason, now it comes with many strings attached. As ‘postseasons’ go, a one game coin-toss is a mixed blessing. I certainly hope that the wildcard playoff remains a one game affair for that reason.

    The good teams are havily rewarded in a way that they have not been for the last decade. The purists should be all over that.

  2. “No one is particularly aggrieved that the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1987 despite being outscored in the regular season.” Except for every Blue Jays, Tigers, and Cardinals fan old enough to remember 1987. I think there are at least 19 of us.

    Seriously, though, there have been phases: I remember the “American League Least” and the “American League Rest”. Even with 6 or 7 teams in each division, we’d go through cycles of laughably bad teams making the playoffs, but they were cycles. Only 8 teams won an AL division with under 90 wins between 1970 and 1993 (excluding 1981). Only a labor dispute stopped the 1994 Rangers from taking the AL West with 70-some wins. So 8 of 46 playoff teams in that era weren’t particularly strong. One questionable playoff team every 5 years in the AL. (I imagine the NL would be similar.) What do we really benefit with questionable playoff teams every damn year?! Manufactured drama straight out of the American Idol playbook.

    As dramatic as 1989 was for the AL East, the severe imbalance in the divisions wiped all that away in 4 quick games. Who wants to see that happen every year?

    When deserving teams are denied their championship, it creates genuine tension and excitement that builds to orgamsic release when they finally win it all. When undeserving teams win championships, it cheapens the idea of the championship. For that, we have the Olympics and other short tournaments of its ilk.

    • But the wildcard is no more illogical than the ALCS, or even the World Series itself. The essence of the playoffs is artificially allowing less good teams a second chance.

      Go back to before 1969. If a National League team had won 100, and the American League team 85, wasn’t it unfair to make the NL team play the weaker AL team when they were already clearly better?

      Or why should a 1970s Yankees team (say) with 100 wins play off against the Oakland A’s with only 80, just because they happen to be on different coasts?

      Any form of knockout competition which is not simply a total number of wins compared with wins is inherently unfair, because it gives weaker teams a second chance. The playoffs are fixed to make the strong teams beat the weak teams a second time, but in a much shorter format than the season, but they always have been. We do it because it’s fun.

      The much greater injustice is forcing teams to play an unfair schedule over the entire season, rather than gettting all teams to play the same games against each other. But nobody of influence seems to be calling for a balanced schedule.

  3. As much as I love the game of baseball, I grew up watching English soccer and much prefer the way things are decided there. We have a league, and we have knock-out cup competitions. Nobody gets confused that the winner of the FA Cup is necessarily the best team in English football. It’s a knockout competition. A shitty team can play out of their skins on a day when Arsenal, Man Utd, etc. have a bad day. The champions of the Premier League, over the course of a 38-game season, playing each team home and away, ARE the best team in the country. Baseball lacks a recognition of that, which is utterly idiotic considering the length of the season.

    • Well put. While the author is right that complaining about this is stupid, I’m not sure that adding to the playoff drama is a great way to make the sport more attractive. I’d love to see something similar to the soccer model, where even the Astros could win a knock-out tournament, but where the best team in baseball over 162 games is recognized for being the best and most consistent. Conceptually separate the playoffs from the regular season and this whole debate goes away.

  4. I’m for restoring integrity to the regular baseball season. My idea: a team that wins 100 games gets an automatic World Series berth with no playoffs. If an NL team reaches the century mark and an AL team does not, then the NL team rests while the AL goes through its playoff ritual. This way, a 100-win team is rewarded for winning the marathon without having to do the full out sprint that really determines the champion and risk being knocked out by an inferior opponent.

    Now there will be some drama, especially when a team with 95 wins with 6 to play will scratch and claw to win those last five, while there will be enormous pressure on their opponents to stop that team, especially if that opponent has its own playoff berth at stake. At at the beginning of the season in April, every team will know what’s at stake and will be shooting for 100.

    I know my format has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming reality due to the TV money MLB gets from its now watered down playoffs, but an old school fan can dream, right?

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