|New Wild Card System Isn't a Good One||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 27, 2012
With just a week left in the season there is still plenty of drama in the playoff hunt. Admittedly the extra wild card one-game matchup is the only thing keeping the National League even vaguely interesting for this final week. I have to admit I’m not a fan.
Truth is that I’d rather the drama be just about wrapped up. Wild card games make sense in the NFL, in a game that’s played only once a week, but in baseball, it seems very out of place. It feels like it wipes out the balance of the 162 game season by making everything hinge not on overall team performance over a marathon season, but by throwing it to the wind, where everything can be determined, not by a series, but by the fickleness of a single game.
Photo by Barrel Man Sammy, used under creative commons license.
That’s just about the antithesis of what baseball has always been about. There is a reason baseball has never had a single game playoff system (except in the case of ties) -- and that’s not just about dollars and cents. If it was we’d probably still be playing a 9-game World Series as it was back in the infancy of the modern game.
It’s not to say that baseball couldn’t have chosen to have one game championships, but since it didn’t the concept of a one game anything -- save for the All-Star Game, which is a mere exhibition -- is against the game’s long standing tradition. Now breaking with tradition isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case I have to question if it preserves the balance and beauty of how the game and season work.
After all, anyone can have a bad day. In baseball great teams still lose roughly 40% of their games. Even the top aces occasionally don’t have their stuff. But the cream is supposed to rise to the top. That’s why championship series have always been five or seven games, to make a single bad day less meaningful and to give superior teams a chance to be superior.
When the playoffs were expanded initially to include a wild card team the concept was valid. After all in a three division league one team would need an opponent. The wild card was the next best record, which in an era of tight races among teams who regularly won 90-100 games added to the excitement.
Yet the second wild card and the wild card single playoff game are diluting the excitement. Just take a look at the National League race for the second wild card. Even this late in the season there are teams who are just a few games better than .500 and even one under .500 that are still in contention.
Sure it might be great if your hometown 9 are still in that race, but honestly teams a game or two above .500 don’t really deserve to be in the mix. Of course if it works, it will no doubt spur Bud Selig to open the playoffs to even more teams until baseball’s playoff system resembles the NHL, where more than 50 percent of the teams get into the playoffs.
Of course the NHL would never do something as boneheaded as have a single game wild card.