Expanding MLB Playoffs: Good Idea or Another Bad Bud Selig Move?

Here’s the latest guest post from Doug Bird, a regular Sunday contributor here.


Many people are aware of my opinion of the job baseball commissioner Bud Selig has done during his tenure but for this article I will put aside those opinions and take an objective look at the proposal, discussing the pros and cons as I see them. The feeling is that this will happen despite any negative views one might have and as I am in a positive mood this week I thought I would put pen to paper and take a good hard look at might happen.

The proposal to add two more teams to the playoffs, (one in each league), seems to be scheduled to begin for the 2012 season.   It’s only a proposal and the speculation at this point of when and how many teams is  There have been seasons previous in which a team finishing second has a better won-lost record than any of the other division winners yet fails to make the playoffs. These teams have been unfairly eliminated from playoff contention through no fault of their own, clearly deserving of a post season berth based on their talent and success.  Save for the introduction of the wild card, the American League East with its three powerful teams, would have seen the elimination of two of them on a regular basis, despite their better than average records.

The addition of a wild card team in each league has been very successful from a competitive viewpoint with fewer teams seeing their playoff hopes all but finished by the end of April each season.  The wild card has also given hope to teams who play in a division whereby one team gets off to a terrific start and finds itself with an almost insurmountable division lead by the all star break.  Fans in the majority of major league baseball cities are able to read about, listen to and watch crucial games well into September.  This has been very beneficial for attendance figures, marketing strategies, sales of merchandise and keeping the focus on baseball after the start of seasons by other major sports.

The wild card keeps more players and playing better as they are involved in crucial games much longer into the season. Even professionals with all their ability and pride of game can have difficulty focusing intently on games which are long past meaning anything other than the padding of personal statistics.  Despite what many of us believe, baseball players are only human and humans need to be focused properly and have a goal to perform at the optimum of their abilities.

The cons of the current wild card and the possibility of adding more teams to the playoff picture is one of the watering down of major league talent and the corporate motivations behind the expansion. Pre-wild card, a team with a barely above .500 record was unlikely to qualify for the post season. Certainly it did happen but only rarely and this team was usually quickly eliminated from further advancing. The strong survived and the weak were vanquished, a natural and logical occurrence.  There were no safeguards to prevent this from happening nor should there have been. This, as someone once said, is why we play the game.

The wild card has allowed this to occur much more frequently than in the past, with a season of 83-85 wins– barely over .500– allowing for the real possibility of these weaker teams becoming World Series champions.   There is no advantage gained by finishing first, aside from home field advantage which isn’t important in my opinion. As  the other major sports have shown for many seasons, the incentive to field a highly-talented  team and spend the dollars to acquire good players becomes less and less as more playoff teams are added. Business logic certainly dictates the philosophy: Why spend money if you don’t have to? As a greater number of teams realize this, more and more teams will attempt to present a group of players with only one or two stars amongst them backed up by the necessary warm bodies to fill the other positions. The owners will make more money while spending far less as the revenue generated from an expanded season will sell more television and radio time and fill stadiums well into late October. Any additional playoff teams will only serve the owners and fill their pockets.

I am neither in favor of the wild card nor an expansion of this system. Individual division standings become far less important with teams competing with other teams outside of their division as the season progresses. I am not in favor of this proposal but I am learning to live with those in charge. Baseball is still the best game there is and nothing will change that.


Email Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

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