Possible Future: Weak Division Winners Will Miss Postseason

[Editor’s note: As a different picture may indicate, we’re trying something new around here. Starting today, regular contributors will have their own pictures. Today’s post is by Gerry Garte, who has been contributing articles every other Friday for the past couple of months.]

The following could be a story from the future.

Major League Baseball approved a policy this week that would require a division winner to finish at least one game over .500 in the regular season to advance to the division playoffs.

Should a division winner hold an 81-81 record or worse, that team would win the division, but would not be eligible to play in the postseason. To fill this vacancy, the league’s next best record would advance to the playoffs with a chance at the pennant.

Motivation for this rule quickly developed toward the end of this past season. Arizona had won in the NL West Division with a losing record of 80-82, while Houston, second in the NL Central Division, ended the season 90-72. Although the Astros were 10 games better than the Diamondbacks, their season was over. The D-Backs eventually lost in division play.

No team in Major League Baseball had ever won its division at .500 (81-81) or lower in a full, 162-game season, going back to when division play was established in 1969.

From 1969-93, each league was split into two divisions. The worst record by a division winner in a full season belonged to the 1973 Mets, who finished 82-79 (.509), not needing to make-up the final game.

After the leagues split into three divisions in 1994, the closest any division winner had previously come to a .500 record was the 2005 San Diego Padres, who finished 82-80 (.506).  The ’05 Padres’ season was my inspiration for this scenario.

As the past season ended, a mild uproar grew within the baseball community that an injustice had been done to the Astros. The D-backs understood. Many fervent fans and retired players supported a policy change.  It was well-covered by the media.  Union concerns in the matter were few and minor.

Many baseball people, including Hall of Famers, favored a winning record to a weak division winner. Their message was clear: only a winning record deserves a spot in the postseason.

Major League Baseball and its president, George Bailey, got the message.  The MLB rules committee of long-time baseball people offered their conclusion, as did and a separate executive panel. Eventually, it was determined that success would by measured only above the .500 standard. Mr. Bailey concurred, saying no one wanted a repeat of last season. The new policy is effective Jan 1.

Although a division winner with a .500 record or worse may not come along again for another 50 years, in the end, it appears that baseball set aside division history to embrace a higher standard.

We can dream.

3 Replies to “Possible Future: Weak Division Winners Will Miss Postseason”

  1. This exact scenario knocked me and my team out of Juco state playoffs in my playing days. We always played a very difficult non-conference schedule, and in this season it happened to coincide with an extremely cold start, thus we went 0-10 to start the season, ultimately going 1-10 in non-conference play. We ended up 16-20 and lost our automatic bid. Ouch. A tough pill to swallow when you only play 36 games, and when the schedules are extremely unbalanced.

    Makes a lot of sense for MLB though. Of course, if it doesn’t stand to make baseball more MONEY, it’s generally not something to even be considered.

  2. I find it interesting is that this would have probably already happened if not for the ‘cancelled season’ when the AL West was led by the Rangers at 52-62 when the season was ended. [Which still pisses me off]. Anyway, we’re also seeing this in the NFL this season as the NFC West has a good chance of being won by a team at 7-9 and I’ve read about a similar discussion about making at least 8-8 mandatory for the NFL play-offs.
    I haven’t thought about it much for either sport… but on surface it certainly sounds good to me.

  3. Anytime you have small divisions with large amounts of extra-divisional play, this becomes a potential problem. For the NFL, this is an easily solved problem (move to 4 eight-team divisions instead of having 8 four-team divisions). For MLB, it would be a bit trickier, since 30 teams are a bit more difficult to work with than 32. The three most logical scenarios would be 5×6, 6×5, or 7+7+8+8, but all would result in somewhat unbalanced schedules.

    The best realignment scenario I could come up with would be:

    SEA, SF, OAK, LA, ANA, SD, ARZ, COL (8 teams)
    HOU, TEX, STL, KC, CHC, CHW, MLW, MIN (8 teams)
    NYY, NYM, BOS, PHI, BLT, WSH, TOR (7 teams)
    DET, CLE, CIN, PIT, ATL, FLA, TB (7 teams)

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