Every time Commission Selig talks about the possibility of expanding the number of teams that make it to the postseason he compares baseball to football, basketball and hockey. He does this to assure baseball fans that adding two more teams to the postseason roster is OK, because baseball would still have less teams playing than the other three sports. If you accept his assumption that the wild card was a good choice to begin with, then certainly what could be bad about adding more of a good thing.
Baseball is so different from the other three sports that no good comparision can be made. By accepting the premise that the wild card is good for baseball, the argument for adding more is just one in which the Commissioner is arguing with himself. By making the case for pennant races, we will make this a fair fight by putting another person into the ring.
The fact that the regular baseball season is twice as long as the season in hockey and baseball is the reason that any comparision between the sports is meaningless. Pennant races are superior to wild cards because they better represent the quality of play that occurs during baseball’s extra long regular season. When you give pennant losers any chance to resurrect their season by defeating pennant winners in the postseason, the integrity of the sport is seriously weakened. Having a 2nd place wild card team winning the championship is bad. Giving a potential 3rd place team the same opportunity would be even worse. Any talk of wild card teams needing a handicap in the postseason is an admission of the mockery that the wild card makes of the regular season division races. In a season as long as baseball’s, these teams don’t need a lesser chance at the World Series; they need to be given no chance at all by eliminating them entirely!
People are complaining that the baseball season is too long. If this is true it is because wild cards, and three divisions per league detracts from strong division rivalries and the pennant races they produce. Pennant races are higher quality, are more competitive and intense, than wild card. Adding other wild card team to the regular season mix will only weaken still the division races as teams realize they only need to win a wild card to have a chance at a championship. This will weaken the quality and competition of the regular season not only for contenders, but also for the fans of teams that are not in contention.
Baseball’s weak regular season is most evident during the month of September. The sport will never be able to compete with football in September and October until it produces a stronger national product. Pennant race games throughout the season will develop fan interest in baseball’s best teams. This interest will increase when the races heat up in August and September. Instead of losing viewers as their teams drop out of contention, MLB will experience increased ratings as all baseball fans are attracted to the best baseball of the year. After season long races in September fan interest will carry into October as they will be ready to watch the best teams they have been following all season. Adding more wild cards and postseason rounds will only hurt baseball further. Pennant races in September are a much better leadin than extra rounds of playoff for the League Championships and World Series. By focusing on its best feature, attendance, ratings and revenues will increase and there will be no need for extra rounds of playoffs.
MLB needs to reject the false comparisions of baseball to other sports; and 8 vs. 10 postseason teams. By closely examining pennant races vs. wild cards they will be in a better position to decide the future structure of the sport when their media contract runs out in 2013. When this comparision is made it can be seen that between good and bad, pennant races are good for baseball and the wild card is not. In this light, adding more wild card teams and postseason rounds is only making a bad situation worse.