Call them wild card races. Call them division races. But what ever you do, don’t call them pennant races!
Pennant races happen when most, if not all, of a season is made up of games played between rivals for the same pennant. They go on until one team has won enough games to ensure that they will have won the most games when the regular season is over. Sometimes pennant races last until the last game of the regular season. And sometimes post-season play is necessary to crown a victor. Pennant races provide great competition between the best teams in the league or division. They are also accompanied by great intensity because only one team goes on, while all the rest go home.
Does this sound like what is going on now in the wild card league! If you compare what has been observed about pennant races above, the response must be a resounding, “NO!!”
The intensity and competition of a pennant race is sorely lacking. You can finish 2nd in the wild card league and still go on. As a matter of fact, it’s even worse than that. In the playoffs, not only can a team beat a team that finished !st, they can also beat the team that finished 1st in THEIR DIVISION! This second chance would never happen in a pennant race as the 2nd place team goes home! The 1st place team takes its rightful place as contender for the World Championship.
Furthermore, the intensity and competition of pennant races is achieved as only the two best teams in the league go on to the playoffs. With wild cards four teams per league go on. This leads to a focus on lesser quality teams. In September while the best teams prepare their rosters for the post-season, the wild card races feature the leagues’ 4th, 5th, 6th (and less) best teams. Wild cards also provides less intensity over the course of 162 game schedule and in September, when pennant races heat up to a dramatic climax.
Finally, the most important element of pennant races is lacking in the wild card league. This element is the season long competition that takes place between rivals for the same pennant. Before baseball expanded in 1969, and split each league into 2 divisions, every regular season game was played against rivals for the same pennant. Beginning in 1969 teams played 56% 0f their games against division rivals; and 44 % of its games against teams competing for the other division’s pennant. Currently, with 3 divisions, the wild card, and interleague play, those numbers have flipped. Teams play division rivals only 44% of the time; and play 56% of their games against non-division rivals. The numbers just don’t add up for what happens now to be called pennant races!
Teams that finish 2nd making the playoff, and beating pennant rivals in the post-season. Twice as many teams going on. Less competition and intensity. Less than 50 % of their games played against rivals for the same pennant. There are definitely wild card races. You can even make a weak case for calling them division races. But please! Just don’t call them pennat races!