There was a time when the team with the best record in its league qualified to play in the World Series. It was called winning the pennant.
Starting in 1969, the team with the best record in its division qualified for a best three of five playoff series against its league’s other division winner. This led to some interesting results.
In 1973, the National League Western Division champion Cincinnati Reds won 99 games. They played the Eastern Division Champion New York Mets, often referred to as New York’s most beloved team. The Mets won 82 regular season games.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants won more game in 1973 than the Mets. The Houston Astros matched the Mets’ 82 wins, but the Dodgers, Giants, and Astros didn’t qualify to play for the pennant.
The Mets beat the Reds to win the pennant and took the Oakland A’s to seven games in the World Series.
Starting in 1994, each league consisted of three divisions. The division winners and the second place team with the best record became the wild card. There were two rounds of playoffs.
The Florida Marlins (1997, 2003), the Anaheim Angels (2002), and the Boston Red Sox (2004) became World Champions after winning the wild card.
The regular season was compromised for money.
This week, former automobile salesman Al Selig, who is baseball commissioner, declared that in 2012, there will be the opportunity for a mediocre team to qualify for the playoffs by “winning” a second wild card slot.
Why is there going to be an additional wild card qualifier? I’ll tell you why in one word, which is, surprise, “money.”
More playoff games, regardless of the level of play, means more money, both in tickets that can be sold and in television revenues. Adding an additional playoff round benefits the owners and some of their employees. It does not benefit the fans who must endure November weather conditions at the ball park.
Excellence is becoming an illusion. The truth is getting harder and harder to find.
One baseball executive, in a moment of what might have been weakness, told a baseball writer “As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success, I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”
The executive continued, making an appealing point, especially to those individuals who play the lotteries.
“If you’re a fan, you don’t want your team to have a 6 or 7 percent better chance at making the playoffs? You don’t want to see games in October in your home stadium? You don’t want that?”
One baseball owner came right to the point. Our ideas aren’t as much what’s right for the sport as what’s right for revenues.”
In 2010, the Boston Red Sox, a team that won 89 games, would have been the second wild card. There would have been another playoff series between New York’s other team and the Red Sox.
In the National League, the San Diego Padres, who led the San Francisco Giants by six and one-half games at the end of play of Aug. 25 and then lost 10 consecutive games, would have been the second wild team.
In 2010, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi was more concerned with preparing for the playoffs than winning the division since the Yankees were assured of the wild card. It would be quite different if there had been a second wild card.
The Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays each have 95 wins. One will win the division, while one will be the first wild card.
The Red Sox have won 90 games and will be a wild card.
The Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers have each won their divisions with 90 victories. Now for the fun.
Neither the Yankees nor the Rays wants to be the first wild card because it means they would have to play the Red Sox in a best two of three series. As former Mets’ manager Joe Torre used to say, a best three of five series is a crapshoot. A best of three series is much worse.
The Yankees and Rays would be involved in a battle to win the division while the wild card Red Sox and division-winning Twins and Rangers could prepare for the playoffs.
The positive aspect is that there would be a real race to win the division, but the downside of penalizing the better teams, the Yankees and Rays, outweighs that.
There is no way to prevent a second wild team being added in 2012. The owners and the television executives run the game, not the fans.
It will be a rarity when baseball’s best team wins the World Series.
Real Reason for Expanded Playoffs