The Sporting News: THE SERIES, An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Postseason Showcase (1988) and THE WORLD SERIES: A Complete Pictorial History (1981) [From David Kramer’s (imperfectly preserved) collection]
Yesterday, reports surfaced that Major League Baseball is considering wide-ranging changes to its postseason format beginning in 2022:
- The playoffs would expand from 10 teams to 14, with three division winners and four wild-card teams in each league, up from the current two.
- The division winner with the best record in each league would receive a bye into the division round.
- The two other division winners and the wild-card teams would play in the first round. The division winner with the second-best record would choose its wild-card opponent, and then the division winner with the third-best record would choose its wild-card opponent. The wild-card team with the best record then would face the remaining team. These picks would be made on a televised “selection show” broadcast on the night of the regular season’s final game.
- The first-round series would be best-of-three, with all games taking place at the higher seed’s ballpark.
- The winners of the first-round series move on to the division round, with teams matched up based on their seed.
Reactions were swift and predictable:
Keep in mind, I am a purist. Eliminate the Wild Card Game, please, calls for the elimination of the second wild card and with it the Wild Card play-in-game. And now they want four wild cards per league.¹Baseball was better 45 year ago says baseball was better 45 years ago. And it was. The vast majority of my baseball card collection is from 1969 to 1984 when only 4 teams made the playoffs and the League Championship Series were a best-of-five. I am so outdated that my bathroom reading consists of two baseball books from 1981 and 1988. There, I’ve scanned and re-scanned every postseason box score from 1903 – 1987. I like shorter games.
But — heresy — could I like the new format?
Truth be told, I follow the baseball regular season less and less, mostly tuning in closely for the playoffs. My regular season rooting is mostly for the New York Yankees. Although not a YES cable subscriber, I can find enough Yankee games on ESPN, FOX and WHAM-Channel 13. I listen on the radio and follow in the sports pages — print subscription purist — of The New York Times.Even while lobbying to eliminate the second Wild Card, last September I joined the New York Mets bandwagon — via radio, MLB Gameday and the occasional Channel 13 broadcast — as the Amazin’s almost turned a late streak into a playoff berth — even if as the last seed.
So what’s to like? Next year the Yankees figure to be one of the top three teams in the American League, almost sure to make the playoffs. If the proposed format was in place, the home stretch would be much more meaningful; the Yankees driving for a the top seed, a first round bye and possibly home field advantage in the World Series. And those woeful Mets might — undeserved — sneak in.
Puristically, after a 162 regular season, a best-of-three series is an overly random way to determine winners. Nonetheless, the new opening round will be compressed drama. In the past, baseball used three game series to break regular season ties, all involving the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: in 1946 vs. the St. Louis Cardinals; in 1951 vs. the New York Giants; in 1959 vs. the Milwaukee Braves; in 1962 vs. the Francisco Giants. In 1951, the deciding game three is considered one of the most exciting in all baseball history.
For more punditry, I turned to Alex White, the Commissioner of Strat-o-Matic leagues played at Boldo’s Armory on Monroe Avenue. (See Opening Day, 1971, at Boldo’s Armory)
Alex was less against the proposal than expected: at one point throwing up his hands, saying, do we even know what a purist is anymore? Alex even found the idea of teams choosing their opponents to be “intellectually interesting.” He doesn’t mind the Cinderella story possibility that a number 14 seed could win the World Series.
Alex realizes once football season begins, fan interest in baseball — especially the regular season — noticeably wanes. So he’s not against schemes to boost baseball interest when competing with the NFL. But Alex doubts the new format will usher in a rebirth.² He also worries that inevitable rain outs or other postponements during the planned four day opening round burst would wreak scheduling havoc on the Divisional Series.
Ultimately, Alex was not particularly moved by the concept, citing a Strat-o-Matic experience:
Once when replaying the 1934 season, we experimented with 6 playoff teams rather than two like in 1934. There were no improvements. Nobody liked it and we haven’t done it since.
Ok. I might like the proposed format. For one season.
¹ Reader John Roche — one of those purists — writes: “Definitely an abomination!”
² Reader George Cassidy Payne writes:
As a purist, I found these proposed changes quite startling. I do think baseball needs to venture outside of the box or risk irrelevance. If the game remains the way it is seen on TV now, in 20-30 years it will become about as antiquated as foxhunting. According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average attention span of humans is 8.25 seconds. This number will only continue to dwindle.
ON THE WORLD SERIES