If you’re Gordon Gekko greed is good.
If you’re Bernie Sanders greed is bad.
If you’re a baseball fan you wonder if MLB’s greed has a direct impact on winning the World Series.
Although none of us like to admit it Baseball is a business. But what happens when the desire to make a buck intrudes on the integrity of the game we all cherish? Case in point: The post-season.
I applaud MLB’s effort to prolong fan interest by adding first one wildcard, then a second. Stadiums that would be barren much of September are now filled as spectators cheer their team into a post-season berth. But as a longtime fan I feel October baseball is greatly lacking.
I became a fan in 1973 when making the playoffs meant something. It meant you were good, damn good. But that prestigious honor has lost its luster.
The addition of the Mets and Colt 45’s in 1962 brought the total of professional teams to 20. Two 10-team leagues. No playoffs. You won your league, became league champion and played in the World Series. 20 teams, just 2 made the post-season.1 out of 10.
Baseball expanded in 1969, adding the Padres, Royals, Expos and Pilots and launched divisional play. Two divisions per league with each division winner meeting in a best-of-5 to determine league champion and earn the right to appear in the Fall Classic. 24 teams, 4 made the playoffs. 1 out of 6.
The addition of the Blue Jays and Mariners in 1977 brought the total to 26 clubs. But the powers-that-be kept the format the same. 26 teams, 4 made the playoffs. 1 out of every 6 ½.
The message was clear and this is what separated Baseball from other sports where seemingly mediocre teams faced off in the playoffs, playoffs that went on and on and on and on. To make Baseball’s post-season, you had to fight for it. Mediocrity wasn’t rewarded.
After the cancellation of the World Series, and in an attempt to return fan interest, it was decided to have three divisions and one wildcard. This was immediately after baseball expanded into Denver and Miami. A few years later, clubs were added in Phoenix and Tampa. 30 teams, 8 made the playoffs. Almost 1 out every 4 were now in the post-season.
When the second wild-card slot came along a few years back that brought the total of teams eligible to 10. 10 out of 30. 1 in every 3 teams now make it.
The 21st worst team in Baseball has now ‘earned the right’ to possibly call themselves World Champions.
Or to look at it differently, in the last 22 years MLB added 4 teams while adding 6 post-season slots.
Granted, fans hand over cash in late September they normally wouldn’t and tune in when they’d usually be watching something different. Everyone makes a buck. Everyone’s happy. But should a team who plays just average baseball for 5 ½ long months be worthy of winning it all if they get hot at the right time?
Play solid baseball for 3 weeks in early May, no one notices. Play solid baseball for 3 weeks in October, you get a trophy.
I believe the question that begs to be asked is this: By adding so many levels to the post-season, does MLB’s greed have a direct bearing on who wins it all?
Baseball’s a streaky game. Superstars like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Buster Posey or Yoenis Cespedes can get hot, put the team on their back and carry them for a couple weeks. Clayton Kershaw can turn into Sandy Koufax for a month and go 5-1 with a 0.85. We’re all familiar with the expression ‘You can’t turn it on and off.’ Yet that’s what MLB now expects. In the post-season, a number 3 starter, for example, can conceivably go 10 days between taking the hill.
In 2010, the Rangers were clicking on all cylinders and defeated the Yankees in the LCS. They then had to sit around 5 days waiting for the NL to finish. Texas lost the World Series in 5.
The 2012 ALCS saw the hot-hitting Tigers crush the Yankees in 4 straight. They now waited 6 long days before facing the NL Champions. It was then Detroit who got swept by the Giants.
This past year saw the Mets stun the heavily favored Cubs, sweeping them in 4. The Mets had a 6 day layoff and when the World Series ended, the Mets lost in 5.
In the LDS, Daniel Murphy went 7-21 (.333), 810 slugging percentage with 3 HR’s and 5 RBI’s. In the LCS, Murphy stayed hot, going 9-17 (.529), slugging at 1.294 and hit 4 HR’s and knocked in 6 RBI’s in 4 games.
After almost a week layoff, Murphy went 3-20 in the World Series, (.150), a .150 slugging percentage. 0 HR’s 0 RBI’s.
When I was younger I’d make a point to watch every playoff game I could. I knew that not only was I seeing the best of the best, but also there weren’t too many games. The LCS was 3 out of 5, the Series 4 out of 7. At the most I could watch 17, just 10 if all rounds were sweeps.
With today’s format, the post-season will go, at the very least, 26 games. Perhaps as many as 43.
There’s no sense of urgency to watch a playoff game today because you can watch one tomorrow, or two or three or sometimes four tomorrow.
How many of you tuned in to non-Mets games last October? Maybe you watched an inning here and there, but did anyone watch the entire Rangers/Jays series? I’m guessing only a few.
Psychologists refer to Cognitive Dissonance as a disorder where an individual can hold two contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the exact same moment. I’m starting to wonder if the powers-that-be atop MLB’s food chain should seek out help.
For years now, owners and commissioners have looked into ways to alter the very fabric of the national pastime and speed up the game, to make the game shorter.
Meanwhile, as they look into speeding up pace of play, they continually make the season longer. Longer, and less meaningful.
On October 16, 1969, Davey Johnson flied out to Cleon Jones and the Mets won their first championship. On October 16, 2015, the Mets were still 24 hours away from the first game of the post-season. When Johnny Podres was the winning pitcher in game 7 for Brooklyn’s one and only title the date was October 4, 1955. Sixty years later, October 4, 2015, the regular season hadn’t even ended.
The 2015 post-season continued for nearly a full month, beginning on October 6 and running through November 1st.
Nothing will change anytime soon. Everyone’s making money and everyone’s happy. But is that what’s best for the game? There’s even been some scuttlebutt that some higher-ups were kicking around the idea of adding yet a third wild-card spot. Or expanding the one game wildcard to a best of 3 series.
The pinnacle of the season is always the World Series. It’s called the Fall Classic for a reason. It’s the mountaintop, the exclamation point on an arduous 162 games. It’s a chance for the 2 best teams to be showcased and battle it out for the world to see.
But has this also become anticlimactic?
The LCS, like the World Series, is 4 out of 7. One could almost argue that the LCS is a National League and American League World Series.
I feel that the wildcard should remain one game, the LDS 2 out of 3, the LCS 3 out of 5 and the World Series – the culmination and high point – remain 4 out of 7.
“Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools who run it.”
– Hall of Fame First Baseman Bill Terry