The question then becomes how long a wild-card series should be. Costas predicted the adoption of a one-and-done playoff over a three-game series because that would be television’s preference — ensuring two games every season modeled on the storied playoff game of 1978 (Yankees-Red Sox) as opposed to the three-game version of 1951 (Giants-Dodgers).
“Here’s the difference,” Costas said. “Those games came after 162 games and were the result of a dead heat. They were not contrived like these would be.”
A best-of-three series would also require the survivor to extend its pitching staff by having to play at least twice, thereby making it that much more challenging for a wild-card team to win the World Series. Under those terms, this weekend’s series in Boston would be well worth the hype.
It sure sounds like Major League Baseball’s going to add a second Wild Card, so this feels a bit like tilting at windmills now. Plus I should add that even as a teenager I disliked the idea of a grand change to baseball’s playoff system in 1994. For all my pretense toward open-mindedness, I’m pretty stodgy at heart.
But indulge me. Say for the sake of argument that there were a second Wild Card and a one-game playoff in 2011, and season ended with the teams in the exact positions they are right now.
In the American League, the Yankees would be rewarded for being eight games better than the Angels over a 162-game season by having to beat the Angels in a one- or three-game series. Nevermind that the Yankees play in the toughest division in baseball and are seven games better than the AL West-leading Rangers and 9.5 up on the AL Central-leading Tigers, it doesn’t seem at all fair to force them to assert their dominance over the Angels in a short series (or single game!) that could easily be decided by randomness when they’ve already shown it over the much larger sample.
Granted, since the start of divisional play there are tons of examples where teams with better records have been excluded from the playoffs in favor of those that managed only to be better than the dreck in their division, plus it’s not like a full seven-game series is enough to show for sure that one team is superior to another.
And I guess the most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s not really about fairness. Not to sound cynical, but presumably Bud Selig has at his disposal an army of accountants showing the ways in which adding a Wild Card would be financially best for the teams and the game.
This is happening whether I like it or not, so I suppose it’s time I get used to the idea. I imagine in time there’ll be seasons made more exciting by the change and seasons made less exciting, it’ll all balance out and eventually I’ll just accept it as the way it is instead of focusing so much on the way it once was.