In today’s Daily News, Bill Madden suggests that Major League Baseball add a second Wild Card, and then have the two Wild Card teams square off in a sudden-death playoff before the real playoffs begin.
What? No. No, no, no, no, no.
Madden says it would be “great theater.” That’s true. But you know what else would be great theater? Having every second-place team’s manager fight to the death in a steel-cage royal rumble to determine which squad makes the playoffs.
It just wouldn’t be fair, and it wouldn’t be baseball. (My money’s on Jim Leyland and his hickory-tough old-man strength, though.)
The current Wild Card system isn’t fair. That’s true. By having both a Wild Card and unbalanced schedules, the system occasionally rewards second-place teams in weaker divisions just for playing more games against crappy teams.
But part of what’s inherently awesome about baseball is that it provides teams an adequately long season in which to prove their dominance, and doesn’t permit too many teams to make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, lots of teams make the playoffs, so theoretically, any old gang of scrubs could get hot and take the title. In the NFL, with only a 16-game schedule, it’s entirely likely that some team could luck out and go 10-6 and make the playoffs while a significantly better team with a tougher schedule and some bad breaks could go 9-7 and miss out.
Madden argues that his system would make it more difficult for Wild Card teams to make the World Series, because, you know, the 95-67 Red Sox don’t deserve to make the World Series while the 87-76 Twins obviously do.
All Madden’s system would really do is throw one more team into the mix, and there’s no way it would make it any less likely that a Wild Card team — whichever one won the silly one-game playoff — would win the whole thing. Neither a one-game nor a seven-game series is long enough to determine which baseball team is really better, so once the playoffs start, there’s no way to be certain that the best team wins. That shouldn’t take away from the accomplishment, of course; luck is a big part of the game.
Basically, Madden’s major complaint is that the Wild Card “destroys” pennant races in each league every year, but that’s not really true at all. It happened to make the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry less interesting in 2009, which, I suppose, is terrible for New York- and Boston-based newspapers.
But the Wild Card race was really the only race that remained interesting in the National League in 2009, plus the existence of the Wild Card made the playoff races more interesting in 2008 and especially in 2007, when the NL had five teams in two divisions finish within two games of each other.
Adding a second Wild Card team to the playoff mix makes the entire regular season less important for the sake of one exciting game per league.
Madden finishes with his proposed slogan: “Sudden-death baseball. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
But it does. It’s called a 162-game season, after which the best teams are rewarded with postseason berths.