Thursday, April 22, 2010

Smaller Playoffs, Baseball Edition

Here's Joe Sheehan making a sharp point about MLB avoiding the temptation to imitate the NFL:

For too long now, MLB has tried to be like the NFL, emphasizing the postseason at the expense of the regular season while embracing the idea that every team should be competitive every year. It was a ridiculous notion in 1994, when MLB realigned and foisted a new round of postseason play on us, and it's a ridiculous notion now. MLB has raised a generation of fans who don't appreciate the idea of September, of a long, drawn-out pennant race in which there can be just one winner, who don't understand that sometimes a great team can fall short of the postseason or even be eliminated in it, without changing its greatness. The game has pandered to the modern idea that what matters isn't the 26 miles you run at a steady pace, but the 300-meter sprint to the finish.

The Braves fan in me who had to listen to endless "Buffalo Bills of baseball!" jibes after the local baseball collective would regularly have the best record in the NL and then lose to some annoying wild card entrant in a short series was nodding furiously at that argument. I like the idea of American sports being different, rather than each game having the same regular season/postseason structure. If I were king, I'd follow Sheehan's lead and re-do baseball like this.

20 teams in MLB, divided into a ten-team NL and a ten-team AL.

No interleague play. Each team plays each other team in its league 18 times.

League winners play each other in the World Series. Winning the NL or AL pennant is a big deal in and of itself.

Bottom two teams in each league are relegated at the end of the season to the 20 team league below the AL and NL. (I can't decide how to mesh the concept of a farm system with a European-style relegation set-up where there is a ladder of divisions. By expanding MLB to 40 teams and setting up two divisions, we prevent teams from having their farm teams in the top division, which would be a little awkward when players get called up.)

In other words, college football, but with a much bigger sample size. Added benefits:

1. No more Yankees-Red Sox postseason games. Instead, their interminable four-hour games in the regular season will actually mean something.

2. Bob Costas has a sexy time explosion that baseball has gone back to its roots with no playoffs other than the World Series, not to mention the end of interleague play.

3. Possible redux of the Braves-Giants pennant race of 1993, only without the indignity of the winner having to play the lard-ass Phillies for the right to win the NL.

4. Perennially mismanaged teams like the Pirates get their just desserts.

The one issue that I struggle with: I'd like to create the equivalent of the race for Champions League spots in Europe. Part of what's cool about the big footie leagues is that there are races for first, the top four, the top six, and avoiding relegation. Unfortunately, there is no Champions League equivalent for baseball.


Caelus said...

Sorry, my friend, but I have to disagree with you here. Eliminate the wild card option would turn September into a snooze fest in the numerous cases where one team dominates a league. The wild card adds hope and fan interest for 4-5 teams every year and makes their games important. Too often does the wild card team beat the league winner? Tough doughnuts (I dont think I can swear here).

But I do favor expanding the initial post-season series to a full seven games.

Anonymous said...

1) Inter-league play has been a wild, almost unfathomable success. The playoff atmosphere and incredible intensity of the intra-city series (especially Chicago, and even the Ohio Cup) drastically outweighs whatever detriments accompany Atlanta-Texas matchups. Better solution; give the playoff teams with superior records larger advantages in the postseason (one thought: give the team with the best record in the regular season "pure home field advantage," where they play every single playoff game at home).

I don't know why Buffalo or Atlanta fans care about those types of taunts. Both teams were very entertaining and successful in their primes; what more could a pro-sports fan ask for?

chg said...

Anon, I honestly don't follow MLB enough to know for certain, but it seems as if the sport has lost ground to the other major sports since the introduction of inter-league play.

It could be a coincidental decline, but I personally stopped caring about baseball largely due to the sport's disregard for it's history as represented by inter-league play and wild card teams. It's tough to measure reasons for apathy, but I'm sure there are others that feel the same. It's possible that MLB is getting better ballpark attendance for the high profile inter-league series at the cost of lower overall attendance and ratings.

As Yogi said, "If people don't want to come to the ballpark how are you going to stop them?"