On the day the Toronto Blue Jays unveiled their snazzy new version of their old logo, I thought I would check in on MLB’s announcement to move the Houston Astros over to the American League and add two additional wild card teams to the already bloated playoffs. With the change, 10 of MLB’s 30 teams will get to hang banners celebrating their trip to the postseason. Even if that trip is only for one day.
Once upon a time, the baseball season was a seven month endurance test to determine the best team. After 162 games, the two best teams in each league faced off to determine the league champion. The winners of that series played for the World Series title. Since only four teams made the dance, the World Series champs were certain to be one of the best teams that season.
After the 1994 strike, MLB’s priorities changed. Job one was revenue growth through bums in seats and eyeballs on tv screens. To achieve this they created new ways of creating fan interest. Interleague play spiced up the dog days of summer, while the expansion of the postseason from 4 to 8 teams gave more fans the chance to dream of winning it all.
The tradeoff was the sanctity of the regular season on two fronts. Interleague play resulted in widely varying schedules for teams within each league. Despite the inherent unfairness created, a wild card spot was created for the team with the best record that did not win their division.
Secondly, MLB turned the postseason into a crap shoot. The St. Louis Cardinals stand as proud proof (two times) that a mediocre team can win it all with one month of good play.
This week’s announcement to add two additional wild card spots further diminishes the importance of the regular season and further increases the chances of a bad team winning the World Series. MLB increases the fan interest in September and October at the expense of April through August.
While I think MLB has correctly identified what fans want (meaningful regular season and chance to win a trophy), I think they have gone about it in the wrong way. Though North American sports fans have long since accepted the concept of a crap shoot playoffs, there is a much better model that protects the integrity of the season while introducing different ways to keep fans involved.
I am referring to European football, which has a league schedule and a variety of year long cup contests. The English Premiership league has no playoffs at the end of the year. Best record in the regular season wins the title.
A lack of playoffs is of course too drastic for North American fans, myself included. For MLB, it sure would be nice to go back to two leagues, two divisions and only four playoff teams. Fortunately for MLB, I wrote a detailed proposal of some fundamental changes to the regular season that meet both their and the fans objectives.
A link to that proposal is here. In addition to the four team playoff, there would be two cup series for each team that would serve to keep fan interest throughout the season. The geographic nature of cups would take the best part of interleague play and eliminate all snoozer games like Arizona against Toronto. They would preserve the sanctity of the regular season and allow teams with no realistic shot at winning the World Series a chance to still hang a championship banner. As a Blue Jays fans, I would much rather have the team be Great Lakes Champions than sneak in as the second wild card every once in awhile.
Give my proposal a read and let me know your thoughts. How can MLB make its product better without watering it down?