It's been a busy week in the commissioner's office. One day, Selig is commandeering control of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The next, he lets us all know that the MLB playoffs will probably expand next year.
I wanted to write a full post just about the Dodgers, but this week at work was too long. I've wanted to dig into their ownership disaster for a while, and I still might. For now, I'll just say that it is stunning to take a step back and think about. The Dodgers, a name brand in the Los Angeles market, are struggling to make ends meet. Why? Because their owners are that greedy, and that interested in screwing the other over in their ugly divorce hearings.
Part of me wonders how MLB owners did not notice what the McCourts were like when the sale was approved in the first place, but ultimately I don't blame the other owners. It is hard to imagine anyone being as self-absorbed and classless as the McCourts have got while an entire franchise and fanbase suffers. There is a certain amount of good faith that any deal, relationship, or partnership needs to run on, and the McCourts abused every ounce of it.
For now, on to rosier business. Let's talk about playoffs (<- check that link for a classic chuckle). It looks like baseball will add two more wild card berths next year, bringing the total number of playoff participants up to 10 in a 30-team league. It compares favorably with the NFL, where 12 of 32 teams make the post-season.
Personally, I have mixed feelings on expanding baseball's playoffs. Other major sports leagues definitely have longer and larger playoffs, but I do not think that is necessarily better. In the NBA, over half the league makes the playoffs, and it takes about two and a half months to make it through the post-season. Sure, it generates some nice revenues, but it takes forever to get through, and a handful of mediocre teams make it every year.
For me, a perfect playoff system rewards elite teams, yet keeps a majority of teams in the playoff hunt throughout the season, and allows for upsets. I think any sports fan would identify these three components as fundamental to any playoff system. The real trick is that I am sure all of us fans weigh these differently, making us a fickle bunch to satisfy.
With baseball's 162-game regular season, the season needs to matter a ton. It's just not fair otherwise. Why go through the six-month grind if it does not mean much in the end? Complicating matters, individual games are swayed greatly by luck. For instance, suppose that the Yankees and Pirates were to play a four-game series in June, in Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees took three out of four games. Would anyone say that the Yankees underachieved?
Compared to most sports, it is not that hard for a bad team in baseball to beat a good one. Even if a 100-loss team made the playoffs in baseball, they would advance at some point. It's a little far-fetched, but not very. The nature of the game allows for major upsets in individual games, and even in short series. That's why I argue that MLB has to be especially picky about who they let in the playoffs. World Series rings will lose their luster if clearly inferior teams win them with a little too much regularity.
Then again, we come back to the fickle sports fans. Exactly how often is too often for the average Jane or Joe tuning in on Saturday afternoon?
Larry Stone's piece this morning has an interesting take with a very local spin. Before reading it, I wondered how much of a difference a couple extra wild card teams would make. However, I don't think Stone overstated it when he said that Mariners history would be very different. For all we know, the added trips to the playoffs might have resulted in a championship by now.
Then again, looking at who would have made the playoffs in the past 15 seasons with playoff expansion, only 10 of the additional 30 teams had at least 90 wins. A team winning 85-89 games is good in my book, but definitely not great. They are definitely good enough to have fluky runs deep into the playoffs. How many more teams do we want like the 2006 Cardinals winning World Championships? The frequency will undoubtedly go up with more teams like them making the playoffs.
If Major League Baseball adds wild card teams, I prefer a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card winners. It messes with the rest of the playoffs the least, and while it does reduce one Division Series slot to mostly luck, that slot is the most likely to go to a team that is somewhere between good and great. Playoffs would be boring to watch if the best team always won, so I would argue that a diversity in talent levels is actually good. There is a certain appeal in David and Goliath match-ups. The trick is walking the line between appeal and integrity. Baseball is about to change their footing, and see what happens.