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Friday, April 22, 2011
Berthiaume: One-game playoff way to go

By Steve Berthiaume

I had a Twitter follower write to me that "one game doesn't determine squat in baseball." I replied, "Really? Tell that to the '78 Yankees."

Thursday, Bud Selig said he thinks baseball is moving "inexorably" to a 10-team postseason for 2012, meaning two wild-card playoff teams in each league. Beginning the postseason with a pair of one-game, winner-take-all wild-card games is exactly what baseball needs. It needs the energy and the drama. It needs a bigger buzz or splash to open its postseason. Most importantly, its most critical games need an injection of that same "event" feel that blows NFL playoff TV ratings through the roof. Baseball has a chance to create that with a pair of wild-card play-in games.

Why do you think people watch "Dancing With the Stars"? They don't have to be previously invested. They know it's a self-contained time allotment. They know it's a live event and at the end someone will advance and someone will go home. That's Kirstie Alley out there for crying out loud and people are riveted and participating in the voting. Those are the people MLB has to get excited about its postseason: the casual fan who can buy into a do-or-die scenario for a night. They didn't watch all 162 games during the season, but they'll absolutely watch with everything on the line. That's the consumer baseball needs to lasso here.

We're a society that now communicates in 140 characters; to say we have short attention spans is a massive understatement. That's a critical element to football's success: You only have to watch once a week, not every night for three hours. Football is easily consumed; it's a trip through the drive-thru for our fast-food culture. Baseball fans savor every bite of every serving over a five-course meal. The fast-food fan can digest a one-game baseball playoff. Then he gets invested in the outcome and now he's hooked for the postseason. Boom -- there's your MLB playoffs TV ratings spike and it comes without truly alienating your everyday fan base.

Americans buy hype, we buy "events"; it's why people have Oscar parties. Baseball can begin every postseason with a pair of Game 7s. The idea of a best-of-three wild-card round merely waters that down. Most folks may not watch much of a college basketball team's season but come March they're glued to the TV with brackets in hand. Why? Because it's a win-or-go-home deal and they know that if they don't watch, they might miss something.

The beauty part for the traditionalists and perhaps the ultimate irony here is that under the winner-take-all, one-game playoff format, adding another wild-card team in each league actually increases the importance of baseball's regular season.

Currently, we have a scenario in which playoff teams generally don't really care if they win a division or a wild card. You're in, so what's the downside to the wild card? One fewer home game in the Division Series? So what. Avoiding the risk of losing to an inferior team in a one-game playoff will underscore the importance of winning your division, making the full 162-game regular season more meaningful. It's a greater reward for those teams that win their division. Since you're only adding one game in each league, there is no need to shorten the regular season or worry about World Series games in November.

One of the great joys of baseball is the way we consume it. It's every day; it takes work, diligence, you have to pay attention for seven months. Baseball has a chance here to hook those who will initially only watch for a few hours a week. That's how fans -- and customers -- are created.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @SBerthiaumeESPN.