Down with MLB's new wild-card notion!
A one-game playoff between two wild-card teams would undo all of Wednesday's magic
To some, this season's searing run to the playoffs made a compelling case in favor of Major League Baseball's newest money grab, the "expanded wild-card" format that may well be approved in the coming labor negotiation.
Before the votes are counted, and if I may: Swing and a miss.
At a pitch in the dirt.
With a 3-0 count.
This is an idea without a serious support system. It's a classic case of somebody figuring that if two aspirin work pretty well, four ought to work twice as well. (Trust me, they don't.) But by the time you figure it out, it's usually too late.
Alas, this also is an idea with some major momentum among league executives (read: another potential profit center) and it may well sail past any small concerns the players might have once they realize that attaching the word "postseason" to a game means, for them, a separate check with a comma stuck somewhere in between the numbers.
But just to be clear: Wednesday night, perhaps the most emotionally volatile night in regular-season baseball history, does not happen under the proposed new format. Does & not & happen.
That Red Sox collapse? The Braves' heartbreak? The Rays' unrestrained, disbelieving joy? They don't happen at all -- because the Boston and Atlanta would already have been in full pre-playoff lineup mode under the next-best-guy-goes-in proposal.
Just going off the recent history, there is almost no convincing ground upon which to institute the change -- that is, besides what you can cash. Esoterically, the idea of a second runner-up somehow weaseling into the postseason is ludicrous. The Red Sox after a 7-20 September? Atlanta after blowing an 8.5-game lead in less than a month? Seriously?
The good folks on the money side of baseball, of course, have a fully vested interest in making sure as many teams as possible can hoover as much money as possible from the pockets of their fan bases. That's business -- nothing to apologize for, I suppose. And look, don't think MLB wasn't rooting for Boston to reach the postseason. Red Sox equal ratings.
So under the second wild-card system, the Red Sox are in anyway -- the Braves, too, of course -- and what's wrong with that? Well, for starters, both teams just finished off epic fails by blowing ninth-inning leads with their seasons on the line. Not only did those collapses make for amazing theater, but revealed the shortcomings that strongly suggest neither is a playoff team & except by executive fiat.
It is the contention of the proposal's supporters that adding a second wild card in each league increases fan interest by keeping the dream alive for more fan bases each September. Duly noted. But is it really MLB's plan to combat the NFL's fall encroachment by starting to be the NBA?
Baseball's brutal 162-game schedule is the difference-maker in this sport, a fact reinforced with historic authority Wednesday night. That schedule certainly doesn't preclude a late rush, especially not with the single wild-card factor already in place. (And esoterics aside, that has been a massive success.) But it is ultimately designed to reward the long-term winners.
Maybe the real problem with the second wild card is the mechanics, at least as they've been proposed. Take the 2010 season, when the Red Sox finished a full six games behind the Yankees in the race for the wild card. Under the proposed new system, Boston would've been the "second wild card" and thus accorded an absolutely equal chance -- in a one-game showdown -- to move into the full playoff series.
In 2009? That would've been Texas in a one-off against Boston -- and the Rangers were eight games back of the Red Sox for the wild-card spot. The year before, the Yankees were six back of Boston. The year before that, Detroit was six behind the Yankees. All of these finishes would have resulted in a one-game showdown for the right to be in the playoffs. (In the National League, several of the wild-card races were closer, but that's the point -- to grab the one slot available to a non-division winner.)
You would hate to think of a great month-long scrum as the Red Sox and Rays just experienced being negated by the fact that both of them already were junking their rotations and rosters to prepare for a near-certain one-game playoff. Baseball tried the wild card more than 15 years ago, and it worked. But look, if a wild-card team can win an extended series, more power to it.
A one-off, that's different. It undercuts the value of the season in ways that no playoff system before could ever do. And if you went looking for a place in the sand at which to draw a line, Wednesday night was that place.
Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His book, "The Voodoo Wave," is in international release. His work "Six Good Innings" was named a Top 10 Sports Book by Booklist. Reach him at email@example.com.
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