Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sometimes less is more

The die appears to be cast. Both Commissioner Bud Selig and the head of the players union have come out in favor of adding two more wild card teams to the October mix.

OK, the language they use is of "considering it." Translated, they just need to work out the details.

Commissioner Bud:

I like it enough, so we'll seriously consider it. Is eight out of 30 enough? Is that fair? And that's the basic question here, at least for me. ... (Ten is) more fair than eight. Two more would give us 10, and 10 out of 30 I still think is a rational mix.

Michael Weiner, the new executive director of the players union:

There is sentiment among a substantial segment of the players to consider expanding the playoffs. ... I think we can have a very healthy discussion with the commissioner's office when bargaining begins about these issues.

Meanwhile comes the news that the NFL game on NBC easily bested Game Four of the World Series in the TV ratings on Sunday night.

This doesn't affect my interest in either sport -- maximal for baseball, minimal for football. It's of import only to those people with a financial interest in either baseball or News Corp. (the parent company of Fox).

If baseball expands its postseason field,
it won't be because its TV ratings are high.
But it strikes me that if MLB and its crucial employees want to return the World Series to appointment viewing status, the first step is to stop watering down the product.

The postseason already drags along for four weeks, with teams playing roughly every other day as the weather deteriorates. Too many games, too much dead time, too many opportunities for the strongest teams (as measured by the marathon of the regular season) to fall by the wayside. (Nobody but rabid partisans can believe that the Giants and Rangers were the best teams in their respective leagues.) It's a recipe for fan disinterest.

I'm sure the advocates of a bigger playoff field see some sort of financial advantage in it. Again, that's of no import to me the fan. What I want is better baseball. A 10-team playoff field -- that's not going to do it.


And now, a brief counter-argument, because there IS a way in which a 10-team field might improve play.

You don't get another round of playoffs by adding two teams to an eight-team field, because there'd be five survivors after the first round. Twelve won't do it either, because eventually the field gets narrowed to three. Brackets have to go (in reverse) 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 ... and even Bud isn't talking (yet) about a 16-team field.

What would happen is that the two wild-card teams in each league would pay each other first in a short series (perhaps as short as one game) to narrow the field back to eight.

The advantage? Well, consider the American League this year. September was essentially devoid of races. Texas had its division under control;  the Twins blew away the White Sox early in the month; the Yankees and Rays were close, but neither was too concerned about winning the division title, because being wild card was about as good, and Boston wasn't a genuine threat to either.

But if the wild card team had to play Boston in a one- or three-game series, there'd be reason to go hard for the division crown. It's a basic truth in all sports: The shorter the competition, the easier the upsets.

So this would, in some cases, make winning the division more important than it is now.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of a one-game playoff for the wild-card teams, because that would force them to use their ace pitchers in that one game and the winner would not be able to use their ace more than once in a five-game playoff series. It also might eliminate the stupid rule that wild card teams can't play the winner of their own division in the first round. That's why the Twins have continually faced the Yankees in the first round despite never having the best record or being the wild-card team.