This was the scene following the most pivotal call in last year’s NL Wild Card game. The inaugural one-game playoff to make the playoffs was marred by a questionable call on the deep infield and became the center point of any argument for anyone who believed that a one-game playoff is “un-baseball.” This call overshadowed the real issue of the new Wild Card system, the dreadful timing of an interesting idea.
The idea behind the new system is to put a higher value on winning the division. This is a necessity to keep baseball from becoming like the NBA, where just about everyone gets in the playoffs and the teams that dominated all year get the measly advantage of hosting one more home game than the opposition. Making the Wild Card set up a one-game playoff forces the teams to use their ace in a desperate attempt to make it to a real series. This puts them at an obvious disadvantage, and thus, puts more emphasis on winning the division.
I really believe it is a good idea, and despite being publicly panned following the
Infield Outfield Fly Game in Atlanta I think fans are coming around on the idea as well. Putting the onus on teams to win their division in order to play in an extended series makes the stretch run more exciting. Also, when was the last time you had six squads with at least a mathematical chance at the Wild Card with just a week left to play? The Royals just played a meaningful series against the Texas Rangers in late September. I will give you a second to re-read that if you want.
Ready to move on? Ok.
Rioting is no way to gain support for any cause, and unfortunately for Bud Selig, that is what he had on his hands in early October a year ago, but the real reason the idea was brushed aside at first came in late September of 2011. If you do not remember the stretch run of 2011 you are probably a Braves or Red Sox fan, and you probably had an experimental medical procedure that allowed you to forget the most painful time of your life. In that mystical month of September, the Cardinals and Rays simultaneously erased two of the largest deficits in Wild Card history and sprinted into the playoffs on the final day of the season. Not only were all of the teams playing on that day, but each of their games started less than an hour apart from one another. The Cardinals blew away the Astros behind a complete game by Chris Carpenter, but every other game would take a bit longer. The Braves and Phillies battled into extras, as did the Rays and Yankees while the Red Sox and Orioles waited out a rain delay. As the night went on, each of these games ended in theatrical bliss, and the Rays and Orioles walked off in dramatic fashion just minutes apart, and elated Cardinals filled the visiting dugout in Houston to celebrate their clinching on a game ending double play off the bat of Freddie Freeman.
How can you justify a play to make the final month more exciting when you just had the most exciting final month in the history of the game? You can’t. It wasn’t Selig’s fault that his plan was implemented with such horrible timing, but as we move away from that 2011 season, I think the Wild Card set-up will gain support and become a fan favorite.