In 1951, the Giants came back from a 13 game deficit in August to force a one-game play-off with the Brooklyn Dodgers. What makes this moment in history special is less the comeback itself and more the urgency. The loser was not granted a conciliatory play-off spot. The loser was not stripped of home field advantage. The loser went home and was forced to watch the World Series, rather than play. That was on the line in 1951. Not simply a play-off spot, but the World Series. The goosebumps-inspiring walk-off home run blasted into the New York night by Bobby Thompson will forever be the greatest walk-off shot in history. It capped the Giants improbable comeback and, much like the ball Thompson hit, rocketed the Giants somewhere special. But this magical moment in baseball history is not the rallying cry for reduced play-off teams or continuance of the status quo.
I’ve tried to sit back and let the play-off expansion conversation play out, but there has been an influx of articles lately bashing not only the idea, but the current postseason format. Not only is this line of thinking closed-minded, but it is based in fallacy. It is based on the idea that things that have been should continue to be. We are a progressive country where things are always changing and if you don’t change with it, you are left behind.
When the league was made up of 12 teams, a drive straight from the regular season into the World Series made sense. With 28 teams in the league, an eight-team play-off scheme worked. The Wild Card worked. But with the parity in baseball, this year not withstanding, and with 30 teams in the league, the play-offs need to be expanded. If the game does not change for the better, it stays the same and gets worse. But I understand there will be concerns. So far, I’ve heard three distinct concerns, and I will cover each of those.
1) We will lose the excitement.
Why? This year there are no true races aside from the Rangers and the Angels. While I agree, this year’s play-offs would be a watered down version if there were two more Wild Card teams, we would at least have additional races to discuss. There was a similar fear when the current system was put in place. There was a fear of cheapening a play-off appearance. But the system we have has worked out pretty well. Just ask the Wild Card teams that have won the World Series. Baseball is harder than it has ever been. Athletes are bigger and stronger. Players and managers are smarter. An expansion of the play-offs does not cheapen the thrill of the postseason. It does not reduce the excitement. It enhances it. Almost every year we would have stories of comebacks, fights to the finish, and races that last until the last day of the season. In memory of the chills that Bobby Thompson’s home run brings, this would be a good thing.
2) The season would be too long.
No argument here. The 162 game season is a long one. It spans from April to October. Yet, it is a far cry from the NBA season, which has virtually no off-season. It is incomparable to the NFL, which only plays once a week. The season is a long one, but we are fans of the game, are we not? To ask for less seems counter-intuitive to what we want. We want baseball. Yet, I agree the season is too long. I agree that adding another layer of play-off baseball will extend the season a little bit longer than we’d all like to see. So, shorten the season by four games. It won’t happen, but four games is nothing in the grand scheme of ticket sales, play-off races, and player contracts. However, four games/four days is huge in finding room for an additional round of play-offs. With the most widely discussed option for the two additional Wild Card teams to be pitted against each other in a best-of-three, four extra days could cover the entire series. But considering this will never happen, we will set this argument aside. You got me on this one critics, let’s move on.
3) We can’t add two Wild Cards until realignment takes place.
I’m not sure I understand this argument. If the true argument is fairness to the leagues, we already see unfair play-off positioning. The American League gets four teams out of 14, while the National League gets four teams out of 16. So let’s add the two additional Wild Cards. Things would not get any less fair in doing so. Add the Wild Cards and figure out realignment later. To allow this as a sticking point makes no sense. Let’s look at an example. Next year, after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is ratified, let’s assume an agreement was not reached on realignment. We would still have 14 teams in the A.L. and 16 teams in the N.L. Adding two new Wild Card teams does not affect the unbalanced leagues. Then, in a few years baseball and some team in the National League agree to have that team moved to the American League. We still have the two additional Wild Card teams, but things have only gotten more fair between the leagues. Where’s the issue?
I am often shocked at the arguments for staying the course. These people, so afraid of change they would rather keep the world suspended in time, forget what change has brought us. It has brought us freedom, an end to slavery, modern technology, and medicine to save lives. By no means am I comparing baseball to these other things that actually mean something. I am simply saying, change is good. Those demanding the norm forget that if things didn’t change, life would be a whole lot worse for all of us.
Open your minds and give this a chance.