Friday, October 05, 2012

Not Wild About Them

Pat Lackey on why MLB's wild card play-in will be exciting and fun and all kinds of wrong:

This is problematic because nothing about baseball is designed to be decided in one game. Nothing about baseball's really designed to be decided in five or seven games, either, but at least a multi-game series prevents a fluke from being decisive. Every Philip Humber has a perfect game somewhere inside of him, but that doesn't make him Sandy Koufax. When you schedule a one-game playoff, you've exposed the teams in it to the whims of fate, and you've basically invalidated the whole point of having a 162-game season, which in modern baseball is to stratify teams so that the best teams have the best chances in the playoffs.

I'm not being solely a purist or a pragmatist here, I'm being both. Baseball's long regular season is the most meaningful regular season in all of sports, because it lets the fewest teams into the playoffs. The implied point of this is that if you play 162 games, you don't need to let 16 of 30 teams into the playoffs because you know which eight are the best. That should always be the case. Scheduling a one game playoff between two teams that didn't finish the 162-game season with the same record is aiming for a cheap, manufactured thrill. It's trying to catch last year's lightning in a bottle, then claiming that the bottled lightning is the same as the real stuff. Doing that throws out the regular season; it says that one game can overturn 162. It will almost certainly produce some memorable moments and the excitement will be there every year, but is that worth giving up one of the things that makes baseball different from other sports? I'm not so sure that it is.

I hated the idea of the wild card play in game when it was initially proposed and hate it even more now. Will today's single elmination games be compelling and maybe even thrilling to watch? Perhaps. But that's not what baseball is supposed to be about.