It happens all the time. It happened again last night. Someone makes a comment about how they love the new Wild Card Game because it makes winning the division more meaningful.
They got you.
MLB used that line when they introduced yet another round of playoffs. This would make winning the division more important, they said, since you really want to avoid having to play in the Wild Card game. Too many teams realized that, under the old system, the difference between winning the Wild Card and winning the division wasn’t enough to make you go for it at the end of the season. Why start your ace in game 162 if the most you could gain is an extra home game? Better to have him ready and lined up to start game 1 on the road. So, MLB instituted this coin flip Wild Card game. That would make winning the division more important than finishing second.
You know what else would do that?
Eliminating the Wild Card in the first place.
If the only people who made the playoffs were division winners, that would make winning the division pretty darn important. Right? After all, the only thing that the Wild Card does is water down the championship. The more teams that have the opportunity to win a title that don’t deserve it, the less impressive winning becomes. (Yes. I know where the Red Sox finished in 2004)
But, what about the Cubs and Pirates? Don’t they deserve to be in the playoffs? They won more games than most of the division winners. It’s not fair to include those other teams, and not the Cubs and Pirates. And, that would be right…but wrong. The problem isn’t that the Cubs and Pirates would be excluded. The problem is that the Mets and Dodgers were included. The teams in the National League just finished a 162 game season. After months of competition, the Cardinals won the most games in the league. Which measure of fairness, exactly, would suggest that the Cubs and Pirates deserve another shot at them? Why is it fair to ignore 162 games of completion, and replace it with seven games worth? What was the point of the season?
No, I’m not stupid. I know these extra rounds are about money. I know that the more teams that can get into the playoffs, the more “postseason” hats MLB can sell, and the more ads television stations can sell. Just be honest about it. If you want to have a money making tournament, go ahead. (I’ve already come up with the almost perfect format) Just don’t continue with the sham of adding rounds to make things better. That’s like turning off all the lights in someone’s house, then convincing them that the flashlight is the greatest thing ever because it’s better than a candle. The problem was turning off the lights in the first place, not only having a candle. In this case, the problem was having playoffs at all…not the format of them.
And, no, this isn’t solely a baseball problem. (Heck, baseball lets the fewest teams into the playoffs of the major sports.) It’s everywhere. It’s the reason Draft Kings has become more popular than full season fantasy games. People like getting rewarded for flukes instead of long periods of excellence. That’s much easier. So, if that’s what society wants, fine. Have an MLB finals. Or use my dual-championship format. Make your money, and reward your flukes.
Just don’t tell me you’re rewarding excellence.