2011 was one of the most unpredictable seasons baseball has ever offered up, and things are about to get even more interesting. As the collapse of the Boston Red Sox was imminent, division rival Tampa Bay was there waiting to steal their postseason berth as the Wild Card winner. The Red Sox simply withered down the stretch when it counted most, going a horrific 7-20 in September while blowing a nine game lead in the standings, which is just unheard of unless you’re the 2007 New York Mets (Yes their failure is still worse). The effect this had on the Boston roster can be seen by the overhaul they went through this off-season, firing both their General Manager and Manager days after the team had officially failed to make the playoffs.
A bit into the off-season, the MLB decided to institute a rule change that has many shaking their heads. The decision they made was to add a second Wild Card postseason team to each league, thus enhancing the amount of games that would take place and aid some teams hoping to make a “Cinderella” type of run, much like the opportune St. Louis Cardinals team did last season in winning it all.
The problem I have with the rule change is the implication it has on competition. It rewards teams that aren’t deserving of making the playoffs, but are suited for a playoff series. For instance, last season’s Red Sox team looked like the favorite for most of the year to go all the way. They had three very solid starters in Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and rising talent Clay Buchholz. Although these starters struggled mightily all season and never gained any type of consistency, I think every team in the AL was happy to not have to face those guys in a playoff series format.
I am a diehard Red Sox fan, and I was extremely bitter last season when the Rays led a spirited charge on the last day of the regular season to steal the Wild Card, but the Sox had it coming. They absolutely dogged it down the stretch and didn’t look hungry out there. Had they earned “the second” Wild Card spot, I would have been ashamed because there shouldn’t be consolation prizes in sports. The rule change seems to be more about making money and satisfying big markets than about improving the competitiveness of the game, and that’s just not right. Baseball fans have become accustomed to the suspense that comes with fighting for that Wild Card, especially in a division as fiercely contested as the AL East.
It’s also unfair to cater rules to big market teams in my opinion, because it furthers the gap of fair play. Although some will say this rule will help small market teams weasel into a playoff spot, the more likely outcome is that a team like Rays, Angels or Red Sox will scoop up that second Wild Card and possibly make a run at a World Series Title (this would be great for the MLB as these teams are the money makers of the league, and this rule change is telling of where their priorities are). Should this scenario occur, I believe fans (of other teams) have a right to say that team should have never been given that chance.
Baseball, at least in my opinion, is one of the most consistent sports in the sense that powerhouse franchises will always be just that, and small market teams will always be just that; you can’t change a team’s financial strength overnight. I think the MLB should have given this more thought before implementing this change, because they are sacrificing the excitement of playoff baseball all for more revenue.
At the end of the day one can understand that baseball is a business, but greed has its consequences and the addition of a second Wild Card team will only make the playoffs feel more dragged out, which will ultimately hurt baseball’s appeal to fans. The number one complaint from fans of baseball is that the games are too long (another big concern as an average game takes about 3 hours) and that the season may be too many games. Yet how do the MLB Executives respond? With more games of course! The new format will not be more exciting, it’s nothing more than a way to sell more merchandise and tickets for the teams that gets in on those last playoff spots. The concept also has a novelty aspect to it that doesn’t bode well for the game, because you’re supposed to earn your spot in the playoffs not be handed one.
One parting observation…if the rule change is instituted this season, 10 out of 30 teams would make the playoffs, but how many of those teams will realistically deserve to be there? The answer to that question is surely not 10, and may be less than 5; just some food for thought.
Do you like the rules change? How could it be better? Opinions?