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Expand Your Mind Or, Failing That, Your Playoff Structure

November 23, 2011

Baseball is a game of paradoxes. Like this one: MLB has by far the longest regular season of any major American professional sport, yet it has the shortest postseason. This was especially true prior to 1994, when only four out of 28 teams qualified for the playoffs, two from each league. In those days, you could win 103 games and not get in. (Yeah, that still makes me want to punch a baby chinchilla.)

Even with realignment and the addition of the wild card, baseball’s playoffs remain an extremely exclusive affair — particularly ¬†compared with the NBA and NHL, where sub-.500 teams routinely sneak in, like a homeless guy straddling the buffet at William and Kate’s wedding.

In a way, it’s absurd: After sweating, grunting and nipple-bleeding through a 162-game marathon, teams that manage to qualify are forced to participate in a ridiculously short windsprint that actually determines everything. Not surprisingly, the winner is frequently the squad that got hot at the right moment rather than the one that was built to dominate over the long haul. As Giants fans we shouldn’t exactly complain, but there you go.

So on the surface, adding more playoff teams — and lengthening the postseason — seems like a good idea. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find yet another festering, puss-filled Bug Selig boil.

Oh, and it's on his ass. And you have to lance it.

As you probably know by now, baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement adds a second wild card team in each league and a one-game playoff preceding the division series. It could happen as soon as next year, and will definitely happen by 2013.

Pause for a moment to let that sink in: A team — let’s say the Giants — dominates from April to October, only to be unseated in a single game by a far inferior team that happens to have a good pitcher or a hot hitter or weird mojo going that day. Basically, for one (or two) playoff-worthy clubs, it’s reducing the whole deal down to one measly contest — the smallest possible sample, where literally anything can happen.

Ironically, that’s likely how the idea was pitched: Imagine the drama! The intrigue! The ratings! And yeah, this’ll keep more fans involved, slightly delaying the inevitable false hopes-dashing. Hell, if this rule had been in place last year we could have deluded ourselves for at least another couple of games before watching the Braves celebrate. Wait, actually that sounds awful.

I’m not some purist who wants to go back to a two-teams-make-the-Wold-Series-and-fuck everybody-else format; I don’t want Tim Lincecum wearing a tiny hat and a glove the exact size of his hand.* But at a certain point you have to stop and ask: Is this good for the game, or merely the bottom line?

Then again, baseball just signed a new collective bargaining agreement with no acrimony, labor stoppages or bullshit “Billionaires Versus Millionaires” grandstanding. So, you know, could be worse.

* On second thought, that would be awesome

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