LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – There’s no need to spend time debating whether Bud Selig is making a good decision any more. It’s more about ranking his degree of nonsensicalness.
Is it worse than leading torch-carrying villagers against former commissioner Fay Vincent (and then taking his job, of course), but probably not as bad as inexplicably preventing the New York Mets from wearing FDNY and NYPD hats on the 10th anniversary of 9/11?
Is it worse than doing nothing about performance-enhancing drug use in baseball until getting humiliated before Congress, but maybe not as lame as deciding that home-field advantage in the most important game of the season (World Series, Game 7) would be determined by the winner of a meaningless exhibition (the All-Star game)?
Where does this gem rank? Major League Baseball is on the verge of approving an expanded playoffs. Sort of.
Actually, expanded baseball playoffs, done correctly, maybe thought out for more than five minutes, wouldn’t be so bad, as long as the sport didn’t go the everybody-in-the-pool route of the NBA and NHL. But what baseball, led by Selig, is expected to do is give approval to a gimmicky one-game format between two wild-card teams in each league.
Effectively, it’s a play-in game. So now, the Braves and Red Sox would be like Stony Brook and Arkansas-Little Rock in the NCAA tournament.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. “You play all those games just to play one game? It would be better to play a series, even just a three-game series. We don’t play a one-game series the whole year and now we’re going to play one game in the playoffs? Add another team, that’s cool. But one game? Come on, man.”
Funny. The Braves would’ve benefited from this new format last season, and even they’re not thrilled about this. Instead of seeing St. Louis charge down the stretch and step over the corpse in Atlanta to win the National League wild-card spot on the final day of the season, the Braves and Cardinals would have played a one-game series.
Think of this, too: All of that drama that baseball benefited from for weeks last September would’ve been muted by the new format. Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston and Tampa Bay all would’ve made it, anyway.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez cracked, “I would’ve taken it last year.” But most Braves panned the idea. Even those who supported the concept of a second wild-card team, such as Brian McCann and David Ross, don’t like the single-game format.
“The season’s already long enough,” Chipper Jones said. “I know the almighty buck triggers everything, but when is enough enough? It makes no sense to me whatsoever – none whatsoever.
“One game is cutthroat. It’s win-or-go-home baseball, and players aren’t like that. You want to play yourself into getting to a cut-throat situation, like a Game 7. You’re going to have drama in a Game 7.”
“I’m sure it’s good for fans and it’s good for MLB,” pitcher Tim Hudson said. “We’re just the pawns here.”
Expanded playoffs have been coming for a while. League decisions are driven by dollars. Dollars are generated by network television deals. Network executives want prime-time playoff games.
There also has been a feeling that division winners should be rewarded over wild-card teams in the postseason. This accomplishes that because wild-card teams would need to burn their No. 1 starters in the one-game playoff before moving on to the league divisional series.
The issue is the one game. In addition to the gimmick nature of it, it potentially penalizes the wild-card team that finishes 10 games ahead of the other wild card in the standings, even if it wins the game.
“St. Louis probably doesn’t win the World Series if they play one game against us last year,” Hudson said.
Selig recently signed another two-year extension as commissioner. He makes $22 million a year and has a private jet at his disposal. Much of his income comes indirectly from TV executives, who will love the drama of a sudden-death format. In the end, it’s about money, not about what makes sense.
By Jeff Schultz