The trait that differentiates major league baseball from every other game on earth is the length of its regular season. At 162 games, the baseball season is twice as long as that of basketball and hockey, and 10 times that of professional football.
For half the year, baseball teams play almost every day. For fans, the ritual of watching games, reading scores, and following a team’s daily ups and downs makes baseball an essential part of daily life like no other sport can.
Ironically, just as baseball rightly adopted rule changes like the pitch clock to return the sport to its roots of faster play, Major League Baseball did the unthinkable: it made the sacred regular season far away. less important. How? By preventing the teams with the best records from playing any of them games for a week straight at the start of the playoffs, the most unnatural prison sentence possible for a baseball team.
Thus, the three teams (Braves, Dodgers, Orioles) who won 100 or more games in the regular season this year – the classic benchmark of a great team – were each colder than the ice after the forced layoff of a week, collectively losing nine out of 10 playoff games, and were thus quickly eliminated. Note that each 100-match winner necessarily played against teams who had just won the previous three-match series, and therefore against teams who were still in good shape and playing well.
Let’s face it, MLB: Preventing teams with the best records from playing baseball for a week is a huge penalty, the baseball equivalent of prison, not a reward.
The problem lies with playoff extension programs, which were initially sold as simply a necessary expedient due to the COVID pandemic. But greedy MLB executives and owners realized they could also hold a few more playoff games if they continued a system in which six teams from each league qualified. If baseball insists on six teams in each league, then two teams will simply be I have to sit down while the other four play.
During its first 65 years, the World Series featured only one team from each league with the best regular season record. Then for the next 25 years, from 1969 to 1993, only two teams from each league qualified for the playoffs.
Now, 12 teams, or more than a third of MLB’s 30 teams, qualify for what is effectively a tournament. Is it any surprise that we have Arizona and Texas in the World Series this year, two teams that not only didn’t win their divisions, but finished at or near the bottom of the win leaderboard of all qualifying teams.
But the current format is even more insidious than that. This encourages teams to create rosters designed solely for the postseason, favoring two or three pitchers who could dominate absurdly short three-game, then five-game series, rather than valuing traditional rotations of four or five pitchers in requiring a seven-game playoff. series. In short, all that matters now is getting out there and having a few hot pitchers and hitters.
To reestablish its identity and the integrity of its regular season, baseball must return to a healthier postseason format. The simplest and fairest method would allow just four teams from each league to advance to the playoffs.
This method was used successfully from 1994 to 2011. Unfortunately, after that, the so-called “expanded wild card” craze took hold, first allowing five teams from each league to qualify from 2012 to 2019, and now to the six-headed hydra of each league. league. It’s a disaster written into the collective bargaining agreement reached by the players and owners during the difficult 2022 season. So yes, the players are also partly to blame.
Yet perhaps there is a fairer way after all. Under the latest labor agreement, baseball intends to expand to 32 teams. With this number of teams, MLB could create two divisions of eight teams in each league, with the winner of each division reaching the playoffs and the two additional teams with the best records in each league also qualifying. Then, the division winners could host five of the seven first-round games, with the winners of those games with the best record hosting five of the seven league championship series games, with the winners advancing to the World Series.
No system is perfect. But by the same token, MLB cannot perpetuate a system that undermines its most definitive feature — the long, daily regular season — and then penalizes its best teams for winning during that season. To do so is to reject 150 years of tradition. After all, we don’t call them the October Men. We call them the Summer Boys.
Paul Bledsoe (X: @paulbledsoe) is an Orioles and Nationals fan from Arlington, Virginia.