On Fixing the Wild Card

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has a concern: he wants to make things more difficult for the wild card teams in baseball’s post-season. “While the first round of the playoffs is likely to stay a best-of-five series, wild-card teams might find a tougher road next season, commissioner Bud Selig said Friday.”

Wild card teams have been successful the past several seasons. The Anaheim (now Los Angeles) Angels won the World Series in 2002. The Florida Marlins won in 2003. The Boston Red Sox won in 2004. The Houston Astros were the National League champions in 2005. And the Detroit Tigers, barring a collapse on par with the Yankee collapse of 2004, look to capture the American League title this year.

Some baseball purists take issue with baseball’s wild card for historical or aesthetic reasons. The wild card, they argue, deprives the baseball division races of their historical winner-take-all ethos. Now, a second-run team can put together a string of runs and reach the playoffs, even win the World Series. In that view, the wild card presents a problem.

Assuming that the possibility of a wild card World Series winner is a problem, what sort of solution is there?

One possibility from Selig is to “give the wild-card teams fewer home games in the playoffs.” Okay, at which stage? The first round? The first three games away, one home, and a fifth game away? The second round? The first four games away, the fifth and sixth home, the seventh away? While intriguing from a conceptual standpoint, is this really going to make it more difficult for wild card teams to advance? A schedule such as this wouldn’t have unduly handicapped the Tigers this year, or the Red Sox in 2004–the Tigers because they’ve been so dominant, the Red Sox because they had to claw themselves back from the point of oblivion. And arguing for no home games for the wild card teams in the league series would be a slap in the face of the hometown fans, and no owner would advocate such a plan as there’s the chance that that owner’s team could be in the wild card slot.

Jiggering the schedule, then, feels more like a tweaking that doesn’t make that great a difference and doesn’t solve a perceived problem. If baseball really wanted to make things harder for wild card teams they would have to take drastic action, like smaller post-season rosters for a wild card team. Yet, a move that extreme would do more damage than it would be worth–it would make the wild card team a veritable joke.

Is the wild card really a problem? I don’t think so. The Tigers are clearly the team of destiny at the moment. Say what you will about the merits of the wild card, allowing second-run teams to compete in October, but the Tigers have been completely dominating this October. Though there will be post-season baseball scheduling changes next year–the next television contract mandates a weekend beginning to the World Series–the schedule changes shouldn’t be done in a misguided attempt to handicap the post-season against baseball’s wild card teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *