MLB commissioner Bud Selig addresses the media prior to Game Seven of the MLB World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The new wild-card round is a great idea. But doing it now? When schedules are already set? Think again, Mr. Commissioner.
Commissioner Bud Selig appeared this weekend at SoxFest in Chicago. Normally, that's a photo-op, with no big news made. The commissioner, though, did make some news by announcing that that he expects the expanded wild card system to take effect this fall:
"I really believe we'll have the wild card for 2012, this year," Selig said Friday night in Chicago at a White Sox fan festival. "Clubs really want it. I don't think I've ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year."
"We're working on dates right now. That'll all take place. It looks to me like we'll have it because I've told everybody we have to have it. It'll be exciting. One-game playoff, it will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner," he said.
Just a moment, Bud, if I may? This is not a good idea, and here's why. First of all, let me say I'm not against the new wild card at all -- in fact, I like it, and I also like the idea of a play-in game. That assures you of at least one winner-take-all postseason game every year.
I'm just a little leery about the idea of doing it this year, because the schedule is already set for 2012.
This is important for two reasons; first, perceived inequities in the schedule are supposed to be addressed for 2013, when the Astros move to the AL. For now, wild-card teams from different divisions play wildly different interdivisional and interleague schedules. Your "second wild card" team might have quite an easier schedule than its opponent in the play-in game.
But even more importantly, even though Bud says they "have to have it", is how this is going to work out logistically. The article linked above says:
Since 1995, head-to-head record has been used to determine first place if both teams are going to the postseason. But with the start of a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card round, the sides agreed that the difference between first place and a wild-card berth is too important to decide with a formula and a tiebreaker game would be played.
So let's say, to give one concrete example that could actually happen, that the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are in a tight race for the AL East title. Meanwhile, the Angels and Rangers are fighting for the AL West title. The AL Central was long ago decided; the Tigers clinched and await the postseason.
That means four of the five teams in tight races would get in. But which four? This season, the Red Sox and Yankees finish the season playing each other; the Rays are home to the Orioles. The Angels are at the Mariners and the Rangers finish at the Athletics.
Without going through all the convolutions of various matchups, what happens if all five of these teams wind up with the same record? OK, you're saying that's unlikely. But what if there's a tie at the top of the AL East and either the Rangers or Angels ties the third-place AL East team? How do you decide who plays off what? The article suggests that first-place ties would be played off and wild-card ties would be broken by a tiebreaker formula.
Fair enough, but then let's say the Angels and Rangers have to play off a first-place tie in Texas (because the Rangers had the better regular-season record and would host a tiebreaker). That would force the winner of that game to play on the West Coast one day, in Texas the next, and then after one day off go to Detroit or New York or Boston or Tampa to start the division series round.
That doesn't seem right, and someone's going to wind up complaining and have a point. This change is significant enough that it shouldn't be squeezed into an already-existing schedule. Once the leagues are realigned, MLB can figure out a fair way for ties like this to be broken and allow enough time for any tiebreakers, to make it fair to everyone.
As the saying of many fans goes, "wait till next year", Bud. What's the rush?
And remember, too, Bud: that would give you plenty of time to make sure you have all the hotel rooms reserved.