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Friday, March 2, 2012

MLB Playoff Expansion - Better Late Than Never

I have never been shy about my criticism of Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. I've poked fun at him, such as when I compared MLB to the Flintstones while other sports were in the space age. I've outright lambasted him, like when he bungled Armondo Galarraga's perfect game in 2010 yet has since been reluctant to expand instant reply. But I have always said that the one time he has made the right decision is when it came to expanding the playoffs in 1995 and revisiting the idea last year. It appears that an expansion from eight to 10 playoffs teams in MLB is imminent.


Jamele Hill of wrote an article essentially arguing that eight is enough, a position with which I completely disagree. Hill essentially puts fourth a number of "what ifs", hypotheticals, and suggestions that undesirable practices that the expanded playoffs are intended to discourage will never completely be eliminated in baseball. While I could not wrap my mind around her line of thought, her detailed position and her supporting points lit a fire under me to counter her arguments. whether you agree or disagree, the entire point of writing an opinion is to make people think.

Jemele Hill's suggestion made Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland fall of the wagon. 2

I am not sure I understand Ms. Hill's reasoning for keeping the MLB playoffs at eight teams. Sports are better when fans are engaged. MLB's current system of fewer than 1/3 of its teams in the playoffs results, every year, in disengaged fans, often soon after the All-Star break in July.

Her first argument is that the MLB regular season finale evening of 2011 would not have been as dramatic with 10 playoff teams qualifying. No other night in the 143 season history of MLB has impacted that may teams' postseasons. It was a fortunate anomaly for baseball fans and is unlikely to happen again any time in the near future, expanded playoffs or not. I think Ms. Hill offered a weak argument against expanding the playoffs.

Her argument is that the expanded playoffs will never eliminate "below board strategizing", (such as teams tanking the division to receive a more favorable match-up in the Divisional Series), which it true. But expanded playoffs with an extra round required of Wild Card teams will certainly eliminate the incentive of that particular, and all too common, practice.

There's no better place on a Sunday afternoon in the summer than at the ooooold ballpark! 1

Ms. Hill then argues about an expanded playoff field diminishing the regular season. This was the point with which I could not possibly disagree more. The regular season is diminished as it is. Expanded playoffs will make September baseball much more exciting for several teams (the two additional teams and the teams against whom they are competing). Generally speaking, the casual fan doesn't care about the regular season except to see the occasional match-up of two teams (or a player or a story) that peeks Joe Fan's interest. Many a causal fan does not start paying attention to MLB until playoff time and that casual fan, not the die-hard fan, is the one whose viewership is up for grabs with other sports entertainment venues.

Last, change is inevitable in sports and baseball is long overdue on almost every progressive change (instant replay, PED testing, etc.) that the other major professional sports leagues (and even the NCAA) have incorporated, including playoff expansion. There are myriad reasons that Major League Baseball has been hemorrhaging market share to the NFL and others over the last 30 years. Expanded playoffs is not among those reasons.

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