The cat is out of the bag.
Major League Baseball (MLB) is seriously considering expanding its playoff format, according to mlb.com and cbssports.com.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig may propose expanded playoffs be included in the next collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), to kick in starting with the 2012 season.
“We only have eight (playoff) teams, the least of any sport,” Selig said on ESPN Radio. “We certainly haven’t abused anything.”
In a literal sense he is correct. MLB has eight of its 30 teams make the playoffs, contrasted with 16 of 30 postseason entries for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL), and 12 of 32 teams for the National Football League (NFL).
The problem with a proposed baseball playoff expansion is that the sport is so weather sensitive. Both the NBA and NHL play indoors, which make them almost immune to the extremes of weather. It may seem a bit odd to play ice hockey into June, when people are focused more on the beach than on a winter sport. But as far as ice rink facilities in air-conditioned NHL arenas are concerned, the weather poses few obstacles.
With baseball the weather is of the utmost importance. If another round of playoffs is added, this will almost inevitably push the season farther into November. Playing baseball at night in northern cities like Milwaukee and Minnesota is problematic at best. The only way to accomplish playoff expansion would be to start the regular season earlier (and face the cold and inclement conditions of March) or reduce the number of regular season games back to 154 and start the playoffs a week to 10 days earlier than they begin now.
A reduction in regular season games means less revenue for the owners and reduced salaries for the players. For this reason there is bound to be strong resistance to such a move. Baseball also cherishes its record book and making comparisons from season to season. Cutting back on the number of games would make it impossible to compare season totals with those accomplished in a 162-game schedule. Imagine a pitcher with 29 wins after 154 games, or a hitter with 69 homers. Wouldn’t baseball want to see if that pitcher could get to 30 wins or that hitter to 74 homers if they played a standard 162-game season?
MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner told The Associated Press that his organization is open to adding more wild-card teams for 2012 and possibly extending the division series from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven format.
“There is sentiment among a substantial segment of the players to consider expanding the playoffs,” Weiner said, as reported by The Associated Press.
But would greedy players be open to reducing their regular-season pay to accommodate playoff expansion? We are looking at the prospect of baseball adding an extra round of playoffs, enlarging the existing divisional round and not wanting to reduce the regular season schedule for historical and financial reasons. How this would work for a weather-sensitive sport is anyone’s guess.
MLB’s argument that it is just doing what other sports are doing is a false and inadequate claim. After all, baseball does things, for better or for worse, in its own way. The NHL and NBA have 30 teams like MLB, but whereas the NBA and NHL have two 15-team conferences divided into six divisions of five-teams each, MLB has two leagues with a different number of teams (14 in the American League and 16 in the National League). This is because baseball has very limited interleague play and MLB plays almost every day. If there were 15 teams in both leagues, there would often be one team left over with no one to play.
Baseball also has two leagues that play under different rules, with the American League (AL) using the designated hitter and the National League (NL) requiring the pitcher to bat for himself. Imagine the NFL having one conference that requires two feet be in bounds for a reception but the other conference requiring only one foot. Or one conference that allows the two-point conversion after a touchdown and the other not allowing this. Imagine the NBA with one conference that uses the three-point play and the other that doesn’t.
One thing baseball should do is have the same number of teams in each league. That would mean contracting by two teams for a 28-team MLB or expanding to a 32-team MLB. That latter is preferable.
The leagues could shape up like this:
AL East: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays
AL South: Kansas City Royals, San Antonio expansion club, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
AL Midwest: Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins
AL West: Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Vancouver CAN expansion team
NL East: New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals
NL South: Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros
NL Midwest: Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants
This would at least solve the problem of having a different number of teams in each league. Interleague play would involve rotating to play one entire division in the other league each year, as is done between conferences in the NFL. Plus each team would annually play a sister club, Yankees vs. Mets, Cubs vs. White Sox, Dodgers vs. Angels, etc.
Each division winner would make the playoffs, plus two wild card teams from each league, like in the NFL. The two teams with the best records in each league would get a first-round bye, while the remaining division winners would open a five-game series against wild card opponents.
Given weather limitations, it is not clear how baseball can add playoff teams. But if they have to, this is the best way to do it. Also baseball must take into account its long regular season. Many people already feel the NBA and NHL regular seasons are meaningless because over half the teams make the playoffs anyway. Baseball plays about twice as many regular season games as does the NHL and NBA. Any playoff expansion would diminish the importance of the regular season.
The Associated Press