Major League Baseball has released its postseason schedule as well as the 2012 slate. There is no realignment of any kind for 2012 nor is there news of playoff expansion (pet projects of Bud Selig). Commissioner Selig has already indicated that he intends to voluntarily retire (he uses the term “step down”) following the 2012 season but that was assuming a successor would be found and that he would have already put his final stamps on the game of baseball.
Neither has occurred.
The idea has always been to complete the 1994-1995 expansion and realignment of Major League Baseball and its postseason structure to more closely reflect that of the NFL (2002). More divisions containing fewer teams promotes artificial competition combined with the best non-division winner (wildcard) making the postseason. This encourages more meaningful September regular season games with expanded postseason interest – and playoff baseball into November.
That business model has been proven by TV ratings and attendance across all major sports. Overexpansion can dilute the product and eventually balances with the unsustainable level of fan interest. Want proof? Check the NBA or NHL. Their playoffs slog onward for two months with 16 playoff teams and endless 7-game series rendering the 82-game regular season essentially meaningless and diminishing the meaning of making the playoffs. Try that with a 162 game (in 180 days) regular season schedule followed by three rounds of postseason series.
The 1995 implementation of the MLB wildcard augmented the new tri-divisional format with the accommodation of the 1993 and eventual 1998 expansion teams (28 then 30 teams). This radical move collectively changed the face of the game. Much as the 1969 implementation of the first effort to divide the 24 MLB team into four six-team subdivisions, it creates an additional round of playoffs to elongate the road to a championship. From 1903-1968 there was one winner from each league to square off in the so-called World Series. From 1969-1993 there were Eastern and Western Division champions for American and National Leagues to square off in the League Championship Series.
By 1994 (the postseason was cancelled due to labor issues into 1995) the leagues were realigned, expanded and broken down into three divisions per league – understanding that another expansion round was due in 1998. This meant 8 postseason teams out of 30 compared with 2 of 16 (1903-1968) and 4 of 24 (1969-1993). Do we really need 30% of MLB teams making the postseason? (NFL=37.5%, NHL & NBA = 50%)
The wildcard option was introduced as was regular season Interleague Play. Baseball’s popularity and attendance have skyrocketed combined with an explosion of new classic ballparks to revitalize downtown regions, eradicating artificial turf or cookie cutter cement monstrosities and returning the unique nature of the traditional ballparks. Baseball has embraced the best of its past and present to forge a new future – one that trades Disco Nights, beltless spandex softball uniforms, spitballs or sharpened steel spikes of its illustrious history for SmartPhones. Now it wants more revenue from expanded TV contracts (and media).
More expansion? More realignment? Well these are not new concepts, variations of which abound with each person’s preference for the landscape of the game. Selig wants to see some form of additional Wildcard expansion – essentially adding a second wildcard team from each league (a la NFL). This would result in multiple postseason options. One option might allow for bye weeks for division winners with best record. Another option is to have the wildcard teams playoff head to head to determine which deserves to face a division champion.
A) Best record in either league teams receive a bye to sit out the first round of playoffs where remaining two division winners get home field advantage in a Best of Five series vs. wildcard
B) Two best records per league receive byes while remaining sole division winner plays winner of Wildcard Round
Wildcard Round: Perhaps with an extra wildcard entry, the two wildcard teams from each league would playoff head-to-head to determine which of them deserves a chance to face one of the division winners. In this format, all three division winners would sit out to await the result, pushing the entire postseason schedule forward one week on the calendar – taking us back to scintillating November baseball.
Selig has presided over much of this MLB Renaissance since 1992. While Selig is not directly or solely accountable for revolutionizing MLB’s major realignment from four into six divisions (1994), implementation of the wildcard entry into the expanded postseason (1995), nasty labor disputes (resulting in the washout of the 1994 season), The Steriods Era (and all subsequent related issues regarding PED), The Not-So-Great All-Star-Debate (this time it counts for home field World Series advantage), the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and the most lucrative era of Major League Baseball over the past 20 years, he has survived as the face of the game.
Gargantuan sweetheart TV networks have spawned over this regime such as MSG, Comcast Sports, YES, BAS, Rogers SportsNet, WGN and the continued growth of specialized cable networks resulting in the landmark MLB Network in 2009. Major League Baseball has journeyed from newspapers to radio to traditional network TV (CBS and NBC or ABC) to a fourth broadcast network (FOX) to the explosion of digital and ancillary streaming options (MLB.TV, smart phones, direct streaming media, etc.). Migration has taken the game across the continental US into the Sunbelt, Rocky Mountains, Far Southwest, Deep South, Pacific Coast and into two Canadian cities as well as baseball’s increased popularity into the Pan Carribean and the global impact of the World Baseball Classic. An extremely successful recovery when you consider this sport that was considered “dying” or “archaic” as recently as the 1990s.
One realignment plan had been to swap either the Arizona Diamondbacks or Houston Astros from the NL to the AL. Another plan was consolidation of the two Florida teams into one while relocating the other team to Vancouver, Las Vegas, Sacramento, Portland, Honolulu or Albuquerque. The goal of both plans had been to balance out the NL West and AL West to encourage more local rivalries while shoring up MLB cities that have disappointed in revenue streams. Now that the Miami Marlins will christen their new baseball stadium (a new 37,000-seat retractable roof ballpark on the site of the former Orange Bowl) to begin the 2012 season and the Houston Astros franchise sale has been stalled and eclipsed by the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership debacle, Selig may not get his way. The MLB landscape is ever-changing lo these 135 years and counting and it will continue to evolve.
Selig plans to ride off into the sunset at the end of 2012 but he will have to settle for choosing a successor. While Selig has seen three different major league franchises (Braves, Pilots, Brewers) play in his native Milwaukee he was instrumental in bringing those Brewers (formerly the bankrupt Seattle Pilots) to Wisconsin. Selig and MLB have witnessed the Dodgers go bankrupt 54 years after leaving the decimated borough of Brooklyn, three different major league teams in the nation’s capital (two Senators franchises plus the Montreal Expos barnstorming through Puerto Rico before becoming the Nationals in 2005), the birth of free agency, the death of racial stereotypes and growth from the same 16 franchises for 60 years (1901-1960) to expansion over the next 50 years to 30 teams (8 in the 1960s, 2 in 1970s and 4 in the 1990s). 2012 may bring baseball its first $300 million contract and many other changes in time.
When this 9th MLB Commissioner finally gives way to its 10th this former car dealer will simply be a fan like the rest of us. We may see him in the owner’s box at Miller Park waving to the crowd and shaking hands with Bernie the Brewer or refereeing the Sausage Races. Selig will no longer be the Czar of the National Pastime nor the CEO of the Grand Ole Game and perhaps in his softened advanced years and mellowed retirement, he will finally see that the game and the teams and the traditions have meaning for us… the fans. Be a fan Bud. Be a fan of the game.
Fall Clunker: Postseason Change Imperative http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/19/fall-clunker-postseason-change-imperative/
2012: Selig’s Odyssey Expansion & Realignment http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/09/21/2012-expansion-realignment-seligs-odyssey/
Time Has Come for Playoff Expansion http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2010/09/25/time-has-come-for-playoff-expansion-says-selig/
All-Stars Losing Battle http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/07/05/all-stars-almost-finalized/
MLB All-Star Game: World’s Fair to Historical Footnote
MODEST PROPOSAL: MLB vs. MAGELLAN
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org