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FALL CLUNKER: Postseason Change Imperative

FALL CLUNKER: Postseason Change Imperative

Tonight begins the 2011 World Series. The Fall Classic. The Crown Jewel of the Baseball Season. This year’s entry (107th) pits the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers against the underdog wildcard St. Louis Cardinals (National League’s version of Survivor). With apologies to fans of both franchises, this is not a Dream Matchup. Fans of baseball should want to see the best teams in the Fall Classic.

Best Not Around: The Philadelphia Phillies (102) and New York Yankees (97) combined for 199 regular season victories but neither of those league-best teams will be participating. Gone are all three National League divisional champs including the Milwaukee Brewers (96 wins) and Arizona Diamondbacks (who shocked the world by taking the NL West with a 94-68 record). Detroit Tigers (95-67) will watch on TV after losing to Texas while the AL Wildcard Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) didn’t offer much resistance during their brief postseason effort.  

Essentially, this “classic” alleged “marquee” matchup will feature the eighth-best team against a team that tied for third-best record in the Major Leagues. FOX-TV executives must be drooling at the prospect of airing a re-run of last night’s episode of House rather than spending billions to secure the World Series broadcast rights. Well, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you wind up going from Fall Classic to Fallen Clunker!

TV Ratings: Genius baseball executives have managed to eradicate the Philadelphia-New York-Boston market while also ignoring the entire western half of the viewing audience. St. Louis ranks as the 21st overall market (according to the Nielsen DMA) while the Dallas-Fort Worth region ranks number 5 behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Thanks to cable and satellite TV, those DMA rankings don’t really determine the true viewing audience – but between Dallas (5) and St. Louis (21) you will find San Francisco/Oakland, Boston, Atlanta, Washington/Baltimore, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle, Tampa, Miami, Minneapolis, Denver, Cleveland, Orlando and Sacramento. That sound you hear is sarcastic clapping. Great job Major League Baseball. Way to go rampant over-expansion and Made-for-TV playoffs which are “Must-Flee TV.” Check the World Series ratings over the past 5 or 10 years (see below#) How ya like the wildcard now Big Boss Bud Selig?

Sour 16: The NBA and NHL play 82 regular season games so that 16 of 32 teams can make the postseason. In the NFL, twelve of 32 teams (37.5%) survive the 16-game regular season. We will not consider the three dozen NCAA football bowl games for this argument but should be aware of the 68-team NCAA basketball Tournament – which is extremely successful in spite of its girth. The NBA and NHL regular season have very little importance because 50% of the teams qualify for postseason play. NFL parity has proven that any team can win on any given Sunday and while 16 games barely separates teams in the standings, the disparity between winning and losing teams is obvious. The NHL’s two-month postseason may last into May before eventually pitting two survivors in the June Stanley Cup Finals but both teams have a chance to win those grueling marathon 7-game series. We all know that the Super Bowl attracts billions of viewers worldwide – not to mention unparalleled advertising revenue. Major League Baseball is the only key sport which plays a 162-game regular season. After those 162 games in 180 days MLB teams with 95 or 100 wins have earned their status as superior in every way, shape and form. One extra home game in a best-of-five-game series is simply not enough.

Fall Classics: There was a time when only the overall best NL and AL teams would play the World Series to determine the season’s champion (Best of Nine games at one time). While there were only 16 MLB teams in 1960 (much as there had been since the American League’s 1901 inception) much credit should be offered for maintaining MLB integrity as long as possible. Each of two league champions made the only postseason series from 1901-1968. Conversely, teams wallowed in the MLB cellar for decades on end because half the league had no chance to compete. Expansion, free agency and the television age of the 1960s changed the face of the game – causing 24 teams to push for a larger playoff pool.

From 1969 to 1984, MLB was subdivided into two six-team divisions per league allowing those four champions to playoff in a Best of Five game series to determine World Series participants. From 1985 to 1993 that League Championship Series had been expanded to Best of Seven format retaining the four team postseason. This brief period of history offered some of the most exciting LCS and World Series due to the best-of-seven format and keeping the number of postseason teams to four division champions.

Wildcard: Starting in 1994 (postseason was washed out by labor strife) MLB realigned to reflect recent and expected expansion so that 28 (then 30) teams were subdivided into six total geographic groupings across two leagues. Eight of 30 teams (26%) would move onto the postseason, perhaps still  the most equitable percentage of all major sports. This was achieved by the adoption of the wildcard (used successfully in the NFL with different format) to create the modern paradigm in 1995 and used over the past 16 seasons. Despite all of the benefits of a six month regular season, MLB division winners and wildcard teams alike are thrown into a mere Best of Five game series on a level playing field. Division winners are afforded one extra home game over their wildcard opponents. Teams that win 116 or 102 games are pitted against teams that have won 95 or 85 or fewer games over the proving ground of the regular season. This is not enough of a reward over a 162-game season.

While I like the wildcard concept for regular season excitement, MLB is far too accommodating of wildcard teams in the postseason. We are still talking about the fourth-best team in either league and yet MLB sees fit to treat them the same as divisional champions – save one extra home game!

Wildcard champs: Five of those previous 15 seasons since 1994 (no 1994 postseason) saw a wildcard team qualify for and eventually win the World Series. This proves that inferior teams can get on a hot streak to win the best-of-five NLDS or ALDS followed by the NLCS or ALCS. Draw it up any way you like, but any team now has to win 11 games in the postseason to win the World Series. This means potentially as many as 19 postseason games after a 162-game regular season which translates loosely into there being virtually no advantage ensuring the best teams make it to the World Series.

Shouldn’t the wildcard teams have to win more games or prove themselves worthy to win a home field advantage? Maybe wildcard teams shouldn’t get any home games in the LDS round at all? Maybe the wildcard teams play the worst-record division winner while other division winners sit out a three game series? Isn’t the whole point of this six-month marathon supposed to be deliver the two best teams to play a classic series for the ages?

Selig wants more playoff expansion

Changes: It is too late to change for 2012 but by 2013 the system could look very different. Two additional wildcards are scheduled to be added to the postseason mix (one more per league). The two wildcard teams in either league would play head-to-head and determine who qualifies to play a division winner. This “Wildcard Playoff Round” could last as few as one game or as many as five games but the rest of the postseason would proceed in its current format – one week later. Given that structure, division winners and best regular season records should be rewarded for their efforts of proving themselves over a 162-game season (resting of pitching staff, watching a wildcard round) with home field advantage. This added round of playoffs also guarantees the World Series will delve back into November, thus playing the most important games of the season in football weather and poor conditions – as in 1975, 1979, 1997, 2001, 2008 and many other years of protracted delays.

Advantage: Perhaps affording the best overall record in each league a real homefield advantage would make a difference – by playing the entire series in their home ballpark rather than 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games. Perhaps affording the best overall team in either league an automatic berth in the League Championship Series would ensure that the winners of the wildcard and playoff system would have to prove themselves worthy by winning more games, playing into the LCS and beating more rested, more proven teams. While the wildcard system makes for a very exciting end to the regular season (especially true in 2011) it doesn’t guarantee that the best teams survive the playoff structure.

2002 Angels won it all

Back to the Future: All of this is an attempt to salvage an already muddied and diluted system. The best theory is to revert to what worked for many years without fail. Take the two best teams and play a more protracted series which would prove the better team over a 7 or 9-game set. Mucking it up with 8 or 10 teams and three levels of extraneous playoff series (especially with short series) ensures the opposite outcome.

Mediocrity: 5 of 15 years (one third of the time) wildcard teams have won the World Series or 33% of these wildcard years.  2011 could make it 6 out of 16 seasons which still is a moderate sample size but enough to identify a trend. Is the end goal here to make the final week of the regular season exciting? If so, the wildcard system works!

Photo finish: The final month of the 2011 season culminated in teams coming back from 10-game deficits and maintaining a playoff atmosphere across the league right up until the final day of the regular season. Again the problem is that it expands the postseason – as evidenced by the NFL (37.5% of teams advance after 16-game season), NHL and NBA (50% of teams qualify after an 82 game season) to the point of invalidating the usefulness of their regular season.

Do we really want lesser teams playing for the World Series or do we want to bring back the luster of the Fall Classic?


# Examples of World Series Ratings:

2006 (St. Louis vs. Detroit) 15.8 million viewers 10.1 rating = worst rating in modern World Series history

2004 St. Louis vs. Boston was good for 25.3 million viewers. Boston reversed the Curse of the Bambino winning their first championship since 1918. Proof that fans will watch a dramatic series between two titans

2002 San Francisco Giants vs. Anaheim Angels garnered 19 million viewers in Game 6 to 30 million in Game 7


1985 and 1987 St. Louis Cardinals took the World Series to 7 games, losing in 1985 to cross-state rival Kansas City while losing a dramatic World Series to Minnesota in 1987. These registered roughly 50 million viewers and a 30 Nielson rating in the early days of cable and before 500 satellite channels. Proof that if the World Series is a true championship rather than a double elimination episode of Survivor, fans will watch. How many non-football fans watch the Super Bowl?


Fall Clunker: Postseason Change Imperative

2012: Selig’s Odyssey Expansion & Realignment

Time Has Come for Playoff Expansion

All-Stars Losing Battle

MLB All-Star Game: World’s Fair to Historical Footnote







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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 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

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In response to “FALL CLUNKER: Postseason Change Imperative”

  1. Xyzzyx Oct 20 20118:17 pm


    Another reason for low ratings is announcer Jack Buck’s stultifying monotone. He was at his worst for the All-Star Game and is only marginally better now. I can take only so much of his monotone before I have to change channels.

    1. Christopher Rowe Oct 21 201111:25 am


      Not a fan of McCarver or Buck… so you make a good point on that one. McCarver is more annoying though

  2. Rob Oct 22 20115:42 pm


    If the Phillies were the best team in the NL, they’d be in the World Series right now. End of story. If the supposed “best rotation of this generation” couldn’t take three of five from a 90 win Cardinals squad, they simply don’t deserve to be on the big stage. Just because a non-coastal team is going to win the Series this year doesn’t mean something’s Wrong With Baseball.

    1. Christopher Rowe Oct 23 201112:26 am


      No idea who brought “coastal” into it – nor why this is an issue with any one team or location. My point is that any team who proves themselves in the 162-game regular season (Phillies 102 wins, Yankees 97 or Seattle when they won 116) should have some reward.

      Those 90 win Cardinals have played their hearts out… However… starting a wildcard team on an essentially even plane with a division winner is unfair. One extra home game over a best of five series is the only advantage offered to separate wildcard from division winner. How about no home games for a wildcard – which for Tampa might have helped them?

      Look at the NFL… best division winners get a bye while wildcards go on the road to face division champs with lesser records than bye teams. Why not implement some of these elements into the scenario?

      Wildcards should have to play their way deeper into the playoffs which is why adding a wildcard round to the postseason or implementing byes for best overall record should matter. Also having the wildcard Cardinals with home field advantage over two time AL Champion Texas simply due to the All-Star Game is putrid.

  3. Christopher Rowe Oct 23 201112:50 am


    PS-Cardinals and Rangers are playing one helluva Series as you play the team in front of you. Don’t hate the players, hate the game. Selig and Committee determined this postseason format and this is intended to fault the system.

  4. Christopher Rowe Oct 26 20112:29 pm


    Rangers in 6? Cardinals in 7? Rangers in 7? Place yer bets

    1. Rob Oct 27 20115:43 pm


      Jaime’s a wildcard, so predicting game 6 is close to impossible. But if the Cards hold on, yesterday’s rainout makes a game 7 Carpenter start very likely. Basically, if the Rangers are gonna win, I think they have to do it tonight.

    2. Rob Nov 1 20113:38 pm


      A “clunker” for the ages, eh?

      1. Christopher Rowe Nov 1 20113:43 pm


        Clunker for the ages indeed. RATINGS were worst ever aside from Game 7 (which is always elevated in any sport). On the field it was an excellent series between the two teams – but it still wasn’t the two best teams nor was it the nest baseball we might have seen. I don’t blame the teams or players or fans because they play, watch and cheer for what is presented to them. My contenton is still with MLB for not putting the best two teams in the World Series

  5. Greginator Nov 11 20114:41 pm


    Baseball fans liked the Series. Casual TV viewers couldn’t have cared less. THAT’s what FOX cares about.

  6. Robert Nov 12 20115:20 am


    Also, baseball is boring. I’d rather watch the 2 worst NFL teams duke it out than be forced to watch the 2 best teams in Baseball.

  7. Chaz Ingram Nov 12 20112:47 pm


    I agree with Greg. If you’re a “Real” baseball fan you had to thoroughly enjoy the world series. The Green Bay Packers were 4-3 at one point last year and obviously won the SuperBowl. I would strongly disagree that they were not the best team in the NFL last year.

    1. Christopher Rowe Nov 12 20112:53 pm


      Precisely why MLB Network or ESPN have to get the TV contract for baseball. FOX and TBS only care about prime time ratings, not the integrity of the game or the cultivation of new baseball fans (especially young baseball fans). NFL is on Sunday afternoons plus prime time. When do you see postseason baseball? World Series games start at 8:30 EST and afternoon World Series games went the way of the dinosaur in the 1980s (just 15 years after the first night World Series game) because TV networks saw the dollars and sense of the scheme!

      If MLB Network or ESPN don’t save MLB, it will indeed be lost to much of mainstream America and will become a niche sport like the NHL!

  8. Christopher Rowe Nov 17 20117:53 pm


    Looks like 2 Wildcards and Houston to the AL in 2013. What other changes could be in store?

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