I’ve been trying to process yesterday’s announcement — which we knew was coming for a long time — that a playoff team will be added in each league, possibly as soon as next season. I’ve been against the idea for some time and, from a purely baseball perspective, I still don’t like it. But I can’t bring myself to muster any outrage. All I can do is nod and say “Oh well. Now let’s do this new thing.”
To be clear, I do think that adding a playoff team and making a one-game playoff between the wild card winners every year is jarring and gimmicky. It’s the polar opposite to everything a long 162-game schedule represents. It’s akin to having marathon runners stop at 26.1 miles and then decide the winner with a double-dutch competition.
But if there is any lesson to be learned from the past few years which saw multiple one-game playoffs and that bananas last night of this season, it’s OK to just go nuts sometimes. One of the things I’m learning as I get older is that not everything needs to be reconciled. You can live with some degree of sub-optimization and endure a little cognitive dissonance and the world will not end. Yeah, that’s a potentially fatal realization for a person who’s supposed to offer sharp opinions about everything. I’ll try to make up for it when the Hall of Fame inductions are announced. But for now I’m kind of OK with it.
Besides, I am sort of cottoning to the notion that the one-game playoff — for all of its ills — does make winning the division more important. As it was, the wild card winner didn’t have much of a penalty to it. Now it does. The fact that a 92-win wild card winner may fall victim to an 86-win wild card winner in one silly game isn’t ideal, but I don’t think the world will end either.
Ultimately, though, it makes little sense to argue against expanded playoffs from a “this will make for bad baseball” perspective. That’s because we have to accept that this was not a bad baseball decision as such. No one at Major League Baseball looked at this and said “yes, that will improve the game!” It was totally about TV and hype and commercialism. The ability to sell a winner-takes-all game with 100% certainty that it will, in fact, happen. Even Bud Selig has admitted that baseball’s partners in the media had a lot to do with this. He doesn’t truly believe this is an organic or wholly positive baseball development so I’m not going to waste my breath tearing such an erroneous position down.
It’s happening. It’s not ideal. But it’s not disastrous either. We may even actually have a lot of fun with it. So I think I’ll keep my powder dry for something else.