I missed this the other day — it was brought to my attention by Mike Axisa of CBS this morning — but Theo Epstein told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune that the idea of a best-of-three Wild Card series, as opposed to the current one-and-done format, was once proposed. And promptly rejected:
“We threw out something a few years ago about making it a two out of three, but with a doubleheader the first day because days are at a premium that time of year, and you don’t want the teams that win the division to have to wait too long and then get cold. It’s not fair to them. That didn’t pass. It got rejected.”
Not surprising. And, even if I don’t think one game settles anything meaningful in baseball, I’m not gonna spend too much effort caring, to be honest.
With the wild card game baseball is, quite clearly, favoring excitement and good TV over measuring baseball merit in a truly fair way. But that doesn’t strike me as any kind of mortal sin. For one thing, they’re usually pretty honest about it. They tend to admit that they’re TRYING to generate excitement and make good TV and, no matter what you think about that as a goal, they have accomplished it.
And, to be totally fair, three games — especially if two come in a doubleheader — don’t exactly constitute a wonderful and pure measure of baseball strength any more than one game does. Most people who think about such things believe that even a five-game series is too short for that, and perhaps even a seven game series is. Put simply: that which makes a strong baseball team over the long haul and that which makes for a good playoff team can and often are very different things. Depth. Health. Stamina. It’s hard to test any of that in the playoffs.
There are certainly issues with the current playoff format, but you’re going to have issues with any format which changes the fundamental nature of the contest from a marathon to a sprint. Making the first few steps out of the starting blocks matter a tad more than just the first one isn’t gonna really change that.