Wild Card isn’t incentivizing teams to improve themselves

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Back when three divisions per league and the Wild Card was adopted it was sold as a way for more teams to compete. Then, when the second Wild Card was added, it was touted as a way for even more teams to compete. The thinking was that the more playoff spots, the more teams in the running, the more incentive everyone would have to improve and try and all of that.

Except it’s not happening. And the second Wild Card  is certainly not incentivizing teams to improve themselves at the deadline. Take this quote from Jayson Stark’s article about the trade deadline in The Athletic today:

And speaking of the wild card, virtually every baseball front office is now populated by smart dudes who understand it makes no mathematical sense to be “all in” at the deadline if your reward is only a one-game Wild Card Game playoff that could end your season in three hours.

“If you do that, you’re putting a lot of your future on playing one game,” said one NL exec. “It doesn’t make sense [to go all in to play one game]. If you made the Wild Card two out of three, I bet you’d see more teams willing to do something. At least that’s a series. But who’s going to make a big trade for a chance to play one game?”

This is not just about the second Wild Card team, of course. The teams that, between 1995 and 2011 who would’ve won the one Wild Card are now out of a full playoff too, and thrust into a one-game playoff that, according to the front offices, isn’t worth shooting for. Which means that, realistically, we’ve gone from teams trying hard to make one of four playoff slots to teams only caring if they can be one of three. At least if the guy Stark spoke with is to be believed.

Is that a rational approach for front offices to take? Not necessarily. After all, since the advent of the second Wild Card we’ve had six teams reach the LCS or farther after coming out of the one-game Wild Card playoff. In 2014 two Wild Card teams — the Giants and the Royals — faced off in the World Series. We often hear that the postseason is a crapshoot, but it’s a crapshoot for everyone, division winners included, and it seems odd that the idea of playing in a best-of-five serves is an incentive and the idea of a one-game play-in to make a best-of-five is not. That’s what they’re saying, though.

As Stark notes, there isn’t much of a desire — or even the ability, schedule-wise — to make the Wild Card round a best-of-three. And given what has happened with previous incentives, it’s hard to guess how such a thing might cause teams to react. Maybe a best-of-three isn’t worth it to them either.

Ultimately, though, I don’t know that any postseason structure would change this very much. The fundamental thing keeping teams from trying to improve themselves before and during the season is the disconnect between revenue and winning. Back in the day a team that won a lot of games made a lot more money than a team that lost a lot of games because attendance was a much bigger piece of the revenue pie. Now, long-term TV contracts and various other revenue streams that are independent of team performance (e.g. corporate partnerships, digital initiatives, gambling) are far more significant. Financially speaking, it’s far better for a team to win 82 games with a lower payroll than to win 90 games with a higher payroll.

That’s a much bigger fix. And I have no idea how you go about accomplishing it.


Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.