Fixing Baseball For Us, Or For Football Fans?

Tom Verducci at posted an argument for baseball adding a second wild card team and having the two wild cards play a win-or-go-home playoff game at the end of the regular season.  The thesis of his argument is that baseball needs to do more to ‘fix’ its September calendar, which (according to Verducci) rarely contains drama and too easily gets overwhelmed by the start of football season.

I agree with aspects of his essay.  Imagining his system, Verducci makes the strongest argument for his idea:

The Yankees and Rays are in a real race. Now it’s much more important to win your division than the wild card, in which you could get knocked out of the playoffs with one game. It keeps meaning in September games for runaway leaders.

Of course, Texas’s 7-game lead is not seriously challenged by any other team in their division, so this format won’t help all runaway leaders play meaningful games in September.

Other aspects of Verducci’s article are worrisome, however.  Take this quote:

Every NFL game has the feeling of being self-contained, with the stand-alone quality of say a movie as opposed to the serial quality of a baseball series. Baseball games rise to that level of urgency when they are “ultimate” games.

Many baseball fans and writers (this one included) have an inferiority complex in relation to football.  Football is glamorous, sexy, arrogant, and made-for-television.  Yet one of the best parts of baseball is the 162-game schedule, the grind of the season.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Photo finishes are exciting, sure, but they are much more exciting when they happen at the end of a marathon.  Baseball will never be like football, and we shouldn’t change our game to resemble football for the sake of trying to appease football fans.  Please baseball fans first.

Verducci, as a serious baseball fan, is probably quite interested in this September’s games.  Seven of the Yankees’ last 20 games are against the Rays.  Atlanta and Philadelphia have been jockeying for first place for a month, and with Philly, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, and St. Louis all within 6 games of each other, winning the NL East is very important indeed.  San Diego’s collapse has suddenly made the NL West a 3-team race.  All this is exciting to any fan who follows the baseball season, or is a fan of any of these teams.  And the notion that the Wild Card makes winning a division less meaningful?  Ask the 22 teams going home in October if  winning the division is meaningful.

The real question here is money, as it usually is with high-level baseball decisions these days.  How much does baseball want to tailor itself to casual fans?  Would baseball tamper with aspects of the game cherished by season ticket holders in favor of the few million disinterested households who would watch an out-of-market elimination playoff game?  From which group does baseball stand to make more money?

Verducci frames his argument with numbers about baseball’s increased TV numbers for the recent elimination playoff games.  In this particular instance, I agree with the proposal to “revamp” baseball’s playoffs.  As long as the extra game did not push the playoffs irretrievably into November, I’m for it.  But we baseball fans who view ourselves as guardians of, and witnesses to, a hallowed sport should analyze our motivations whenever we consider changing the game’s constitution.  Are we improving the game for ourselves?  Or are we sacrificing our values in trying to please an ambivalent football audience whom we will never truly satisfy?

4 thoughts on “Fixing Baseball For Us, Or For Football Fans?

  1. Pingback: The 3 Game Series « Kreft, Krefting, Krefted

  2. moonlightgraham

    I often see football as the problem, in that the Superbowl is hardly ever interesting. Can’t they change that and play a bone-breaking best of 7 series?

    Honestly, I think that the Wild Card question is not pertinent for the NL (which could have 4 divisions almost) as much as maybe for the AL. I think the best thing that could happen to the AL is to have 2 more teams added so that it turns into an NL like free for all throughout August and half of September. It does seem to me that the NL more often has a playoff game than the AL, and I remember at least a few years in the last two decades where three teams are tied coming down to their last game. To me, one game playoffs are miraculous. 162 games and they still tie.

    I think a forced playoff game of two wild-cards that Verducci envisions is lame (especially if one of the teams is like 5.0 games ahead of the other) and the wild card is exciting enough. But of course, that was a new innovation, and baseball doesn’t necessarily have to stay traditional, or else we’d have two leagues and the first place teams go to the series.

    It’s not football. Everyone get over it.

  3. nmirra Post author

    Jayson Stark also weighed in on this idea of a second Wild Card team:
    He is in favor of it for similar reasons: adding drama to September and “restoring the incentive to finish first.” But I have to wonder how many teams pull off the throttle somewhat at the end of a season when they’re guaranteed a playoff spot. Are the Rays coasting? Is there any tangible sense in their clubhouse that they are taking it easy because their pennant race isn’t meaningful (as Verducci and Neyer claim)? I doubt it.

  4. Pingback: How Long Will Josh Hamilton Remain A Drug Story? | My Web Presence

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