I am not a fan of the expanded baseball playoffs, with three wild-card teams in each league. While I’m sure millions of fans are stoked that their franchises have made the playoffs, I find little to crow about.
Long ago I accepted the divisional playoff system as legitimate, a recognition that Major League Baseball had expanded to so many teams that a four-division setup made sense. That forced the single wild card in each league then, but I find no compelling reason today — beyond MLB and the owners grubbing for more money — to justify the trio of wildcards.
I’m writing this post on the last night of the regular season, on which most of the teams that have clinched wild card berths finished an absurd number of games behind the division leaders.
Start with the San Diego Padres, who are 22 games behind the Dodgers. Twenty-two games behind! Granted, the Dodgers are having an exceptional season, but to my way of thinking, no team that far behind in the standings should be playing into October.
The Mariners are 16.5 games behind Houston, and the Phillies and Rays are each 13 games back of, respectively, Atlanta and the New York Yankees.
Multi-level wild playoffs are fine for a shorter-season sport like football, but in baseball I find they devalue the regular season. They also prolong the season, putting the World Series into winter-leaning weather in many markets and pushing the games deep into the NFL season, by which time most fans’ interests have drifted away from baseball.
I started the day wondering, if today’s system had been in place, whether the Cleveland teams I rooted for early in life would have had a chance to make the playoffs. (You know that I’m headed for disappointment, of course, but let me play this out!)
Here’s the rundown of how far the Indians finished behind the American League pennant winner and, from 1969 on, the American League East champion from 1965 through 1979. That spans the 15 years from the first World Series I can remember through the last year I lived at least partially in Cleveland before moving to Milwaukee.
1965, 15 behind Twins
1966, 17 behind Orioles
1967, 17 behind Red Sox
1968, 16.5 behind Tigers
1969, 46.5 behind Orioles
1970, 32 behind Orioles
1971, 43 behind Orioles
1972, 14 behind Tigers
1973, 26 behind Orioles
1974, 14 behind Orioles
1975, 15.5 behind Red Sox
1976, 16 behind Yankees
1977, 28.5 behind Yankees
1978, 29 behind Yankees
1979, 22 behind Orioles
Compared with the Padres’ 22 GB this year, you might think that the Tribe could have had a shot at expanded wild-card slots in a few of those years. But in only four of them did the Indians have a winning record and in each several “less worse” teams finished above them yet below the league and division champions.
While I don’t begrudge the wild card teams their shot at post-season glory, I hope that this is the year the division-winning Guardians bring a World Series championship back to Cleveland for the first time since 1948.
If in some future year the Guardians squeak into the playoffs in that last AL wild card spot and manage to win it all, I will renounce everything written above this paragraph!