This time it appears Major League Baseball has made a change that works.
Though baseball has suffered through its share of tough times, falling way behind the National Football League in popularity, the addition of a second wild-card team in each league has added suspense to the postseason and to the end of the regular season.
Two “loser-go-home” wild-card games today — Cardinals vs. Braves and Rangers vs. Orioles — will get the postseason started in a potentially dramatic fashion. In addition, the new system kept things interesting down to the final day of the regular season and almost beyond.
It isn’t just the addition of one playoff team in each league that makes this change work. There is a renewed emphasis on teams winning their division and also competing for the best record in the league and the corresponding No. 1 seed.
Previously the top seed faced the wild-card team in the Division Series round unless the wild-card team was from the same division as the top seed. Thus the team with the best record often faced another division winner in the opening round.
Naysayers have complained that the change this season was unnecessary and just another example of baseball’s brain trust tinkering with something that isn’t broken. Critics have said the season has come down to the final day in the past — including a year ago — and the addition of more playoff teams further cheapens the regular season. Also, one hears the argument that things have been as they are for a long time so why the need for change.
What one considers a long time is relative. The postseason set-up in Major League Baseball in effect until a year ago was established in 1995. Following the cancellation of the 1994 postseason due to the players’ strike, the game came back the following season with big changes, going from two to three divisions in each league and adding a wild-card team.
That system lasted just 17 years, which may seem like a long time to fans in their 20s or 30s, but seems like it can be measured with a stopwatch to those of us in our 50s.
In fact, this writer can remember when baseball first went to a division setup in 1969. The addition of two new teams in each league prompted the game’s deep thinkers to break up each 12-team league into two divisions.
Previous to that only the winner of each league advanced to the postseason, which of course consisted at that time of just one round, the World Series. The change in 1969 established the League Championship Series, first as a best-of-five competition, then as best-of-seven beginning in 1985.
It probably is a given that no one is advocating a return to the way things were before 1969, even though that format had lasted since 1901. And yes, there were critics at the time who bemoaned the fact that the regular season would be rendered meaningless.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and the playoff format, in all of its varieties, has proven to be a success. That should continue to be the case with this latest change.