It’s so ridiculous it must be the leading edge of a deflection campaign. It’s as if MLB said to itself, “We’re about to start a spring training that will involve nothing but questions about trash-can banging. How do we change to the subject?”
My guess is that MLB, never overloaded in the clear-thinking department, held a brainstorming session. One of those blue-sky things. Nothing off-limits. Say whatever pops into your head, assuming anything does. Then you take your best — or, failing that, your least-worst — idea and send up the ol’ trial balloon to see how she flies.
The balloon flew in Monday’s New York Post, which, in grand tabloid fashion, ran a back cover of the MLB logo exploding. The headline: “October Madness.” From Joel Sherman’s exclusive: “Imagine a team picking its playoff opponent. Think about Brian Cashman and the Yankees deciding whether to face the Red Sox or avoid them in the first round of the postseason. All on live TV. Well, it is probably coming soon to the major leagues.”
MLB, Sherman reported, is considering expanding its playoffs from 10 qualifiers to 14 by 2022. That’s not such a shocking development: Every sport is always considering widening its postseason field because, duh, more money! Never mind that MLB, surely by accident, has hit on something of an ideal number. A 10-team field where the four wild cards are thrust into elimination games puts a massive premium on winning a division, making baseball’s 162-game regular season matter exponentially more than the NBA’s 82-game exercise in load-management.
Baseball being baseball, it has apparently looked on a good thing and said, “How can we mess this up?” Back to Sherman’s story. The first-place finishers in each league will get Round 1 byes. Then: “The two other division winners and the wild card with the next-best record would each host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round; the bottom three wild cards would have no first-round home games. The division winner with the second-best record in a league would then get the first pick of its opponent from those lower three wild cards, then the other division winner would pick, leaving the last two wild cards to play each other.”
If nothing else, a playoff team getting to pick — on live TV, per the MLB blueprint — its playoff opponent would be unprecedented. (Talk about a real “selection show.”) There is, ahem, a reason no other sport has tried it, and that reason is …
It’d be an insult to the team that gets chosen and therefore a disadvantage to the team that did the picking. “You wanted us? You got us! Let’s see if you’re as bad at picking an opponent as you are at picking your nose!”
This is the zillionth example of baseball having no idea why people — some people, anyway, though fewer with every year — continue to like baseball. Did not a wild-card team just win the World Series? (Answer: yes.) Did not the lower seeds win both National League Division Series? (Answer: yes.) Did not, in a year where four teams won 100-plus games, MLB just produce a champion that finished 93-69? (Answer: yes.) Does MLB not already grasp that, in a sport with such fine margins, there’s no postseason lock? (Answer: apparently not.)
Also: Is it fair to have any playoff “series” that doesn’t allow one team to play at home? Also: Do the 13th- and 14th-best MLB teams warrant the reward of postseason play? (Had the proposed system been in place last year, the 85-77 Diamondbacks and the 84-78 Red Sox would have gained entrance.) Isn’t that bordering on NBA territory, where more teams make the playoffs than don’t? If you’re going to play 162 games, shouldn’t those 162 count for something?
As for the idea of MLB as “reality TV”: Isn’t every MLB game, by definition, reality TV? (In an alternate reality, Freddie Freeman catches Yadi Molina’s soft liner and the Braves beat the Cardinals in four, beat the Nationals in five and upset the upstanding Astros and are reporting to North Port as World Series champs.) Maybe this is MLB trying to cater to an audience that doesn’t watch baseball, but the risk is that you alienate your core audience to the extent that they switch to real reality TV and get hooked on “The Masked Singer.”
(Speaking of which: The big guy in the tiger suit after the Super Bowl had to be Gronk, right?)
Reaction to the MLB proposals on the always circumspect social media was as you’d expect. Trevor Bauer, the Reds pitcher never known to leave a thought unexpressed, offered this on Twitter: “No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.”
Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner. It was believed Manfred would be a cognitive upgrade over the blundering Bud, but this posited reset calls to mind the scene in the original “Get Carter,” wherein the title character, played by Michael Caine at his insouciant best, enters a room of gangsters. The head hood says to Carter, “Clever, aren’t you?” And Carter says, “Only comparatively.”
Let’s recap baseball’s winter. It botched the Astros Affair — Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the sign-stealing, contrary to MLB’s findings, was organizationally driven and named “Codebreaker” on in-house spreadsheets — to the extent that its one-year ban of general manager Jeff Luhnow seems unconscionable. Astros fallout induced the Red Sox and Mets to part with their managers. It also prompted Pete Rose to issue another of his what-about-me pleas for clemency re: the Hall of Fame, so now everyone gets reminded that its Hit King bet on baseball as player and manager. (And merits no clemency, ever.)
Now baseball wants to be the first sport in which a team can choose its opponent. Just to spice things up. As if banging on a trash can isn’t spicy enough.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.