Major League Baseball has apparently decided to kill the golden goose. Major League Baseball Commisioner Bud Selig announced yesterday that Major League Baseball is, yet again, going to alter its structure. With the excitement (read: money) that the advent of the Wild Card and Interleague games have generated, the Commish has decided that there will now be season long inter-league play and an extra wild card.
In a move that actually makes some sense, Houston is also going to become an American League West team in 2013 so that each league can have 15 teams, and each division will have 5 teams. Currently the American league has 14 and the National League has 16 teams, which makes for the bizarre 6 team NL Central division and the 4 team AL West division.
There has been much belly-aching over the last several years by NL Central teams, which claim that they have to play a harder schedule because a team has to beat out 5 other teams to win a pennant, whereas AL West teams have to only beat out 3 other teams. While the AL West has indeed been a joke for many years, I found this a rather ridicuous argument from NL Central teams, as in any given season at least 2 of the NL central teams battle for the cellar. With two dreadful teams, as opposed to one, NL Central teams actually got statistically easier schedules by playing bottom feeders more often and by having more than one serious opponent knocking off your other serious opponent. In other words, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But that's neither here nor there.
I have to admit that I have never liked the Wild Card. Baseball is a game a statistics, and I feel like the Wild Card rewards mediocrity and punishes those teams that actually earn a trip to the post season. There has not been a good pennant chase in either league since baseball went to this bizarre scheme back in the 1990's. One of my favorite recollections of childhood was the neck and neck battle the Giants had with the Braves in the early 1990s. At the end of the season, San Francisco won 103 games and the Braves won 104. The Giants went home and never set foot in the playoffs. There was no Wild Card; winner take all. There is now little incentive for teams to play tooth and nail down the stretch if they know they can get in via the Wild Card. In fact, in some instances, in a close pennant race, some teams actually intentionally try to get the Wild Card if it means they get to play the weaker of the other two Pennant Division Winning teams in the first round of the play-offs. At the very least, the last two weeks of the season have most teams resting players and dawdling around until the playoffs, even in races that would otherwise have been competitive. I feel strongly the Wild Card largely rips the fans off of an otherwise good pennant race. Elimination has a way of focusing the minds of players.
The new 4 wild card scheme (two Wild Cards per league) is being pitched as a remedy to this. The two Wild Card teams play a winner-take-all one game playoff game before the Division series in the hopes this will motivate teams to fight harder down the stretch so they do not end up in the precarious predicament of a winner-take-all one game series (a loss in which would likely cost a manager his job). There is a certain amount of logic to that, but there is an equal amount of logic to the fact that if this one game Wild Card playoff is successful that Major League baseball will not be able to keep its greedy hands off the one game playoff and eventually turn it into at least a 3 (or more) game series. Why make money off just one game when you can make 3 times as much money off 3 games? It is only a matter of time before more Wild Cards or longer Wild Card series will be added. Mark my words.
I can take or leave Interleague play. I do actually like a series with the natural geographic rivalries like White Sox/Cubs or Mets/Yankees. Even the Kansas City/St. Louis series is usually good. But I think it does ultimately empty the World Series of some of its magic if teams have played before earlier in the season, as it renders the World Series into just another extended series of "We've already played this team." Again, this is another instance of Major League Baseball picking the money tree dead. Interleague was originally small scale like that, which was fine in my opinion, as it was highly unlikely two teams from the same city or region would meet each other in the World Series, but, of course, nothing in moderation when money is involved. Why have 2 interleague series per team per season when you can 6 or more?
This ballooned into the bizarre Interleague series match ups of Atlanta/Seattle and Kansas City/Cincinnati. Who cares? I dread the month of June in baseball now because it is largely completely wasted on such ridiculous series that have no historical or geographic attraction to me whatsoever. Interleague never seems to end. I think moderation is the key to its success, and this new scheme where there will be at least one Interleague series pretty much all season is a process of killing the golden goose. Interleague is successful because its a novelty. Once it stops being a novelty, the cash cow will be dead.
I admit that I am something of a Baseball purist. I think the strength of the game is in its timelessness. Changing things just because it is trendy in other sports or because you can make more money at it is not a good reason. If I want a ton of wild cards with meaningless regular seasons, I'll watch the NBA.
Well, then again, maybe not the NBA. They can't get their act together either.