May 25, 2017

Riding the Bench: The Absurdity of the MLB Playoffs

Courtesy of Jerry Reuss Roger Clemens, pitcher 1996.
Courtesy of Jerry Reuss Roger Clemens, pitcher 1996.
Courtesy of Jerry Reuss
Roger Clemens, pitcher 1996.

by Jacob Hevenor ‘17

Sports Editor

The Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season stretches from April to October; a 162-game marathon that is a test for players and bore for watchers. Individual games barely have any significance: if you lose one game, you have a whole 161 others to make up for it. What the length does provide, however, is an ample opportunity for the best teams to rise to the top. Single games are nearly impossible to predict, but over such a large sample size, the top teams are usually the best.

Up until 1969, the single top teams from both leagues (American and National) would win their league “pennant” and face off in the World Series. This guaranteed that the team with the best record would get a chance to vie for the title. It also guaranteed that every other team’s season would end quickly.

The current edition of the MLB playoff structure throws that entire idea out the window. Ten teams make the playoffs, so technically, the team with the tenth-best regular season record could take home the trophy. Unfair, right?

There are two ways to look at it. For one, if it takes 162 games for the best teams to emerge, how can one expect a one-, five- or seven-game series to provide a fair reflection of the superior team conquering the inferior? From a competition perspective, such a playoff structure discounts the value of the regular season – Toronto, a wild-card team, just swept the top-seeded Rangers. It is truly an absurd system

On the other hand, in the age of declining baseball popularity, the MLB should be doing everything in it’s power to increase the unpredictability and place more value on the single game. Regular season games are slow, insignificant, and therefore virtually unmarketable, but a playoff-style winner-moves-on game provides good entertainment and sells tickets.

Additionally, a larger playoff field brings in more revenue. If your tenth-place team is eliminated with a month left in the season, you tune out. A small playoff pool excludes major television and ticket markets and restricts income and popularity. To keep itself alive in this day and age, MLB needs more everything-on-the-line, high-intensity playoff games, regardless of how irrelevant it renders the regular season.

Do or die baseball is the only good baseball.

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