Good idea? Everybody’s antsy; nobody knows. I suspect it’ll be great.
Why? It addresses two problems at once. First, wild-card teams, such as this year’s Cardinals, have far too good a chance to win the World Series. Home-field advantage helps in baseball, but not much. So, a wild card starts October on almost equal footing with an over-100-win division winner. That’s not fair.
Starting now, every wild card has a 50-50 chance to get knocked out on Day One. So, powerhouse teams such as the Red Sox or Yanks are going to have added incentive to win their division, not settle for a wild card. A great pennant race, even a classic battle between 100-win teams, matters again.
The second wild card also will affect another class of teams — those very much like the rising 80-81 Washington Nationals.
Crunch the numbers since the eight-team postseason began, and the impact is clear. Now, if you win 90 games, you’re a lock to make the playoffs. That’s the magic number. (Starting in ’96, 44 of 45 with 90-or-more wins would’ve made it under the new system.)
Of the 13 teams that won exactly 89 games since ’96, just four made the playoffs. In the new system, 11 of the 13 would’ve made it. Big difference.
So, if you’re the Nats, here’s your new reality: 89-90 wins virtually locks you into October, 86-88 might, while 84-85 gives you a prayer.
Commissioner Bud Selig, 77, was as responsible as anybody for the bad old days. Yet he has done what few people in any industry can ever accomplish. He has survived, adapted and, finally, undone most of his sport’s and his own biggest blunders. He has helped build a functioning owner-player consensus by serving as an institutional memory that vividly recalls the full price of bitter failed labor negotiations.
In the end, he has left an excellent legacy that, frankly, I never would have imagined possible just a few years ago when his name was still connected to the worst of baseball buzzwords from “collusion” in the ’80s to “The Strike” in the ’90s to the steroid era scandals of the ’00s.
This is his day. Selig, who always claims an historian’s sensibility and who, indisputably, adores the game up to the legal limit, has outlasted and outwrestled a tormented baseball period that started almost half his life ago.
Those who don’t learn from history are, as everyone knows, condemned to repeat it. Bud Selig learned. He didn’t repeat, but rather, rewrote his own, and his game’s history.