Seven-game playoffs for baseball are a mistake. The sport should go back to the old best-of-five format immediately.

There's only one thing wrong with the new setup. But it's the worst possible thing that could be wrong. It's dull.

From 1969 to 1984, the baseball playoffs were the tensest, most exciting, least fair crap-shoot in sports. Players feared the league championships and swore they were the worst pressure they'd ever endured.

Fans loved 'em. Every game was a crisis.

The home team desperately needed to win both of the first two games, otherwise it would have to win the pennant in a three-game series in its opponent's park. That's hard.

The only time an LCS ever lost its energy was if the visiting team opened with two straight wins. Even then, the third game had excitement; the pennant could be won that day.

Now, with the addition of just two games, plus an extra offday, all that has changed.

There is no reason for the general fan to be excited and absorbed by the early games of the playoffs. Perfect proof of that came on the weekend in Kansas City and St. Louis.

In years past, if the Royals and Cardinals had come home down 2-0, there would have been a last-stand atmosphere. The Blue Jays and Dodgers would have been one win from a pennant, but the home teams would have needed "only" a three-game sweep in their own parks. Everybody knows that's possible. Concluding in, say, a ninth-inning homer from Ozzie Smith.

You think a capacity home crowd can't help you win three little games? Remember San Diego in '84 and Milwaukee in '82. St. Louis these last three days?

Instead, what we had was a weekend snore, compared to the marvelous tension that spoiled us for 15 years.

The Royals and Cardinals both won their Game 3 battles. That's when the realization finally sank in of just how inferior the new seven-game playoff is. Our gut-level reaction was, "So what?" Even if the Royals or Cardinals swept in their home parks, they still had to go back on the road to clinch.

In the past, each of these weekend games would have been a potential sudden-death situation. By Game 5, double sudden death.

Instead, the feeling has been that nothing of real consequence was likely to happen in Missouri. Just wait -- yawn -- until today in Toronto or Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Talk about defusing a great event.

The Blue Jays and Dodgers came to Missouri with big leads. If they did clinch here, what would have been so exciting about that? More important, they couldn't lose.

Obviously there's only one reason baseball expanded its playoffs: money. That's not nearly a good enough reason.

The phony argument in favor of the new structure is that it's "fairer." Sure. About 2 percent. If you want fair, play 162.

The difference between five games and seven isn't enough to sneeze at.

It's also said that Joe and Jane Fan, watching on television, want more games. You mean 10 to 17 postseason games, most in prime time, aren't enough?

Let other sports dilute their product until we're sated. Voltaire said of writing, "If you want to bore the reader, tell him everything."

It's always better to offer a little less than the customer wants, rather than a little more.

Another possible abomination lurks within the seven-game playoffs. With a bit of bad luck, both 1985 playoffs could have ended by Sunday (even if the ALCS had gone five games). Even if both LCS had gone five, everything would have ended Monday. And the World Series can't start until Saturday.

If 75 percent of baseball is pitching, then what in the name of Connie Mack and Casey Stengel is the game doing running the risk of a four- or five-day layoff before the Series?

What is this, the Super Bowl?

A layoff that long is more than enough to destroy the timing of most hitters and throw off the control of most pitchers. Thanks to needless made-for-TV offdays, the postseason already is too attenuated and a poorer test of a total pitching staff than it should be. Now we're approaching the point of the ridiculous.

Until a week ago, baseball had an almost perfectly harmonious system.

End the pennant races on Sunday. Leave Monday open for a possible one-game division playoff. Hold the playoffs Tuesday- Wednesday, then Friday-Saturday-Sunday. That begins the Series on Tuesday with a worst-case scenario of a three-day layoff. Now, all that's dead.

A seven-game playoff has only one real potential gain. Now the World Series could start with Games 1 and 2 in the glorious sunshine on a Saturday and Sunday. And Games 6 and 7 could likewise conclude a good series in the daylight on Saturday and Sunday.

Who says we can't ever get back to the things that were really good about the good old days?

Oooops. Starting this year, all World Series games will be played at night.

Hey, television doesn't want to go head-to-head with college and pro football on the weekend.

If it's conceivably possible for the gentlemen entrusted with administrating baseball to damage the sport with poor judgment, greed and timidity, that's what will always come to pass. In baseball, backward is usually the direction to go to find progress.

In the case of the playoffs, the game can't turn back the clock too quickly.