Major League Baseball Playoffs – Is There a Better Way?

Being that it is October and the postseason of Major League Baseball is currently in progress, I thought that I’d devote a few moments of my time to share my thoughts with all of you about some alternative ways Major League Baseball could use, or has used, to promote a great postseason experience for everyone. I firmly believe there are a number of scenarios that could improve the game. I’m going to share three of those scenarios with you, and also, I’ll be sharing some pros and cons of each scenario. You may also learn some history and facts about Major League Baseball that you may not have already known previous to reading this post.

First, let’s discuss Major League Baseball’s current postseason format.

Right now, Major League Baseball operates under the new “Divisional Play Rules,” which, when restructured following the 1994 player strike, state that there are to be three divisions in each league, the East, West and Central Divisions. The team with the best win-loss record in each division after the regular season ends will compete in the playoffs, and one Wild Card team (the team in each league with the best win-loss record out of all the teams who did not win a Division Title) will compete in the playoffs. The current MLB playoffs consist of a Divisional Series (best-of-five games), a League Championship Series (best-of-seven games) and World Series (best-of-seven games). Typically, the #1 seed (Division Champion with the best regular season record) plays the #4 seed (Wild Card) and the #2 seed (Division Champion with the 2nd best record) plays the #3 seed (Division Champion with the 3rd best record) in the initial, Divisional Series. Four total Divisional Series take place, two in each league. The winners of each Divisional Series will compete with each other in their corresponding league’s Championship Series. Two total League Championship Series will take place, one in each league. The winner of each series is crowned as either National League Champions or as American League Champions, depending on the league in which they compete. Each will represent their respective league in the World Series. The winner of the World Series is crowned as the World Champion of Baseball.

Your probably also wondering how Major League Baseball determines which teams will host certain games of each series, and how many games each team will host. Home-field advantage is based strictly on regular season records, but this only holds true in the Divisional Series and the League Championship Series. The #1 seed in each league entering the playoffs has clinched home-field advantage for their entire league playoffs. If the #1 seed is eliminated following Divisional Series play, the team with the next best record who is not a Wild Card will hold home-field advantage for the League Championship Series. A Wild Card team can NEVER hold home-field advantage during league playoffs. Usually, teams in each Divisional Series follow a 2-2-1 format (the team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games and, if necessary, the final game of the series), but this can vary depending on the length of the series that the top seeded team chooses to play (the top seeded team of each series can decide on the length of over how many days the games of the series take place). For example, the top seed can choose to have the series played over a total of 5 games in 6 days or a total of 5 games in 8 days. This choice could ultimately change the format of the series, which is at Major League Baseball’s discretion. The League Championship Series ALWAYS follows a 2-3-2 format (team with home-field advantage hosts the first two games, and, if necessary, the final two games.) The length of over how many days the series is played and, also, which days the teams do not play is decided by Major League Baseball. Again, the team with the best regular season record who is not a Wild Card will hold home-field advantage for the LCS.

The topic of home-field advantage in the World Series has become one of the most hotly debated issues in the sports world. Previous to 2003, the two teams competing in the Fall Classic decided who held home-field advantage based on who had the best regular season record. This was soon dramatically changed. Following 2002, Major League Baseball, and Commissioner Bud Selig, ruled that the All-Star Game each July would determine which league would hold home-field advantage in the World Series each October. This was, in large part, due to the All-Star Game disaster that took place in July 2002. During that game, which was held at Miller Park in Milwaukee, both mangers approached Commissioner Selig during the 7th inning and informed him that they were both out of players. Selig ruled that the game would end, right then, in a tie. In my opinion, Commissioner Selig had no other choice. Had he kept the game going, players would have been at an increased risk for injury and pitchers would have been overthrown, affecting their respective team’s strategy in the weeks following the All-Star Game. This decision resulted in much criticism from the press, players, and fans. Baseball had to do something to prevent this occurrence from ever happening again. So, the Commissioner, owners, board members, and MLB Player’s Association (MLBPA) heads got together to figure out a solution. The result: the All-Star game would determine home-field advantage each season for the World Series. The game was actually going to mean something more than just plain old bragging rights, and, in addition, extra players would be added to the rosters of each league’s team. This final decision resulted in even more criticism than that of the decision to end the game in a tie. I do not personally believe that making the game count was the best move, but that’s a topic for a future post. The All-Star Game was meant, simply, to be an exciting experience and a terrific opportunity for fans and players. People believed that Major League Baseball’s decision to make the game count demeaned the actual intentions the league had when it began the playing of the Summer Classic in 1933. (The All-Star Game began as a fun addition to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. It was the brainchild of The Chicago Tribune sports editor, Arch Ward.
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The game has grown into one of the most prolific events in professional sports. In the years following Major League Baseball’s acceptance of the infamous game, every single professional sport in America has followed with its own variation of an All-Star Game.)

Anyhow, the World Series ALWAYS follows the 2-3-2 format, and home-field advantage is decided based on the result of the All-Star Game. The league that wins the Summer Classic will give their league champion home-field advantage in the Fall Classic. The “Designated Hitter Rule” is in effect when playing at an American League park (the “DH rule” was initiated in 1973 by the American League as a solution to having a much lower attendance rate than their counterpart National League). The rule is another controversial one, and it is one that I absolutely despise. It contradicts the first rule in the book of baseball. Rule 1.1 (Official Major League Rulebook) states that “baseball is a game of two teams, each side consisting of a total of nine players.” When the “DH rule” is in effect, it is in direct violation of Rule 1.1. Again, the World Series is a best-of-seven game series. The first team to win four games is crowned as World Champion.

Now that you are familiar with the current Major League Baseball postseason setup, here are three other possible scenarios baseball could go with, or once had gone with:

Scenario #1, “The Purist’s Way”: Previous to 1969 (the season in which Divisional Play began), the team in each league with the best win-loss record after the regular season would meet in the only playoff series of the year, the World Series. There are no Divisional Series or League Championship Series played when using this format. This format was used from 1901 (the first season in which a World Series was held) to 1968 (the final season of non-Divisional play). Baseball purists are almost always advocates of this format, as it was the first format ever used to crown a champion between the two competing leagues. A TON of arguments can be used when debating whether or not this format was a useful one. First off, purists argue that having only one team make the playoffs from each league results in a much more exciting and competitive regular season. They argue that a Wild Card team has no place in the playoffs and that Wild Card teams are winning and competing in too many World Series because of the current postseason format. Purists also argue that this is the way Major League Baseball had intended when crowning a World Champion.

Because of the way in which money and economic status dominate the game in modern times, owners and investors of the game have a much more formidable argument as to why this format is no good: including more teams in the postseason will result in a greater amount of profits from ticket sales, advertisements, and other resources. With more teams participating in October baseball, there are more games being played. This directly results in much, much more money being made from ads in the stadium and through alternative viewing platforms (such as television, the internet, 3G devices, and Apple Inc.’s iPod), a greater number of tickets sold because there are more games being played, and much greater non-ticket profits from a variety of team merchandise, concession sales, and also via franchise bonuses from Major League Baseball. Also, with more teams in the postseason, more organizations are able to present their “product” (or team) to a wider variety of consumers. Instead of their game only being broadcasted regionally, team’s games are broadcast to the entire nation and to different parts of the world. This attracts newer fans in huge numbers, something every MLB organization is trying to accomplish in attempting to compete in the playoffs.