Still Hating the One-Game Wildcard Play-off

As we get closer to the post-season, I feel again the need to express my displeasure at the one-game wild card playoff.  Further, I would feel this way even if my team, the SF Giants, were not likely facing a one-game do-or-die game in a week or ten days from now.

I understand that MLB doesn’t want to make the post-season any longer, and I recognize that there isn’t a lot of national interest in a long wild card series.  Even so, I feel that a three-game series would be markedly more satisfying and meaningful.

After playing a 162-game schedule to reach the play-offs,  a one game series doesn’t prove much of anything, except, I guess, if the two wildcard teams have identical records, so that one game creates a clear winner.  In fact, about as often or not, one of the wild card teams has a better record than one of the division winners, so making them play a one-game do-or-die match is particularly unsatisfying.

It’s worth noting that back in the days when only a single team from each league went on the post-season, the National League decided end of season draws with a best two-out-of-three series.  This happened twice, with the Giants beating the Dodgers both times, first in 1951 and again in 1962.  The Junior Circuit used a one-game series to resolve ties.

I don’t really have a problem with having a lot more teams in the post-season, although the current ten-team format seems to be a good limit at least through the next six expansion teams.  However, if you are going to have more teams in the play-offs, it seems to me there’s really no way around at least a few more play-off games if the play-offs are really going to mean anything.

A best two-out-of-three series played in the park of the wildcard team with the better record makes the most sense to me, with perhaps a 2-and-1 format in the event the two wildcard teams finish with the same record.  A three-game series doesn’t prove a great deal either, but it’s definitely better than one lousy game.  Making the post-season two days longer just isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball History, San Francisco Giants

8 Comments on “Still Hating the One-Game Wildcard Play-off”

  1. kabeiser Says:

    I would prefer a 3 game WC series but I really like this playoff expansion compared to the previous system. The only tweak that I would make to your proposal would be that the 3 game playoff should be played at the park of the next round matchup. Makes it a neutral field and eliminates a travel day. There would be financial issues to sort out (how the revenue gets split) but that would work.

    • Burly Says:

      The problem with having baseball games played in a neutral field is that the fans that really want to see the games are the ones from the two cities actually competing in the games. In the 19th century, professional baseball initially tried playing post-season championship games at neutral sites as sort of a traveling road show, but quickly found out there wasn’t enough interest, and also that before neutral fans the games were too much like exhibitions rather than hotly fought championship matches. While the second part of the equation wouldn’t be the case today, I strongly suspect the first part would still hold. For example, why would 120,000 Rockies fans come out to see a three game series between the Giants and the Pirates.

      Second, I think that the wildcard team with the better record should get some kind of concrete advantage. The whole purpose of playing a 162-game schedule is that it separates the best teams from the rest over the course of a long, long season. That distinction shouldn’t be lost when you’re talking about the two teams that didn’t even win their respective divisions.

      In Japan’s two six-team leagues, they play weighted series, where the third place team starts a game down to the second place team (the 3rd place team has to win 4 games to the 2nd place team’s 3 games), and then again between the winner of that series and the 1st place team. That’s a bit too much, I think, for major league baseball, but playing all three games of a three-game series in the park of the team with the better record makes sense for the wildcard series, particularly since it would reduce travel time, which is the main reason why the wildcard match is a single game now.

      • Burly Says:

        Actually, you could find 120,000 Denver baseball fans willing to come to the games, but you couldn’t charge the prices play-off teams actually charge for these games. Play-off prices require fans with more invested in the games.

  2. kabeiser Says:

    It depends on what city is the neutral host. Some would do much better (NYC, Boston, etc…) than others (TB…). There’s still a lot of money in the TV rights and it’s not going to happen with or without the necessary travel days. There is no way that MLB will make a WC play the last day of the season, travel to another city and play a series and then travel to another city and play another series. And that’s if all 3 games are in one city.

    I don’t really have a problem with the one game series.

    • Burly Says:

      Yes, you might draw as many fans in New York City willing to pay play-off prices as you would in Tampa Bay, which doesn’t provide enough fan support to the Rays’ crummy, misplaced stadium no matter what the Rays do. However, you can’t play the wildcard series in Yankee Stadium every year. Also, the home fans would scream bloody murder at not getting the chance to see their team in the post-season. MLB would get hammered by the fans if it tried to play play-off series of any length in neutral parks.

  3. kabeiser Says:

    Likewise fans would scream bloody murder if a team got 3 home games. Neither neutral site or 3 game all home series has much of a chance of happening. And neither does a 3 game home/away due to the time off by the divisional winners.

    Imo the most likely alternative to a 1 game playoff is a 3 game neutral site series. It actually wouldn’t be that difficult to sell out the series (unless you are in a fanless city like TB) if you give postseason ticket priority to fans buying the WC series tickets. This is after all how they sell out celebrity softball game that nobody wants to go to. And like I said probably the biggest money is in the TV contract for the additional games anyways.

  4. Burly Says:

    I don’t think fans would scream nearly as loudly about all three games played in the stadium of the team with the better record as they would if the games were held at a neutral site. At least, there would be a “fairness” about the team with the better record getting home field advantage. It would certainly make the wildcard teams fight like hell to finish with the best regular season record.

    Ticket revenues mean a great deal to the teams actually playing the post-season games, because the TV revenues are split between all 30 teams equally. Clearly, if you have the wildcard games in only one city, you would have to do a 50/50 split of in-person attendence revenues between the two teams, rather than the usual lop-sided split in favor of the home team.

    I still think that a three-game series in the park of the wildcard team with the better record would be the best arrangement.

  5. Burly Says:

    As much as I dislike a one-game play-off series, I will admit it does create some excitement in the season’s final week. Since every team wants to avoid a one-game do-or-die series or at least have the one game at home, it does add some drama to games that would have a lot less on the line for everyone otherwise. With three games to go, including today’s games, four teams in the AL and three teams in the NL are still jockying not only for the playoffs but for playoff position. This may be the reason why a 1-game wildcard match could stick around indefinitely.


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