Editor's Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Wednesday, he predicted the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame class.
Baseball is often the slowest sport when it comes to accepting change. Purists populate its fan base — even by many who weren’t even alive during the era they insist they love.
Given that, it’s safe to assume that another round of playoff expansion would cause some turmoil among the ranks. In an effort to pit the purists against those eager for change, we ask, are you in favor of expanding the playoffs to include five teams in each league?
Realistically, it’s not as if the current system has been in place for so long. It was 1994 when the three-division, wild-card format began. Of course, a strike that year made it obsolete, and 1995 became the first season to see the eight-team playoff chase in action.
Frankly (and even some of the purists will admit), it’s been a hit. There have been several seasons which have seen as many as eight or 10 teams vying for a playoff spot in both leagues in the final month. That has created interest in cities that might otherwise turn their attention to football the second September arrives.
Adding a second wild-card team would have put the Red Sox in the postseason in 2010, for they had the best of the remaining records in the AL. Under the more popular of the proposals out there, Boston would have then played the other wild-card team in a one-game playoff. That team in 2010? You got it, the New York Yankees.
Therein lies the issue with the proposed expansion. It can work, but a one-game playoff to decide the fate of two teams seems very arbitrary. Can you imagine the hoopla surrounding that one Red Sox-Yankees game and the fallout if anything unforeseen occurred? Just imagine if a missed call in the sixth inning of that one helped one of the two teams advance. Would we ever hear the end of it from the fans of the losing team?
Knowing how much craziness can take place in a Boston-New York affair, a playoff meeting begs for more than one encounter. And that doesn’t just apply to those old rivals. Nine innings between any two teams, all at the tail end of 162 games, is just too small a sample.
While admitting that having a fifth team get in could help his team in a power-packed American League East, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon hinted at how dangerous such a proposal could be.
"I’ve heard the presentation of the one-game sudden death, shooting somebody in the head," Maddon said at the winter meetings earlier this month. "I don’t really like that as much. … You talk about luck, who knows [what could happen in one game]?"
Joe Torre, who won 10 division crowns with the Yankees, said he would welcome some form of change, if it means making the wild-card teams have to work a bit more.
"I think the only thing I felt that I had a problem with was there really wasn’t any kind of a negative to being the wild-card team," Torre said, also at the winter meetings. "And I felt that winning the division didn’t have as much clout as it probably should have. So in saying that, I’d say that I think something could be done to make that probably a better playing field."
There is no denying that adding a second wild-card team to the mix would generate more interest throughout baseball, and that’s the obvious aim on the part of MLB officials. They just might want to be careful in how they go about it.
Remember, you don’t want to upset the purists.
Are you in favor of expanding the playoffs to include five teams in each league? Leave your comments below.
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