Baseball has decided that expanding the postseason is such a good idea it's going to happen a year ahead of schedule.
Why the rush?
"Clubs really want it," commissioner Bud Selig said several weeks ago. "I don't think I've ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year. ... We're working on dates right now."
Substitute the word "accountants" for "clubs" in the quote above and you're much closer to the truth. But let's take Selig at his word about working out dates to shoe-horn the extra games into the calendar and fast-forward to Oct. 3, the final day of the 2012 season.
In the American League, Boston is at New York and the Los Angeles Angels are at Seattle, and at least three of the four — Mariners excepted — are almost locks to be in the playoff mix. Under the new scheme, it's possible that the winner or loser of the Red Sox-Yankees game Wednesday night would have to travel to the West Coast for a tiebreaker game Thursday in Anaheim, then be back on the East Coast in time to play Friday. Does that sound like a formula for exciting baseball?
It didn't to Chipper Jones, either, and remember: His Atlanta Braves would have made the playoffs last season under the new scheme, instead of being remembered for one of several epic collapses that made the last day of the regular season so memorable barely six months ago.
"I know the almighty buck triggers everything, but when is enough enough?" he told the Journal-Constitution. "It makes no sense to me whatsoever. None whatsoever."
Jones might feel differently when his pay envelope arrives with a few extra dollars stuffed inside, but he's clearly in the minority. Besides, that battle has already been fought, and lost. Never mind that the baseball season is already too long. Or that an extra postseason spot won't be incentive enough for perennial misers like Kansas City and Pittsburgh to upgrade their rosters and really compete.
The addition of a second wild-card team in each league for the 2013 season was written into the new collective bargaining agreement and would have given baseball plenty of time to set up the schedule. But once the owners and players realized they could cash in a year ahead of schedule, that plan went out the window.
"It'll be exciting," Selig said. "One-game playoff. It will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner."
We'll see about that.
If the one-game playoff in the National League comes down to Marlins at Padres, it's going to feel more like the play-in game for the NCAA tournament than anything really important. If it's the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium maybe, especially with new Boston manager Bobby Valentine breathing new fire into what used to be one of the best rivalries in any sport. He couldn't even get through February without talking a little trash — and later backed off — so Selig & Co. might be onto something.
But at the moment, the odds are that this postseason will come off looking like a hurried mess. MLB has to publish its schedule for the coming season by June of the previous season, so there was no leeway for the extra games it is determined to squeeze into the 2012 calendar. Add in logistical problems like the AL scenario above, then mix in a little bad weather and a few uncooperative local TV networks that don't want to adjust their starting times — and what you've got are more headaches than excitement. Right now, this sounds like one of Selig's seat-of-the-pants decisions — akin to restoring importance to the All-Star Game by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league — and his record in those isn't exactly encouraging.
Two things baseball could brag about was that its 162-game season almost always produced worthy champions and that the fewest number of teams in the league made the playoffs. With 10 of 30 teams headed to the postseason for 2012, it's still more exclusive than the NFL (12 of 32) and the NBA and NHL (16 of 30 each). Even so, wild-card teams have claimed nearly a third (10 of 32) World Series slots available since the first wave of expansion and five — including St. Louis last season — have won it all. Assuming MLB finds a way to pull this postseason together, all those games will make more money. They'll also feel a little bit cheaper.