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The real reason for expanded playoffs

Dec 1, 2010, 6:17 AM EDT

Bud Selig defiant

Today Jeff Passan of Yahoo! takes the idea of an expanded playoffs apart piece-by-piece.  His criticisms track my own in their concern with (a) this being nothing but a money grab; (b) devaluing the  regular season; (c)  creating perverse competitive incentives among contenders; and (d) doing nothing to make the game better like, say, instituting replay would.

But Passan’s take is easily the sharpest I’ve seen on the matter because in talking to executives and owners he really makes plain the fact that Bud Selig refuses to acknowledge: fairness and the health of baseball have nothing to do with it. Don’t believe it? Just listen to the two team executives Passan quotes:

“As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success,” one executive said. “I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”


“[O]ur ideas aren’t as much what’s right for the sport as what’s right for revenues. My team is worth a lot more than it was when I bought it. It’s sort of like blood money, though.”

It’s pretty obvious, really.

And the fact that so few are calling Major League Baseball out on it is telling as well. After all, networks and newspapers and websites all stand to gain too. They get increased viewership and readership if the playoffs linger on. I’ve seen the traffic reports for HardballTalk during the playoffs.  They’re quite gaudy compared to the early part of the post season, I will tell you.  Expanded playoffs are great for my bottom line.  I’m sure the same goes for Yahoo! and everyone else. So I suppose it’s understandable that we’ve gotten pliant reporting about this plan, with Bud Selig’s ludicrous comments about “fairness” being reported mostly without criticism and the expanded playoffs being viewed as a benign inevitability.

Kudos to Passan and others — even some whose employers have an even more obvious incentive to milk money out of the playoffs than most — who have attacked this cynical idea, calling it out for exactly what it is. They are to be commended for doing what the Commissioner, the owners, the MLBPA and the players are supposed to do in looking after the best interests of the game as opposed to the best interests of those who profit from it.

Not that it will ultimately change a damn thing.

  1. skerney - Dec 1, 2010 at 6:41 AM

    i live in san francisco. i should not be awake reading hardball talk.

  2. chipmaker023 - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    Passan missed one point — two more postseason berths may provide two more chances for poor, downtrodden small market teams to advance, but those berths are also available to the Yankees and Dodgers to snag.

    The 2008 postseason did not have the Yankees. The nitwits at the networks will easily be in favor of any plan that helps avoid that happening again. Once a decade is unacceptable; once a generation is still too often.

    This is a money grab. It will also be a stepping stone. How big will the postseason field be by 2025? Twelve teams? Sixteen? “But it wasn’t so bad last time, so now we want to make it even better…”

    • pestiesti - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:31 AM

      Exactly, they might as well say, “Every year the playoffs will include as many teams as necessary for both the Yankees and the Red Sox to make it.”

  3. Jonny 5 - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:43 AM

    Well, all I have to say is. If you don’t want the MLB to be ran like a car dealership then don’t hire a car salesman to run it. Changes will be made. That maximize profits. All other changes are worthless and are not getting done.

    It’s funny how it’s Boras who’s screwing up the baseball world for loaning a guy’s family money when this BS is going on. Ok how does one go about stopping this, Shredding Tweets? Picket signs? Articles??? NBC breaking news clips?? You tube rants? Or is this just going to happen without anyone really making a fuss?

  4. pestiesti - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    How come baseball purists always complain about how going to three divisions and adding the wild card “devalued the regular season,” but they never complain about the 1969 split into divisions in the first place? Where is all the hand-wringing over the fact that the 1973 Mets made it to the World Series even though they would have finished 5th if they had been in the NL West?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:50 AM

      1969 was four years before I was born and more than 20 years before I was an adult capable of making such arguments. At some point there is no sense in arguing about it.

      That said, there is, I think a much better case for divisions when you only have two out of 24 teams making the postseason, which would have been the case had they not gone to divisions. Going to 10 out of 30 — the current proposal — seems a bit too far to me.

    • woodenulykteneau - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:59 AM

      Exactly. Only three times in sixteen wild-card seasons the wild card has been the fourth-best record. If it were purely about fairness, the schedule would be balanced, interleague play would be abolished, and the top four teams would make (and be seeded in) the playoffs.

      I think I’ll have a better chance of finding a Young Republican without a trust fund than a so-called purist that will admit this.

      • mcsnide - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:06 AM

        You should run for commissioner. I’d love to see exactly that setup.

      • Old Gator - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:16 AM

        Probably harder to find a Trailer Park Network fan who doesn’t love the designated hitter.

        I didn’t mind the separation of each league into divisions – I was 19 (albeit no less capable of rational discourse than I am now, and probably too stoned to care anyway) when that went down. But I figure that any sport that self-inoculated with a sop-to-the-witless-and-impatient atrocity like the designated hitter, or whose drooling imbecile of a commissioner came up with anything as stupid as letting an exhibition game determine home field advantage for the World Series, is perfectly capable of making itself even more tedious by adding yet another round of playoffs.

        Just out of curiosity, since I wasn’t paying close attention and/or reading a Bud Light comment put me to sleep before I could get to the punchline, will this new round shorten the regular season, become part of the regular season, or will they be playing on showshoes in Minnesota?

      • mcsnide - Dec 1, 2010 at 9:01 AM

        Bud says he doesn’t like November baseball and that the regular season should be shorter, but that the owners won’t give up regular season games. So, to translate, move over, Detroit Lions, the World Series is coming to Thanksgiving.

  5. mpmorrow - Dec 1, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    Why am I not surprised? The playoffs in every sport is about money. If there were no playoffs, teams would have to try harder to be the best in their division, and may the best team win!! But Pro sports isn’t about the sport itself, it’s about money. The Yankees spend $70 million more than any other team and didn’t win the series. The Mariners spend in the top 3rd and have lost over 100 games in 2 of the last 3 years. It’s all about filling the seats in the stadiums, and the cable contracts. THE BOTTOM LINE.

  6. mcsnide - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    Your post could simply have been the title followed by


  7. paperlions - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:14 AM

    When has MLB ever been concerned with the game of baseball beyond the profits it could bring? This is no different than anything ever done by a commissioner or group of owners. It is and always has been a business to them. A business they sell as a national pastime and competition…but they are only concerned about its health as it relates to profits, not as it relates to the game. This has been true of EVERY SINGLE decision ever made (expansion, the DH, the reserve clause, ignoring steroid/amphetamine use, the wild card, interleague play, more expansion, still more expansion, every CBA, extorting stadiums from local governments, the draft, collusion against FAs), why should now be any different and why should anyone be surprised or even bother to note the fact? It is standard operating procedure.

  8. mrznyc - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    When TV first arrived in American homes after WWII an older segment of the population wagged a warning finger and told us that TV was Satan – We all laughed.

  9. JB (the original) - Dec 1, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    I’ll admit, I haven’t thought this through thoroughly, but….
    what if they got rid of inter-league play during the regular season, kept the playoffs at eight teams, expanded the first round to “best of 7”, but…. took the 6 division winners, and the next two best records (regardless of league), seeded those teams 1-8, and played it out from there, using the same home/away rules for the DH as they do for inter-league now.

    If you think about it, the inter-league thing (in general) is out of the bag, they won’t be getting rid of it, so why not use it differently. Get rid of it during the regular season, and expand it’s use in the playoffs.

    You would, on average get “better” wild card teams than you do currently since you’d be getting the next 2 best records from all of baseball, instead of next best from each league.

    I think it would be cool to see 1st round matchups like the Red Sox vs. the Rockies and things like that, instead of the always the “usual suspects”. It would eliminate the “can’t play teams from within the division” because they’re seeded 1-8 and if that’s how it falls, that’s how it falls.

    I would balance out the regular season schedule somewhat so it isn’t so heavily “division play” weighted. And might even consider going back to 2 divisions per league (so you’d have the 4 winners and 4 next best records instead of the 6 and 2). I think it might be cool (but since the playoffs are well attended anyway, the enticement of I/L wouldn’t add much in the way of revenue, and would take away some from the regular season—but, with all the teams able to chase 2 W/C spots instead of just 1, it might keep interest up longer in a few towns). Also, with the talk of how teams “match up” with others for the playoffs (if the Twins had played Texas (who they owned) instead of the Yankees in the 1st round, think about adding “preparing for teams in the other league” to that mix).

  10. BC - Dec 1, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    I’d actually like to see them go back to four divisions and just take the division winners, and then the next two best records from each league. Maybe ship Milwaukee back to the AL to balance it out.
    Either that or go totally retro, contract a few teams, and put the old AL and NL East/West Divisions back together. Makes as much sense as expanding the playoffs, i.e. none.

  11. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 1, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    MLB’s a business. This whole thing will make everyone more money. The end.

  12. dsmaxsucks - Dec 1, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    What the hell is wrong with grabbing money? What’s wrong with the Brewers having a shot to make the playoffs (or the Orioles, or the Rays).

    Honestly, nobody really cares about the playoffs until the LCS- unless your team’s in it. Look at the TV ratings for those games- do they beat preseason NBA?

    If baseball were so great (and I think it is) why the hell doesn’t anyone like it.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 1, 2010 at 12:30 PM

      The concern is that, generally, competitiveness feels threatened when there are more chances at success.

      Like, say if you had a commission job. If your employer gave cash bonuses to the top 10 performers, if they changed that to the top 20, wouldn’t you feel more confident in having a chance to win said bonus?
      And wouldn’t the topmost performers feel a bit more lax knowing they’re that more certain to obtain said bonus?

  13. ta192 - Dec 1, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    I had a comment about the unusual amount of agreement in the comments on this subject and the hope that MLB could somehow come to understand how wrong this idea is, but in the final analysis, Craig’s last sentence sorta says it all…

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