Time for MLB to rethink playoffs

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

It's half-past August but the clock already has struck midnight for the Blue Jays. Just six more weeks and 40-something games of meaningless baseball to go.

They're not alone, of course. Half the teams in baseball are already truly out of the playoff hunt and another half-dozen just don't realize it yet.

It is forever thus.

Forty years ago, until the expansion of 1969, the American League had 10 teams and the National League had 10 teams.

The teams with the best records in each league went to the World Series and 18 other teams went home.

When four teams were added in 1969, bringing the total number of teams to 24, each league was broken down into two six-team divisions. The division winners played each other in the best-of-five League Championship Series and the two survivors played the World Series.

Further expansion led to a realignment in 1994, a system that is in place today. With 30 teams, each league is split into three divisions. Each division winner goes to the post-season.

In addition, the one team with the best record of non-division winning teams in each league makes the playoffs as the wild-card team.

So now, eight out of 30 teams make the playoffs, the lowest percentage of any of the major sports leagues.

In both hockey and basketball, 16 teams make the playoffs. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams are eligible for the post-season -- four division winners plus two wild-card teams in each conference.

Baseball purists may think it just fine to keep the playoffs an exclusive preserve of the creme de la creme but in towns like Toronto and Minneapolis, Houston and Milwaukee, it stinks.

"I've said for years that they should add two more wildcard teams, stop the season on Sept. 15 and add another round of playoffs," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "That way you keep interest alive in so many more cities. If you've got two more teams in there, you're going to sell some tickets.

"Before they added the wild-card, it was even worse because teams were out of contention by June 1. Now you have some people still enthused right into September. They need to do that. It's time to do that."

This is a particularly thorny issue in the American League East where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have held sway for so long.

"Those teams don't go through down cycles," Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says. "They just keep adding."

A balanced schedule would address that problem because then you would get a truly level playing field. But teams outside the East would never submit to a schedule that forced them to face the beasts of the East more often than they do currently.

But another two post-season wild-card berths is a concept that everyone could get behind.

'CUT SCHEDULE'

"I'd like to see them go even further," Gaston said. "I'd like to see them cut the schedule back so every team would get one day off per week. This is a grind for players who play every day and I think you'd see a better product on the field. Better baseball."

Not even playoff expansion would have saved the Jays this year, but it's clearly an idea that would give hope to fans here and in a lot of other cities not named Boston or New York in seasons to come.

The purists also say that wild-card teams cheapen the competition, but be aware of this: Since 1995, the No. 4 seeds -- that is to say, the wild-card teams -- have won more World Series than any other seed.

Just a little food for thought.


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