10/09/12 1:59 PM ET
Keep the wild in Wild Card
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
Here's the best idea: Leave it alone.
Baseball should do nothing about its new Wild Card system, because the way it works for both the American and National Leagues is absolutely perfect.
Others disagree, of course, and nobody has screamed louder about the horrors of single-game elimination in baseball than retiring Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. In fact, he began his mantra long before the St. Louis Cardinals beat his team Friday at Turner Field despite the Braves owning a better record and home-field advantage.
Said Jones, speaking to reporters in Philadelphia nearly two weeks before that NL Wild Card Game, "You say to yourself, we could possibly have the second- or third-best record in the National League when the season's over, and we have to play a one-game playoff just to get in. That doesn't seem fair, because anything can happen."
It did for the Braves.
There was a controversial call by umpires involving the infield-fly rule that led to Atlanta fans littering the field with debris for 19 minutes. There also were three errors by Braves players, and in case you're wondering, the latter contributed the most to their 6-3 loss. Not the controversial call, and definitely not the Wild Card system.
Just like the Texas Rangers dropping their AL Wild Card game at home to the Baltimore Orioles also was self-inflicted.
If the Rangers field better (two errors) and hit better in the clutch (sluggers Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre were a combined 0-for-8), the Rangers don't lose 5-1, and the one-and-done Wild Card system is embraced around Texas.
It already is the rage nearly everywhere else. In fact, folks love sudden death throughout sports, and it's been that way forever.
There is a reason the productivity around corporate America drops every March. It's courtesy of the "madness" created by the college basketball tournament as it makes it way to the Final Four. There also are conference tournaments before that.
All of those tournaments are sudden death.
Such also will be the case for the major college football playoffs that are slated to begin in a few years.
The NFL playoffs already feature sudden-death games.
This isn't to say "sudden death" was a foreign concept to baseball prior to Commissioner Bud Selig's decision before this season to include a second Wild Card team to the playoffs in each league.
Bucky Dent, Bucky Dent. Does that ring a bell?
There were 10 single-elimination baseball games before 2012, but they were staged to decide which team at the end of the regular season would make the playoffs. That's opposed to the current Wild Card system, which is considered part of the postseason.
Anyway, the majority of those previous one-and-done games were memorable. They range from the one in 1948 between the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park to Dent's little homer at the same site 30 years later to extra-inning thrillers in 2007 (Rockies over the Padres) and in 2009 (Twins over the Tigers).
Most of those games were heavily attended, and last week's one-and-done games were no exceptions.
While the Rangers added to their reputation of playing at or near capacity for home games of any kind with a crowd of 46,931 watching their game against the Orioles, the Braves showed the popularity of single-game elimination even more.
Consider this: The Braves began a record streak of 14 consecutive division titles in 1991, but they often struggled to sell out home playoff games, especially in the latter part of that streak. Even so, the Braves had their largest crowd of the season for the Wild Card game. You had 52,631 people squeezed into 49,586-seat Turner Field, and the majority of those folks were in place for the first pitch.
That was despite a 5 p.m. start on a Friday evening, when traffic is brutal throughout the Atlanta area.
Translated: Fans love the current Wild Card system, and everything else being equal in sports, it's always about the fans.
Still, you have knee-jerk suggestions about expanding the Wild Card round in each league to nothing less than a best-of-three series. I say "knee-jerk" because few making these suggestions wish to deal with the ramifications of expanding the playoffs.
Like, who wants the possibility of a World Series ending about the time of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Right now, if the World Series goes seven games and there are no rainouts, it would finish on Nov. 1, which already is pushing things, especially if games are played in St. Louis, Washington or Cincinnati.
Not only that, the current schedule has a bare minimum of off days between and during the regular season, Wild Card round, LDS, LCS and World Series. The breaks mostly involve travel. So there is zero wiggle room to stuff more games into blank spaces.
Start the regular season earlier, you say? When? The middle of March, when that madness is happening in college basketball?
You also would have serious ramifications involving Spring Training. All of those municipalities in Arizona and Florida didn't have those bidding wars to have teams shorten their stays in town each February and March.
I mention shortening Spring Training, because the other two options would have about as much chance of happening as changing the color of baseballs.
They could shorten the regular season, which would mean lost revenue for owners and for the game overall.
They could shorten the offseason, which means you are out of your mind if you think anyone would ever agree with that.
See what I mean? So get over it, and then join the rest of us by enjoying what Jones likes to call "cut-throat baseball."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.