Last month, Bud Selig convened with a special committee to discuss on field issues. One of those issues was potential expansion of the playoffs. The result of the meeting was a commitment to the status quo for 2011, but it’s something that will be looked at in the future. I am a Royals fan, and I am a fan of the game of baseball. Obvious statement, I know. But when an issue like playoff expansion comes up, those two aspects of my fandom can diverge.
As a fan of baseball and specifically Major League Baseball, I hate the idea of playoff expansion. I don’t even really like the addition of a wild card. The best teams in baseball are the ones that win the most over a 162 game season, it is after all why the season exists. Adding in a team or two that haven’t had the same regular season success cheapens the postseason. Adding too many teams and too many games doesn’t create a post season, it creates a season in and of itself.
Nearly every major sports league in the United States tosses a large number of teams into the postseason to create more excitement for those “big” games. What usually ends up happening is that regular season contests have significantly less value and are less entertaining. Division titles also start to become meaningless as teams fight for that sixth or eighth spot in the playoffs rather than the division crown.
On the other hand, as a Royals fan the expanded playoffs are quite a bit more attractive. It’s primarily due to some of the same reasons I dislike expansion as a baseball fan. In the state of baseball today, the Royals are at a competitive disadvantage to large market teams. This isn’t news to anyone. Until the owners agree to let five or six more teams move into the northeast the large market teams are granted a local monopoly that they can utilize to draw revenues which are unattainable by a smaller market franchise.
If the playoffs were expanded to add another two or even four teams into the mix, then suddenly the Royals don’t have to compete against the larger market teams to make it to the playoffs. They won’t need to build one of the two or three best teams in baseball, but rather one of the best five or six. It’s a significantly easier task than they have currently. Consistently I hear fans say they’d like to see a team playing meaningful baseball in September. If the number of teams making the playoffs expanded, then there would be more teams playing meaningful baseball late in the season. The odds that one of those teams is the Royals has just increased.
The hardest part about winning a World Series is actually getting into the Playoffs. A five or seven game series is going to have much more random outcomes than 162 games, we all know this, it’s called sample-size. It can create the illusion of parity and make more teams feel like they can compete with the large market teams. Allowing more teams into the playoffs simply lowers the bar for the Royals and then all they need is a punchers chance to win another title.
In general, it’s rare for my Royals and baseball fandom to clash. Usually what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but this case is different. I still think overall I lean towards keeping the playoffs small and the regular season important — but after some thought, it’s not so clear anymore. If Bud Selig’s special committee does change the rules in the future, there is little I can do anyway, so I might as well look at the bright side. What do you think?