THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Wild card: Have your cake and eat it, too
In life, certain things are unfair yet unavoidable. Cupcakes are delicious but fattening; corporations fleece the public but still get our money in a bailout: unfair, yet unavoidable.
The same is true in baseball– and never so much as during the postseason.
Not too long ago, the MLB postseason was cut and dried. There were winners, and there were losers; if a team didn't come out on top, there was always next year. No matter how close the League standings, the team with the best record went to the World Series.
But the adage "close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades" has lately become "close only matters in horseshoes and baseball."
Rarely has a pennant race been as close as in 1993, when the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves went into October tied with 103 wins and 58 losses. The two teams faced off in one game to determine the division winner.
As important as that game was to the two teams, its implications were far more important to Major League Baseball itself.
To make a long story short, the Giants lost that game, and only one team was crying about it.
One game kept the Giants from the playoffs, and while that may have been fair, the Giants shouldn't have played the Braves anyway. The Braves didn't belong in the NL West; the Giants deserved that title, and everybody knew it. With a two-division system, where did the Braves belong?
Commissioner Fay Vincent's 1992 plan to move the Braves and Reds to the NL East and the Cubs and Cardinals to the NL West would have stopped the Giants' crying before it started. However, a federal injunction plus a vote of no confidence equaled a resignation, and by September Vincent was out of there.
So it was up to acting Commissioner Bud Selig to dry the Giants' tears. Luckily for Selig, the injunction had been dropped after Vincent's resignation, so he had carte blanche to realign the divisions as he saw fit, fairness be damned.
Not for Selig, though, the old two-division system. What baseball needed was a Central Division, and with it came the Wild Card. It didn't take a genius to figure out that three teams can't have a pennant race. No longer would "close but no cigar" be the rule: close was good enough for a cigar. Is it any surprise that Dusty Baker, the coach of the bridesmaid Giants, cheered the loudest?
The 1993 Giants presented the perfect solution to the problem of a three-division system. There was only one solution: the team with the best record that doesn't win a division still qualifies for the postseason– a.k.a., the Wild Card.
After all, doesn't a team with 103 wins deserve a little something– like another shot at the World Series?
What a novel idea: lose, yet win; suffer defeat, yet be rewarded.
Have you ever heard of anything so beautiful? Why not a rematch between Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic in the 100m Butterfly? After all, that race was super close! That's only fair, right?
Even if it were fair, which it isn't, in baseball, races are rarely as close as Phelps and Cavic. If a Wild Card team is back six games from the weakest division winner's record, does that team really deserve another try at the brass ring?
Of course it doesn't. The Wild Card is just the extra pound gained by eating the three-division cupcake: unavoidable. As unfair as it is, the Wild Card kills two birds with one stone: it provides a fourth team for the postseason and keeps crybabies like the 1993 Giants from making a stink.
I understand the "race for the Wild Card" helped pull baseball out of the garbage left by 1994 strike. The 1993 Giants felt shafted– believe me, I understand.
But tell me, in this day of modern baseball– when owners, players, and Selig have all backed increased drug testing and instant replay, all in the name of fairness– is the Wild Card really that unavoidable?
Can't we have our cupcake and eat it, too?