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Time for Baseball to Get Radical, Go to 16 Teams in Postseason

Sep 30, 2010 – 2:00 PM
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Joe Lapointe

Joe Lapointe %BloggerTitle%

Empty seatsBaseball attendance is down again. Interest is slipping as the playoffs approach. In the post-Steroids Era, the game needs a boost and a bump, some new kind of juice.

Ersatz pennant races -- like one between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East -- have little drama with nothing to gain but home-field advantage.

With at least a wild-card playoff berth clinched, the Yankees will rest regulars to play backups. The Rays are giving away tickets.

Crisis equals opportunity and baseball should take full advantage to make a change that seems radical but would merely bring the sport into step with its competition.


In their offseason meetings, the people who run the game should shorten the regular season and expand the playoffs -- and not just by adding two extra wild-card teams, the current popular notion.

Instead of a 162-game regular season followed by three rounds of playoffs for eight teams, baseball should have a 148-game regular season with four rounds of playoffs for 16 teams.

Instead of limiting the first round to best-of-five -- as is the case now -- make all rounds best-of-7.

How would this work?

The regular season could end on Labor Day. Each league would send three divisional winners and five other qualifiers. They could play four rounds in five weeks, including travel days.

The World Series would end in mid-October, the way it should.

Ticket and broadcast revenue lost by cutting the regular season would be replaced by more playoff money.

And think of the buzz. Instead of ceding fan and media interest to football, baseball in September would get a month of tournament attention much like March Madness for college basketball.

Serious people are dropping hints, including commissioner Bud Selig. In Texas on Wednesday, Selig said playoff expansion is "something that needs to be revisited."

In Chicago last week, Selig said baseball has "less teams than any other sport" in its playoffs and that "the wild card has worked better than any of us could believe."

Selig helped institute the wild card -- and an extra round of playoffs -- in 1994, though it was first used in 1995, when baseball came back from a strike that killed the 1994 World Series.

The extra round seemed radical then.

Face it, baseball is a traditional game, and its history shows that change brings immediate chagrin that morphs into grudging acceptance that hardens into a new tradition. So did the designated hitter when it was introduced in the American League in 1973.

So did the expansion of playoffs from two teams to four teams in 1969.

So did lengthening the schedule from 154 games to 162 games in 1961 (American League) and 1962 (National League).

Face it, baseball is a traditional game, and its history shows that change brings immediate chagrin that morphs into grudging acceptance that hardens into a new tradition.

Selig has a 14-member panel to discuss change and one important member is Mike Scioscia, manager of the Los Angeles Angels. He recently suggested a cut back to 158 games.

Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times the financial impact could be minimized by tightening the schedule and expanding the first round of playoffs.

His suggestions are visionary; they just don't go far enough. Making the tournament 16 teams would bring baseball equal to the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.

The National Football League includes 12 teams and a bye week for divisional winners; that would be wrong for baseball because divisional winners would go stale during a full week off.

Of course there would be negative effects. If you go by Wednesday morning's standings, one team below .500 -- the Mets -- would hold the last berth in the National League.

Perhaps more playoffs would lessen the value of the regular season. But keeping more teams in contention before the end of the season in early September would make up for it.

But couldn't 28 playoff games wear out a pitching staff? Not really. With 148 regular-season games and 28 in the postseason, a team could play 178 games.

Under the current system -- 162 in the regular season and up to 19 in the playoffs -- a team can play 181.

Oh, and if only 11 scheduled off days during the regular season is cause for concern, bring back the regular doubleheaders for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

Presto! You have three more off days and three holiday specials to sell in advance to families seeking economic and entertainment value in tough financial times.

Drastic as all this sounds, it's really just a facelift for a sport that needs a little work from time to time. And now is the time to do it for "the only sport that goes forward and backward."
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: Bud Selig

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