Ethan Sturm | Rules of the Game
Any commish you wish
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 09:10
On March 2nd, Allan “Bud” Selig made his way to the podium, prepared to change professional baseball forever. Selig, the sport’s ninth commissioner, is more commonly remembered for his gaffes — such as the All-Star game that ended in a tie — than for his successes, which include almost 20 years without any major labor disputes.
His announcement that day was for the implementation of a new playoff system. Controversy raged as fans and pundits tried to decipher whether the system would improve or lessen the postseason.
With the Divisional Series starting to reach its end, we can now look back at the effect of the changes. But because we are talking about commissioner-related changes here, I thought it’d be fun to introduce my own grading system for them. Each change will receive one of three grades: a Stern, named after NBA Commissioner David Stern, who has succeeded in popularizing his game; a Goodell, named after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who terrorizes his sport knowing that we can’t look away; or a Bettman, named after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who is slowly killing his sport with the current lockout.
The additional Wild Card team
The biggest of the three changes, the extra Wild Card has revitalized the divisional race. In the past, teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have gone in knowing that the difference between being a Division Champ and the Wild Card was marginal at best. In fact, Wild Cards have won 10 pennants and five World Series in their 18 years of existence.
But this year, with Wild Cards needing to compete in a play-in game just to reach the final eight, everything was on the line. The AL West and AL East both came down to an intense final day of the season. Meanwhile, the second Wild Card spot turned into a race that, with less than a week to go, seemed to still include half of the National League.
Yes, the argument does remain that with this new system, last year’s frantic final day wouldn’t have mattered. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule. This change definitely passed the test.
The one-game playoff
After 162 games of blood, sweat, tears and chewing tobacco, Selig ruled that the two Wild Card teams would decide who makes the main legs of the playoffs by playing a single game. This ran the risk of magnifying that one contest, turning every little detail into back-page news.
In the end, the critics’ worst fears were realized in the National League. An Atlanta team that had been more impressive all season lost to the Cardinals on the back of a bad throw and a questionable call. The baseball season is a marathon, and postseason results can’t be a sprint decided by one flick of the wrist. But if Selig doesn’t do something, it will happen again and again.
Two home games to the lower seed
The final change was in the Divisional Series round of the playoffs, where the new system means two games at home for the lower seed followed by three games at home for the higher seed. The likely goal here was to guarantee that the weaker team has the opportunity to make money off of two games.
Fortunately, this new rule will only be in effect this postseason. In terms of actual game play, the rule threatens to give a competitive advantage to the weaker team. If they can just squeeze out their two games with the crowd behind them, they put all of the pressure on the higher seed and only need to steal one of the next three games. Detroit put Oakland in this exact hole, and the A’s went into last night still having played fewer postseason home games than the Rangers’ team they won the AL West over.
Other series didn’t have this problem, so the verdict remains out on this one-year change.
Ethan Sturm is a senior who is majoring in biopsychology. He can be reached at Ethan.Sturm@tufts.edu or @esturm90.