Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

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