Put Up or Shut Up: Why I Love the One Game Wild Card Format

crawford grand slam Gene J. Puskar_AP
Here is Brandon Crawford giving the Giants the win in the 2014 Wild Card.  Photo by Gene J. Puskar, AP

I know, I know.  The one game playoff is an abomination that isn’t a True Measure of a Baseball Team, yadda yadda yadda.  There are a dozen [1] articles out there about how baseball should do away with this latest incarnation of the wild card race and change it to something else, but I like this one.  Here’s why:

1.  It’s exciting.  The wild card game in its current incarnation is basically game seven of the World Series at the beginning of the playoff season.  Winner takes all, loser goes home: it’s the ultimate combination of luck and skill that makes for an exciting game.

2.  It has real negative consequences, even for the winner.  I understand the argument for just letting the team in each league with the best record be the fourth team in the playoffs, but that doesn’t have the same impact as the wild card does, because all the team has to do is exist.  It doesn’t have to burn its best pitcher and it doesn’t have to play an extra game.  The current set up says “okay, you’re in, but you’re not gonna get off easy.”

3.  It keeps more teams in longer. [2]  This year, Milwaukee had a chance to make the wild card until Game 161.  Last year, the Giants made the wild card on game 162.  Giving teams a chance later in the season keeps fans engaged longer, and makes them feel like their teams have a chance. [3]

4.  It’s not “regular” baseball.  Here’s the thing: I love regular baseball.  I love that there are 162 games in the season. I love that from Opening Day to the end of the season the only days without baseball are during the All Star Break.  I love the grind and pace and the strategy involved in crafting a good baseball team.  But if that’s how we’re going to choose who plays in the playoffs, why have playoffs at all?  Just take the team with the best record and give them a trophy.  Easy.

But we’ve decided to have playoffs and that means, whether five games or seven, you’re going to be rewarding the teams that can, at the end of a marathon, sprint for the last hundred yards.  The teams that get hot at the right moment.  The teams that get lucky.  And we don’t want a five or seven game wild card series — that’s ridiculous — so one game it is.  As my dearly departed mother used to say: put up or shut up.

~~~

1. not an actual measurement.  There are actually a squillion.

2. Usually.

3. Unless you’re the 2017 Giants, who were eliminated in AUGUST, but we’re not talking about my personal heartbreak today.

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