Over the last two decades MLB has been struggling to stay relevant. With the spotlight on football and basketball, baseball has been pushed into the dark. The historic allure is lost on today’s youth, and the idea of refusing to reference instant replay to make sure every call is correct is viewed as absurd in today’s technologically exponential society.
While renegotiating their collective bargaining agreement at the end of last year, something they did successfully when the NFL, NBA and NHL failed, they decided to add a second Wild Card spot to the playoffs.
I love this idea. In 2009, the Tigers and Twins experienced an identical situation when they ended the regular season with a tied record: a one-game playoff. The winner went to the postseason and the loser went home. The game was exciting, with the Twins winning 6-5 in extra innings.
As this year’s regular season came to a close, a lot of chatter began about the one-game playoff. Critics complained that one game isn’t enough to decide which team was better and that a series of at least three games would be a better measure of talent.
The problem is that baseball playoffs are not about finding the best team. Last year’s World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, got in as a Wild Card team when they were far from being the best team. They just happened to be playing their best baseball at the right time. Players like David Freese got hot. The same thing could be said this year of the Oakland A’s.
Isn’t that what baseball is all about? The excitement of the unexpected plays is why we watch. Which is why it can be frustrating to hear that a one-game round is too short. Every team in the league has 162 games. That is ample time to win a division and not have to play a Wild Card game. Baseball is doing the lesser teams a favor by giving them one last chance, and now people want to hand out more charity? If a team can’t get it done in 162 games, what will they accomplish with two more?
On Saturday the proponents for a longer Wild Card series received even more fodder with an atrocious call in the National League Wild Card game between the Braves and the Cardinals. The call was controversial because many fans are not familiar with the rule that was instituted in 1893. This is how the MLB officially words the rule:
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.”
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
The language of the rule is evidence that the call is wrong, even if the vice president of baseball operations, Joe Torre, claims it was correct, because the ball did not land in the infield. It landed in short-left field and should not have been ruled an infield fly.
The Braves fans had a similar opinion and immediately started throwing trash, beer and even baseball caps onto Turner Field, which caused what ended up being a 19-minute delay.
Blaming a bad call for their quick exit from the playoffs is just as asinine as complaining that a team doesn’t have enough chances to advance past the Wild Card round. Coaches have preached for decades that games should never be close enough for an official to have a great impact.
Baseball has never been perfect and their reluctance to add instant replay clearly displays their lack of desire to become perfect. It is a game of tradition and part of that tradition is human error.
In a season where rain and snow can delay World Series games, extending the postseason is not the answer. This sort of nonobtrusive excitement should be cheered, not discouraged.