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Joseph: Baseball playoffs have inherent, large flaws (Sept. 26)

Allan Joseph | Friday, September 23, 2011

I love the Major League Baseball playoffs. I do. Pressure-packed games in front of packed stadiums with the game’s ultimate prize on the line? That’s great drama, and it’s absolutely fun to watch. There’s only one problem.

The playoffs don’t make any sense at all.

Why is that? Well, let’s start with the most obvious difference: the weather. Baseball is a summer sport. The vast majority of games are played in sun-splashed settings across the country or on warm summer nights. From spring training in Arizona or Florida throughout the vast majority of the regular season, baseball players train and play in warm weather. They don’t have to worry about the cold’s effect on how they hold the bat or throw the ball.

Then the playoffs come around — and so does early winter in the Northeast. The World Series occasionally gets delayed by snow. Players are bundled in turtlenecks and winter gear. It affects the quality of the baseball, and it means the playoffs really don’t help decide the best team — unless the best team is the one that gets the luckiest in terms of weather.

But the NFL playoffs happen this way too. Why aren’t they so flawed?

Well, for one, the NFL plays all of its playoff games under the same rules. Baseball doesn’t. The designated-hitter rule is in effect solely based on which team is the home team — which is based on the results of a midseason exhibition game over which neither team had any true control!

This isn’t a trivial difference, either. American League teams such as the Yankees and Tigers get very strong offensive production from the designated hitter. To strip them of that position for three or four games when the most is on the line is unfair.

At the same time, National League play rewards pitchers who can swing the Louisville Slugger well. The rules of the World Series take away any advantage a team might have developed over the course of the season. It’s absurd that the rules aren’t standardized.

Whether the National League adopts the designated hitter, the American League gets rid of the position or the leagues agree on a better, consistent World Series problem, something must happen. The status quo is simply illogical.

What might be most troubling about the playoffs, however, is a fact fans do not like to admit: the playoffs really aren’t necessary.

After 162 games of baseball, it’s pretty clear who the best teams in baseball are. The sample size is just too big for teams to get hot or get lucky. The truth about a team comes out over the course of the season. We’ve seen it this year with both the Indians and Pirates, who started the season hot before fading quickly.

Five- and seven-game series make it too easy for a team to ride a lucky break and a hot pitcher to victory. Better baseball teams routinely lose playoff series because of chance. Yes, there’s something to be said about the underdog winning. But when baseball already knows who the best teams are, why doesn’t it ensure its playoffs also identify those teams?

After all, if you’re going to crown the champions of the world, you should do it right. And Major League Baseball doesn’t.

Contact Allan at ajoseph2@nd.edu                                                                                                                                             

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.