|The Wild Card: Why it is good for baseball||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 04, 2003
However, change is not always bad and this year’s wild card chase really proves the point. As I write this, there are four teams in the American League (the Yankees, Red Sox, Athletics, and Mariners) that are fighting for three spots (two division titles and a wild card slot). While in the National League there are no less than 8 teams that are in the hunt for the wild card (Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Astros, Cubs, Cardinals, Phillies, Expos, and Marlins). A good week by a few other teams and they could soon be into the thick of things as well.
Simply put the wild card is creating some exciting baseball and it is keeping more fans involved in the game. Due to the fact that the races would probably have involved a lot fewer teams before the Wild Card, many fans seeing that there was no hope for a postseason berth, would stop attending the games. Not only would they stop attending the games but they also would stop purchasing the obligatory hats, jerseys and pennants. So, not only would the teams in places like Montreal, Philadelphia, Florida, Los Angeles, and Arizona, lose out on the ticket sales but the merchandise sales as well. These are cities where the organization can really use the extra revenue to keep building their teams and improving for the future and their fans.
While not all organizations will use the extra revenue to improve for the future, it certainly improves the owner’s options for future seasons when the team is generating income. It also keeps up the television ratings (and thus the TV revenue and helps future TV contracts), which pay money that teams use for their payroll.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the wild card is that it keeps the fans interested. Even if you are a fan in San Francisco or Atlanta where essentially only an act of God could keep you from the playoffs or a fan of the lowly Brewers, Mets or Tigers who are years (if not decades) from the playoffs, the Wild Card is keeping you interested. Perhaps it’s because baseball fans, real fans that is, love a good playoff race, or perhaps it’s because we all have secondary teams to root for (go Phillies, Red Sox, Astros!). I think it is exciting - and looking at the stands in all of these cities I would have to say that the average fan agrees.
As memory serves, as far as great races go, I don’t recall too many seasons as exciting as this one. It’s something baseball fans have really been waiting for. In some respects it’s a throwback to another time, when baseball fans all over the country cared about the great playoff races - back when only a handful of teams were competing and you rooted for a team that may or may not have been your hometown team, but perhaps one that captured your imagination.
On Monday I was at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia as the Phillies and the Red Sox matched up in a make up interleague game that had real playoff implications - and may have been one of the best games I have seen all year. I am not a fan of either the Phillies or Red Sox, but as a baseball fan I trekked to Philly to see a great game - because of the Wild Cards. If the Phillies had been out of contention I would have stayed home. A lot of fans are doing the same in other cities. You could see it in the attendance - as 61,000+ fans turned out for the game!
It wasn’t a pitcher’s duel, but a slugfest. There were 22 runs scored and the lead changed 7 or 8 times; it was a great game. But the game was not just about what was happening on that particular field between those particular teams, it was about the playoffs and what the game meant to both teams. The Phillies’ loss caused them to fall out of the Wild Card lead, while the win by the Red Sox caused them to pick up another half game on the Yankees and helped them notch another win for their fallback position - the AL Wild Card.
While I still am not a fan of the interleague format, this game, a make-up due to a rain date, was spectacular. As no doubt the Arizona - Kansas City game will be on Thursday, it's something special - an interleague game that has such implications. It’s not something we can appreciate in June and July since the races are still young, but in September it’s an exciting event.
This hasn’t convinced me that the interleague format is not fundamentally unbalanced and doesn’t need improvement, but it has convinced me that the wild card is damned good for baseball. Sometimes change is not bad – it’s just evolution.
Now about that DH experiment.......