Baseball's best-of-seven playoffs will be fairer championship test
Baseball's switch to a best-of-seven playoff format this year has produced quite a bit of negative reaction. One national columnist called it ``a $9 million sellout to television,'' and others have voiced similar objections. But I, for one, think it's a good move that will determine the World Series teams much more logically than before. I'm not naive enough to believe that this is the main reason for the switch, of course. Anyone who has been around baseball owners very long knows the reason for almost any move they make is the old dollar sign -- and ditto for the players. But regardless of motives, the result will still be a better and more meaningful competition.Skip to next paragraph
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Surely it has been obvious that best-of-five playoffs were not long enough to produce true champions. Teams played 162 games to win their division titles -- 162 games that tested each club's skill and balance in hitting, fielding, pitching, bench strength, etc. Then in three quick decisions a team with a couple of ace pitchers that had finished first in a weak division could turn the lights out on a much stronger club against which it would have no chance over an extended period of time.
Even a best-of-seven series doesn't eliminate this problem, of course. Pitching strength, rather than depth, is still magnified compared to regular-season play. But the extra games do give a balanced team a better shot while reducing the chance that a relatively weak team with a couple of big pitchers (remember the 1973 New York Mets?) can sneak into the World Series.
So even if it does stretch the season a bit and risk potential weather problems, the pros of a best-of-seven format still outweigh the cons by quite a bit in my book.
The playoffs were inaugurated with the realignment of the two leagues into divisions in 1969, and have existed for 16 years in their original format. The idea of switching to a best-of-seven system has been around for a while, and it almost occurred in 1983 until the Players' Association rejected the proposal in a dispute over how the additional TV revenue would be divided. That issue still hasn't been resolved, but this year both sides decided to take the $9 million pie now and worry about how to slice it up later.
The playoffs will begin Oct. 8 -- just as they would have anyway -- but the possibility of more games pushes back the start of the World Series to Oct. 19. This means that even with no rainouts, it could run to Oct. 27 -- which is getting uncomfortably close to the inevitable day when the World Series becomes the ``November Classic.''
Just to put things in perspective, Oct. 27 is so late in the fall that some college football teams will have played eight games by then; it's the midpoint of the NFL season; and even the pro hockey and basketball campaigns will be underway.
This problem of late-October and possible November games, with its increased likelihood of wintry conditions in northern cities, is certainly a real one. In the best of all possible worlds, baseball would solve it simply by shortening the regular season, which is too long anyway. But that isn't going to happen, of course, since we are talking about money.