The playoffs revised: better, but still flawed

Baseball has settled on a revised playoff setup designed to eliminate the specter of a late-season fiasco in which teams might be tempted to lose on purpose.

The basic format is the same one announced two weeks ago: the first and second half champions in each division will meet in a best-of-five series.

The new part concerns what happens if one team wins both halves. Such a double winner will now meet the team which finishes second in the second half-season.

These first round playoff series will begin Oct. 6, with the regular playoffs starting Oct. 13 and the World Series Oct. 20.

The main problem has always been what to do if one team won both halves. The owners rejected the idea of a bye, which would have risked reducing or possibly eliminating the first round playoffs. Instead, they originally said a double winner would meet the team with the next-best season-long record.

But people started thinking about scenarios where a team was in third or fourth place for the second half, but still had the No. 2 overall record. Such a club's only chance of making the playoffs would be if the first half winner should repeat -- giving it a strong motivation to lose to that team.

The owners were understandably worried about protecting the integrity of the game, and the revised format does solve this problem, but it also creates some serious new inequities. Except for the four winners, everything that happened in the first half is now meaningless, and a team with a much better overall record may very well lose out to a club which played poorly for half a season and got hot for a few weeks near the end.

Even worse, neither the old system nor the new one prevents the possibility that a team could actually have the best season-long record and still miss the playoffs.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn conceded the plan still isn't perfect, but, "In this imperfect season, anything you do has imperfections."

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Players Association, said the change was as much as could be expected, given the circumstances.

"Once the owners made a declaration that four teams were winners of the first half, then even Einstein himself couldn't devise a system that didn't have bugs in it," he said.

"It has serious inequities with respect to those teams that did well in the first half," he added. "You're dealing not with an amendment which brings about a satisfactory state of affairs but one which brings about perhaps a more satisfactory state of affairs.

"The attitude of the players is that they approved it reluctantly because they have a feeling it was the other side that messed this up."

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