Baseball’s playoffs stretch on far longer than they ought, into the sleet and snow of November. Major League Baseball finally has begun to admit its problems and to address them. In this fall’s League Championship Series, there will no longer be an off day between games four and five, thanks in part to Mike Scoscia’s complaints a few months before. “The removal of the off-day during both League Championship Series,” said Bud Selig, “marks the first step in a process that will ultimately result in an improved postseason format for our game.” In other words: the format isn’t quite improved just yet. I tend to agree.
It was not a day that made sense to have off, considering that it was not a travel day, and a scheduled travel off day occurs after the fifth game anyway. It’s good that it’s gone, and that particular series will have greater continuity. But the monthlong playoffs have not been shortened. Even a fan of the team that won it all last year, Benjamin Kabak of River Ave Blues, complains: “The truth is that the Yanks played 15 games over 30 days in October, and that stop-and-start schedule disrupted the flow of the games.” Yankee fans join players and managers like Mike Scoscia in their general dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs.
The reason, of course, is the same as always: television revenue. As Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes: “The World Series is still scheduled to start Wednesday, Oct. 27, because Fox wants only one scheduled weekend, not two, and does not want to broadcast a game on Friday night.” In other words, if baseball is serious about “an improved postseason format,” they’ll have to ruffle Fox’s feathers. Thanks to its share of a $3 billion deal signed in 2006, Fox retains exclusive control of the World Series through 2013, and will split the rest of the postseason with TBS for the rest of that timeframe. It’s hard to imagine that MLB will reduce the number of days in the playoffs while that deal is still in effect.
However, change is necessary, particularly since Selig is serious about regularly holding the World Baseball Classic. Because baseball is an outdoor sport, and the baseball season stretches from spring training in February to the World Series in November, there’s really no healthy time to hold the WBC. Shaving a few extra days off the playoffs would permit far greater leeway to hold the Classic before or after the regular season.
But the Classic only occurs every four years. The most compelling reason for change is the simplest: the playoff format is widely recognized to be flawed, and even the Commissioner of Baseball recognizes that his sport needs “an improved postseason format.” Seldom is there an issue on which everyone agrees, as they do on the need to fix the playoff schedule. That rare fact ought to lead to action.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.