With the Kansas City Royals missing another postseason, fans wonder when the team will make the playoffs, even with the expanded Wild Card. How about a playoff format where every team in the Majors is in a playoff tournament for a chance at the World Series? Think it sounds crazy? Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones doesn’t think so.
In a October 5 article in USA Today, the future Hall of Famer said, “Quite honestly, I think if we’re going to continue to let teams in year after year, we might as well just say, screw it; let’s have everybody in. Let’s play 162 games to seed yourselves and then we’ll let the Astros (55-107) have a shot at it and whoever else wants a shot at it, six or seven game winning streak and you’re the world champions.
“We’ll just have a 32-team, single-elimination March Madness tournament. That’s the way I think we ought to do it.”
Ok, Chipper isn’t being serious, but I think he’s overlooking the genius of a “October Madness” type baseball playoff. And someone needs to remind him there’s 30 teams in the Major Leagues, not 32.
With the Astros moving to the American League next year, making each league 15 teams, a 30 team playoff is possible.
Major League Baseball would eliminate the divisions and have a 15 team American and National League. The schedule would be balanced and have Interleague play. All the rounds to the World Series would be a single game elimination tournament, the brackets split between the American and National League. The bracket for each league would be seven first round games, four second round games, two third round games and one fourth round game, the winner of which would claim the league pennant. Then have a traditional seven game World Series.
The A.L. and N.L. team with the best record gets a first round bye and home field advantage through the tournament. The remaining 14 teams would be seeded in the tournament by their record, from 1-14, with the higher seed being the home team. I would seed the teams like this: 7-14, 6-13, 5-12, 4-11, 3-10, 2-9, 1-8, with the winner of the 7-14 game facing the top league bye team in the second round. This makes the teams more evenly matched and “easier” for the top league bye team to advance.
The logistics and travel would be difficult, but it’s possible. Have a day or two off between rounds and the tournament could be done in seven to ten days. Then play the World Series over nine days.
So what are the advantages of this type of playoff format? Well, every team is in the playoffs, which keeps fans and players interested through the season. If you’re Houston, your season isn’t over by Memorial Day. Heck, this even gives the Cubs a chance to make the World Series. Maybe.
What makes NCAA Basketball March Madness so exciting? It’s the Cinderella teams having a shot of knocking out the top seeded teams and playing deep into the tournament. A single game elimination tournament to get in the World Series gives the low revenue teams like the Royals a chance. Yes, a mediocre team could get hot and win four in a row, making it to the World Series. But they still have to win four out of seven games to be champions. And like most tournaments, the best teams are usually in the final rounds anyway.
Think about the story lines and drama of a single game elimination tournament with 30 teams. The pressure of teams deciding who starts their games. Where every move is scrutinized by the fans and media if the team loses, or wins. A one game playoff between the Cardinals and Cubs or Royals and Yankees to make it to the World Series. As a fan of those teams, that has to make you excited if you win and crushed if you lose.
I’m sure there’s some baseball purists out there who believe a single game elimination tournament might ruin the integrity of the game or some other nonsense. They might say, “Won’t it make the 162 game season meaningless?” Let’s be honest. If your team doesn’t win the World Series, isn’t the season technically meaningless anyway? If baseball can survive the Black Sox Scandal, Pete Rose betting on baseball, the designated hitter, interleague play and the expanded Wild Card, it will survive a tournament where every team is in the playoffs.
There is a danger some teams might aim for mediocrity and figure, “hey, we have as good a shot as anyone else to win the World Series, why invest in top players?” That sounds like something Royals owner David Glass might do. Major League Baseball could have a salary floor to force each team to spend X amount of dollars on team payroll so teams wouldn’t stock their roster with lousy, low cost players. Instead, they would have stock their roster with better quality players. Or in the case of recent Royals history, stock the team with lousy, high cost players.
Of course what I’m suggesting is unlikely to happen. No major sport or league has every team in their playoffs and it would be hard to have ownership, the players union and the Commissioner’s office to agree on a radical playoff format like this. But when your team misses the playoffs year after year and you see the team across the state in the playoffs again, the tongue in cheek thoughts of Chipper Jones start making a lot of sense.