Major League Baseball’s new five-year collective bargaining agreement — agreed upon late Wednesday night — will bring some new rule changes to the game starting next season. One of the amendments made from the previous CBA says that the winner of the All-Star Game will no longer determine home-field advantage in the World Series.
Uh, you think?
Having a midseason exhibition game provide implications for the biggest series of the entire season is — and always was — pure insanity. The intention of that rule — put into place after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie — was to give the game more purpose and provide an incentive for fans to watch.
That being said, using a game that’s supposed to be fun and loose (and a "vacation" for the league’s best players) to decide which team may potentially get to play at home in Game 7 of the World Series is astoundingly dumb. To its credit, MLB finally realized that. Better late than never, I guess.
But there’s still one major issue with MLB playoffs that may be even worse: Having the opening-round Division Series be decided in a best-of-five format.
On the surface, it may not seem as inherently dumb as tying the World Series to the outcome of an ASG, but there’s a case to be made.
If you’re a believer in the idea that home-field advantage can sway — and sometimes even determine — a playoff series, you probably hated the World Series rule. However, I would argue that it has less overall effect on the playoffs than than making the opening round a five-game series. At least in the World Series each team is guaranteed an even slate of home games before elimination becomes an option. That’s not the case with the best-of-five Division Series, which uses the 2-2-1 format for home field.
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Every baseball season is an absolutely grueling and a drawn-out grind. Some argue that the 162-game regular season is too much, both for fans and for players. That’s a discussion for another day, but one thing is for sure: If you’re lucky and good enough to be one of the eight teams that makes it to the Division Series after 162+ games, there’s absolutely no way your first home playoff game should ever potentially be an elimination game. (Outside of the AL and NL Wild Card Games, of course.)
Knowing certain sports fans, I’m sure this argument will bring up the whole "win and you won’t have a problem!" response. That’s true, but losing two straight games is quite easy to do in a sport as unpredictable as baseball. It tends to be easier when you’re on the road, and also if you’ve just expended your ace pitcher to survive a one-game playoff.
And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys a shorter series because the stakes are higher and there’s more pressure that comes with every single play in a condensed series, then that’s fair. It’s nice to head into the playoffs knowing that things are going to get crazy right out of the gate.
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But you should also know that, more often than not, all the teams that make the opening round deserve to be there. Most games usually end up competitive. There’s no shortage of stakes and pressure in playoff baseball, so you’re just turning down more of it. Has any baseball fan ever said that baseball’s postseason was too long?
From the league’s standpoint, it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The shot-callers are basically passing up free money by not making the Division Series best-of-seven. More games means more tickets sold, more broadcast revenue, more marketable and memorable moments.
So while it’s certainly commendable that the league used the new CBA negotiations to rectify a terribly dumb decision that it made over a decade ago, it also missed a great opportunity to fix another long overdue flaw in its playoff format. Unfortunately, the one it missed might actually be plaguing the game more than the other.