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In Defense Of Rob Manfred & These New MLB Playoffs

New York Post - In this concept, the team with the best record in each league would receive a bye to avoid the wild-card round and go directly to the Division Series. The two other division winners and the wild card with the next-best record would each host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round. So the bottom three wild cards would have no first-round home games.

The division winner with the second-best record in a league would then get the first pick of its opponent from those lower three wild cards, then the other division winner would pick, leaving the last two wild cards to play each other.

In case you were dead yesterday or just missed the news, there's some landmark chatter going around MLB regarding this proposed playoff change. In turn, there was a disproportionate amount of criticism directed at one of my best friends, Major League Baseball Commissioner, Rob Manfred. 

The criticism is total bullshit for a bunch of reasons - most notable is that the rule change *actually* benefits the baseball world. But it also sucks on a personal level because Rob Manfred couldn't have been a nicer guy to me at that Mets game. You look up great first impressions in the dictionary and you'll see Rob's mug outlined in the margin. So if you're going to call him a monster and trash his character, I want to remind you that you have to go through me first. Two Bird Carl. World renowned loyalty enthusiast and resident psychopath at Barstool Chicago heyhowyadoin. 

If that's not enough to sway you (it shouldn't be), then let's get back to the proposed rule changes. Joel Sherman did an awesome job breaking down the impact in his exclusive report:

To use the AL last season as an example, the Astros, with the best record, would have received the bye. The Yankees, with the second-best record, would have had the choice to pick from among the Rays, Indians and Red Sox. The Twins would then pick next as the other division winner, and then the A’s with the best wild-card record would play the team not chosen by the Yankees or Twins.

If you like pictures, here's a visual of what that would look like. 

Only one team above .500 would have missed the 2019 playoffs: the Chicago Cubs. Pretty wild to think about baseball playoffs like that when historically it's been about teams that Just Miss

Naturally, this leads to the #1 argument against new playoffs: 

Adding teams dilutes a playoff format that historically owns us - Dodgers fans

Not a bad argument on it's face. There have been several instances over the last 4 seasons where teams under .500 would take a Wild Card spot. The 2016 Marlins would have been in the playoffs with 79 wins while the 2017 AL would be a clusterfuck with 3 teams tying for the 6th and 7th spots at 80 wins. It's not until 2018 when you see extreme tanking in both leagues to push the top 7 consistently around 90+ wins. 

But is an 89-win Mariners as a 7th seed in 2018 that much more dangerous than an 80-win Kansas City Royals in 2016? 

Relatively speaking, absolutely not. Especially when that 2018 season had 5 separate AL clubs lose more than 94 games. In other words, the middle of the pack isn't picking up their extra victories against the blue bloods like the Yankees. They come against the bottom of the barrel vs. teams that would historically be mid-70's win totals but are tanking to the low 60's. 

Carl what's your point

Yeah I'm really bobbing and weaving here so let me slow things down and crush your argument that the playoffs would be too diluted. 

The additional 4-teams that would get added to the playoffs are legitimate middle of the pack teams. As such, your knee jerk reaction is to argue they don't deserve the playoffs and I get it. But scale it back to the NBA and NHL. You'd argue that their postseasons thrive on the increased opportunities for big moments. That they routinely overshadow their collective regular seasons. And that they drastically benefit from their longevity and, in turn, the seeming-individuality captured in each postseason. 

Isn't that what you'd argue? 

"The Stanley Cup is basically its own season" - everyone

Apply that logic to MLB: its best attribute is October Baseball and it's not close. To get there, you grind through 6 months with your personal sanity wavering every stretch of 10-games. And if anything, the monotony of regular season baseball is grossly amplified in comparison to the NBA and NHL. It demands so much time and energy from fans and yet we're rewarded with the shortest postseason in professional sports? 

That doesn't feel right. 

It feels dirty

Naturally, as MLB strategizes to maximize value in the next CBA window, you imagine leadership wants to deliver the most of "The Best" MLB has to offer. And again, that's clearly October moments. 

But MLB doesn't market its players - all of you, all the time

The only reason you're willing to argue that Madison Bumgarner is a Hall of Famer is because of October baseball. And while we're on topic, he's not. Elsewhere, Mike Trout will enter his 9th season without one career October victory. 

That's why I don't buy the idea that this dilutes or compromises the playoffs. 

If anything it's adding to the bottom line excitement because it's creating more opportunities for greatness. To me, that's what the postseason is all about… the players and clubs that rise to the occasion under the greatest pressure. Adding 4 clubs and 100 more players to each October = more games = more opportunities = more moments. 

That's a good point, Carl - everyone

But this only gets us to the point that this won't ruin the playoffs. I realize that may not be enough for everyone, so here's some general observations about how this helps: 

#1 Selection Show: part of this includes a live broadcast of the 2 & 3 seeds picking their Wild Card opponents for the first round. I want you to marinate in that for a second. 

That factor, in and of itself, is enough for me to want the new format. I need the chaos and personal insult that comes with a selection show. Give me the Yankees intentionally choosing the 84-win Red Sox last year. Or give me the Yankees passing on the Red Sox for the 97-win Rays. I am literally salivating at the ensuing conflicts and it has nothing to do with that delicious rib marinade I just gif'd.  Although I do enjoy ribs quite a bit.

#2 More Day Playoff Baseball: the best thing in the world as a kid was sprinting home from school to see the 1998 Cubs get thrashed in Atlanta. The 3pm first pitch in October while the sun sets is one of the great moments in baseball period. If you're giving me the option to add more day playoff baseball, I'd have to be a real jagoff to pass that up. 

#3 The Players (Should) Want It: maybe not this directly, but they want a shorter season and this would be the easiest way to get there. You also reckon that one of the best resume builders in baseball is October. What players would, in good faith, find this to be a bullshit idea? 

What do you mean "good faith"

I can't gloss over the fact Trevor Bauer went ballistic on my guy Rob about this idea. 

But all I see is pre-existing angst for the Big Guy. Okay they changed the balls. They maybe shortchanged the Astros investigation. He's wildly pro-owner and pro-fan. He's willing to rub elbows to advance his interests, and much like post-WW2 America, Manfred is pretty masterful at exercising his willpower. 

In this case, Bauer's got an RCP-90 worth of Klobb-quality ammunition to waste on the Rob and it seems he got a little trigger happy in the moment(1). Objectively speaking this doesn't warrant a fraction of the heat TB brings on the subject, which is baffling. If you're telling me the playoff proposal doesn't expand and grow baseball's best feature, then I'm telling you that you're lying. Or insane. Or both. 

#4 Being A Baseball Fan For A Team With No Shot At The Playoffs Fucking Sucks: you have to be so goddamn insane to care about a .500 baseball start to finish. Even me when it's my actual job covering one of the biggest brands in professional sports - it's a lot to consume every single day. The payoff is the shot at history and that you spent all those nights following a team that would ultimately be crowned champion. It's an immensely personal and oftentimes labor-intensive experience. From my view, only a crazy person would willingly advocate against more rewards for these efforts. 

#5 Baseball Needs To Keep Advancing: last and most important - everyone needs to agree that baseball can continue change without the world falling off its fucking axis. Replay sucks until it didn't Week 1. Realigning the Astros was stupid til it wasn't. The 2nd wild card team sucks until it's actually the best game of the year. The DH and lowering the mound and pitching changes and blah blah fucking blah. Stop acting like we're repainting the Sistine Chapel here guys. This game has been changing since we started playing it. 

The fact is we can't risk that less people care while more people tune out. Relations between owners, players, fans and everyone in between could use a pick-me-up heading into a new decade. Rightfully, the responsibility can be debated across countless people and things. 

What you can't debate is that America's pastime needs a shot of life. Across the entire sport it's growing more exclusive and less appealing to Joe Public. Any effort to close that gap on behalf of the masses should be welcomed with open arms. 

Unless of course you like being the crazy asshole that hates change. Then by all means.

Go nuts.

(1) Potentially the best sentence I've ever written in my life.