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Feeling Just Wild About Wild Cards

Aug 14, 2012
Originally published on August 15, 2012 1:46 pm

Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, has persuaded his owners and the players to add an extra wild-card team to the playoffs, so now five teams per league will qualify.

Not only is this terrific for the fans, but Selig also wisely managed to make it so that the wild-card teams engage in a one-game showdown for the privilege of being the team that joins the three division winners in the battle for the league championship.

I have just the old-fashioned word for this newfangled development: nifty.

But, as we might expect, the diamond fundamentalists have thrown a conniption fit. It's simply not fair, not the American way, to play 162 games and then have your fate decided by one lousy itty-bitty game.

Well, here's the answer: While regular seasons in any sport are, by virtue of their great length, pretty fair, playoffs are not meant to be fair. They're meant to be popular.

These are games they're playing, my friends, not mathematical equations they're proving. If all playoffs did was validate the winner of the regular season, then what would be the point? For my money, it would be even better if there were even more playoff teams and more playoffs that were just one game, winner take all. It's more exciting, and the regular-season champion is rarely going to win anyway.

Look at this past year. The Cardinals won the World Series even though they didn't qualify for the wild card till the last day of the season. But then, in two-thirds of the years in this century, the World Series has included also-rans from the sanctified regular season.

Next, the Giants won the Super Bowl, even though they'd finished the regular season by a mere one game over .500. The Kings took the Stanley Cup as the eighth and worst seed in their conference.

The wonderful thing about team sport is that it is so dicey, that games are not decided by all those nerds who worship at the altar of statistics.

Look right now, for instance, at the Baltimore Orioles, who are prominently in the expanded American League wild-card race despite being ninth in the league in ERA, 10th in batting average and worst in all the majors in fielding. That is, they can't pitch, hit or pick up the ball.

They are not the beautiful orange and black bird of their name but, rather, a version of the yellow and black bumblebee, which in common myth, aerodynamically isn't supposed to be able to fly, but does.

So the Baltimore Bumblebees still win more games even though they're outscored, overall. You know what? So did the New York Giants last year score fewer points than their opponents in the regular season, but then they got hot and won the Super Bowl.

Hooray for wild cards and one-game showdowns and second chances. Playoffs are nifty.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If the baseball season ended right now, my Pittsburgh Pirates would just slip into the playoffs ending years of misery. Thank you, Major League Baseball for adding a couple extra playoffs spots this year. And I'm pleased to say commentator Frank Deford is on my side.

FRANK DEFORD: Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, has convinced his owners and the players to add an extra wild card team to the playoffs. So now, five teams per league will qualify. Not only is this terrific for the fans, but Selig also wisely managed to make it so that the wild-card teams engage in a one-game showdown, for the privilege of being the team that joins the three division winners in the battle for the league championship.

I have just the old-fashioned word for this new-fangled development: nifty. But, as we might expect, the diamond fundamentalists have thrown a conniption fit. It's simply not fair, not the American way, to play one 162 games and then have your fate decided by one lousy, itty-bitty game.

Well, here's the answer: While regular seasons in any sport are, by virtue of their great length, pretty fair, playoffs are not meant to be fair. They're meant to be popular. These are games they're playing, my friends, not mathematical equations they're proving. If all playoffs did was validate the winner of the regular season, then what would be the point?

For my money, it would be even better if there were even more playoff teams and more playoffs that were just one game, winner take all. It's more exciting. And look, the regular-season champion is rarely going to win anyway.

Just look at this past year. The Cardinals won the World Series even though they didn't qualify for the wild card till the last day of the season. But then, in this century, in two-thirds of the years, the World Series has included also-rans from the sanctified regular season. Next, the Giants won the Super Bowl, even though they'd finished the regular season by a mere one game over 500. Then the Kings took the Stanley Cup as the eighth and worst seed in their conference.

The wonderful thing about team sport is that it is so dicey, that games are not decided by all those nerds who worship at the altar of statistics. Look right now, for instance, at the Baltimore Orioles, who are prominently in the expanded American League wild-card race. They can't pitch, hit or pick up the ball. They are not the beautiful orange and black bird of their name, but rather a version of the yellow and black bumblebee, which in common myth, aerodynamically isn't supposed to be able to fly, but does.

So the Baltimore Bumblebees still win more games even though they're outscored, overall. You know what? So did the New York Giants last year actually score fewer points than their opponents in the regular season, but then they got hot and won the Super Bowl.

Hooray for wild-cards and one-game showdowns and second chances. Playoffs are nifty.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: So are you, Frank. Commentator Frank Deford joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.