Should MLB expand the Division Series round to seven games? George says yes... but without the wild-card "play-in" game that's been rumored.
When the Major League Players Association endorses a seven-game Division Series, it's safe to come out of hiding and pile on.
Actually, I advocated expanding from five to seven games after a suddenly jittery, nervous Cubs team exited the playoffs without a whimper in three games in 2008. Too many good teams were being ousted from the postseason, often on sweeps, due to the tripwire of the five-game series. The Cardinals, so good in the regular season of 2009 like the Cubs the year before, got bounced quickly in the Division Series. Lose the first one, and your back is already against the wall.
I never heard anyone really extol the five-game series except Lou Piniella. Standing on the first-base side of foul territory at Dodger Stadium before Game 3 of the Cubs' disaster in 2008, Piniella said not only should the Division Series remain at five games, but the League Championship Series should be cut to a quintet of contests as well. Get 'em over with quick. Turns out Piniella didn't like arduous workdays that included strategy questions as Cubs manager, so it stands to reason he'd like the Cliffs Notes version.
At the time, the consensus I received is that the longer a postseason series went, the more a superior team's talents had a chance to come to the forefront and, thus, win the series.
To accommodate the added two postseason games, the Lords of the Game needn't close up the off days in October. Those are needed for travel, to get all the teams and media from coast to coast if necessary. All-night flights from New York to Los Angeles, if a night game in one city is followed by a night game 3,000 miles away in the other, just don't promote good baseball. The postseason addition -- and subsequent avoidance of the World Series lapsing into November as it well could this year -- can be accomplished by starting the season four days sooner, as is scheduled for 2011. In addition, all teams should play on the Thursday after the All-Star Game. Some have that date off now.
A concurrent proposal is to add a second wild-card team in each league. The pair of non-division winners would duel in a "play-in" game to reach the postseason. This concept also has drawn support, but it's a bridge too far. The postseason should not start resembling the NBA's and NHL's with everyone getting in. The wild-card system has worked well for 15 years, promoting a mad scramble among teams in September for the one available spot not claimed by first-place teams. Wild-card teams -- some pretty good ones at that -- have gone on to win teh World Series. But if you add a second wild-card team, that really dilutes the field. Some non-deserving team will sneak in there some year and really flip off the baseball community with its presence in the World Series.
The best solution, if money was not the issue, would be to cut the length of the season and begin the playoffs earlier, even in the final week of September. Baseball is not meant to be played past Oct. 20. That's two months deep into football mania. The public's attention is diverted and the World Series, at night and often in the cold, is out of its league with diminished TV ratings.
But you'd have better luck buying a Cubs bleacher seat for $3 when the Yankees come in than get the season cut from 162 games.
Bottom line, baseball is an evolving, not stagnant game. Some ideas, like longer Division Series and replays, are just right for the times. Others, like a monster playoff field, are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that's what makes the game so appealing despite its self-inflicted wounds. It's the game best debated and argued over without the gambling motivation that drives interest in football.