2010: If we still had pennant races

Let’s take a gander at how good the “pennant races,” 1969-93 style, would look this year. Obviously the schedules would be slightly different, but the impact of the unbalanced schedule is generally much less than most think anyway.

The Yankees and Devil Rays would be neck and neck with no safety net. 1993 Braves-Giants or 1980 Yankees-Orioles anyone? This would be one of the classic pennant races for the ages.

We’d have the Twins, Rangers and White Sox in an excellent three-team race.

The Phillies would be pulling away. Wow, the Cardinals really have fallen apart—five games back from Philly at the start of play today (Thursday). I didn’t realize this one was turning into a clunker. Think about how the Phillies’ season would look from this perspective.

Finally, check out the NL West: 1982 all over again . . . Atlanta and Cincy tied, San Diego a game and a half back and the Giants lurking 4 1/2 back.

The tension that would have been building over this season with these races would have been phenomenal. Instead I’ve barely paid attention to the season, knowing eight of these 11 teams are going to be in the tournament anyway.

And what has the wild-card and three division set-up given us?

A safety net for the Rays/Yankees. Boston would be just as far out, and there are no additional contenders (which is the whole point of the wild card) in the AL. Texas has no pennant race; the Rangers just get to cruise. The Twins have an extra cushion as well. Again, this completely sucks the life out of the regular season.

In the NL there are no additional contenders either. This alignment has made the Phillies’ season more exciting, but really they’ve just swapped spots with the Rangers. The Phightins are a game and a half up on SF as opposed to five up on St. Louis. SF is a couple of games closer to the playoffs also, but the Giants are still a contender in either scenario.

So instead of three great month-long races, we get a week of manufactured playoffs where everyone starts even again. We also risk losing both of the two best teams in the AL from the final four, instead of guaranteeing one will be there in addition to the great final month of the season they’d provide.

I do follow the “old school” standings all season long every year. Generally in the first round, aside from the Yankees, I root for whatever the LCS would have been in that format. As a fan, I would gladly sacrifice the Yankees making the playoffs as often if it meant getting my pennant races back.

Almost every year the old pennant races would have made for a much more exciting September than the current one, and it’s amazing how generally very few “extra contenders” are created, which was the whole point of the thing: to boost September attendance around the league. The extra week of playoffs was secondary in the motivation for changing the alignment.

There is so much public clamor for those games, that they’ve landed on cable: The networks don’t even care about them. They’d rather show soap operas. Major League Baseball has devalued the regular season much like the NCAA Tournament has for college basketball (don’t get me wrong, I love the NCAA Tournament, but I don’t pay much attention to the sport before the conference tournaments). I’m obviously a serious baseball fan, but each year I find myself more and more focused on October and less and less on April-September, which is a shame.


Print This Post
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andrew
Guest
Andrew

What are you, a purist?

InnocentBystander
Guest
InnocentBystander

I agree with you. I grew up in the 2 division era and liked it much better…heck, I’d like to do away with the divisions all together and go back to the best 1 team from each league going directly to the WS! They play 162 games to determine the best team. 162!!! I think after that many we know who deserves to be in. 162! The regular season shouldn’t be cheapened with extra playoff teams.

ribman
Guest
ribman

Yes, it’s a myth that wild card had made baseball more interesting by keeping teams in it- it killed real drama of races as you so capably illustrate and it just adds the chance for the mediocre freak team to win an end of season tournament not the World Series. Haven’t even discussed the lengthening of the season and effects from that. For this 1 change alone Bud Selig should never sniff the HOF.

John R.
Guest
John R.
It’s true that this year, the wild-card has made things less interesting in the AL, and had a neutral effect on the NL. This isn’t a necessary result of the new format, though. It’s just a coincidence that the two best teams happen to be in the same division while the other two divisions are not especially close. In past years, things have often shaken out differently. : 2009: The Yankees and the Angels win their divisions easily either way. With two divisions, the Twins’ awesome late-season run to pass Detroit is meaningless, as the two teams are both out… Read more »
Detroit Michael
Guest
Detroit Michael

Shawn Hoffman wrote on BaseballProspectus.com yesterday that during 1992-2009, attendance was up during Sept./Oct. much much more than was true for any other month during the season.  It certainly suggests that the wild card / expanded playoffs format was the right decision from a business viewpoint.

I’d be interested in your reaction.

Philip
Guest
Philip
Though the Red Sox won a World Championships through aid of the Wild Card, I too would prefer if MLB went back to two divisions per league with only the division winners advancing to the post season. But, there is a way to both increase the importance of winning the division and even increase the amount of teams in contention in September. First, go back to two divisions per league and give the division winners a buy. Then, on the Monday after game number 162 is played the previous Sunday (or on Tuesday if make-ups for rainouts or tie-breakers are… Read more »
Cuban X Senators
Guest
Cuban X Senators

I say go to 32 teams and go back to the days of 8-team leagues, but now have 4 of them.

Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
Excellent post!  I’d like to bottle it and open it up daily to remind myself there are still people who think as you do. I too have been have been following the pennant races each year, but I’ve taken it a step further by creating my own divisions based on regions.  No teams changed leagues. I also added another wrinkle, “Tiers”.  A teams schedule changes each year determined by whether they finish in the 1st or 2nd Tier in their division.  Most games are played against rivals for the same pennant. The extra games determined by the tiers, has the… Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.

The way I see it, there haven’t been any pennant races since 1968.

Also, the regular season is far more important than the postseason to me. Partly because I’m a Tigers fan, and they never get there, but mostly because I hate both the Yankees and the Red Sox, and they’re the only teams Fox and ESPN care about. The fact that postseason stats are largely meaningless to record-keeping makes it seem like exhibition games involving teams I either hate or am indifferent to.

Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
Interesting Ed, part of my idea is that the wild card and extra division has put too much emphasis on the post-season to the detriment of the 162 game regular season.  Furthermore, The World Series has records of their own and these have been cheapened by lumping them together with Division and League Championship Series.  This is one of the reasons I think the Division Series is a minus rather than a plus. While I too am an avid follower of one team (Sorry, it’s the Yankees.  But I too think they and other large market teams have gotten too… Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Cliff, I still pay attention to the postseason (Tommy Lasorda says “It’s your duty, Judy!”), but I don’t get anywhere near as excited about it as I used to. I don’t think it’s the way MLB is set up now that keeps them from doing a good job presenting “baseball at its best”, I think it’s the way the networks divide it up. The NLCS being relegated to TBS every year, just because Fox is hoping for the Yankees or Red Sox does a huge disservice to the NL, not just to NL fans, but to the league’s public image.… Read more »
Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
Ed, I do think that FOX has a negative impact on MLB, but I think it goes back way before they gave the NLCS to cable.  It started when they got NFL football, then demanded baseball expand its post-season play to get more bucks, then abandoned the Division Series and half the LCS to cable.  All this is an indication of BASEBALL’s second class citizenship at FOX and their wild card induced declining post-season ratings. When I referred to “baseball at its best”, I was referring to season long pennant races climaxing in September, and leading to a Division Series-less… Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
When MLB decided to realign to three divisions with a wild-card, CBS still held the rights, by the time it actually happened, ABC and NBC held them. So I can’t hold Fox responsible for that. Nor do I believe the extra round alone decreased interest in the postseason. It’s definitely not what decreased my interest in it. I’d also like to point out that four playoff rounds hasn’t hurt the other sports one bit. The entire first round of the NFL playoffs is a joke, but people eat it up. The NBA and NHL sometimes have losing teams in their… Read more »
Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
While your recounting of the origins of the wild card, three divisions, and Division Series is accurate, there is no denying the fact that FOX is the last broadcast network standing. They were the ones who presided over the decimation of MLB’s post-season broadcast schedule. NBC sounded like they were leery of baseball’s new set-up in 1994, as they bowed out in 2000 saying the post-season commitment was cutting into their entertainment ratings.  FOX also makes it difficult for baseball to play weekend World Series day games. And baseball has lost a weekend of the World Series because Saturday night… Read more »
Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
Sorry for any misunderstanding coming from my end, but I need to tell you I have difficulty with your statement that the current post-season is “fine by you” when you call it anti-climatic.  The changes I am suggesting would make it less so, but you argue against them. I understand perfectly the concept of “pennant races”.  Bottom line, a pennant race is a competition between a group of teams that are all looking to finish at the top of the same group.  Your static definition of “pennant races” only applies to “leagues” and you fail to see how they can… Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
I guess I don’t understand at all what you mean by tiers. I’ve reread all of your comments, and all I’m getting from it is that good and bad teams would be separated into different scheduling schemes. That sounds like European soccer “loser” leagues to me. When would the separation into tiers take place? Before the season, based on last years finish? Take a look at 1992. The Braves and Twins both finished first after finishing last the year before. Would they go in the “lower” tier? How about the Athletics going from first to worst, would your scheme have… Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
I meant 1991 in my comment about the Braves and Twins going from worst to first. I’d also like clarify what I mean by the phrase “pennant race”. A division title and a pennant are not the same thing. There are six division titles up for grabs each season, but only two pennants: NL and AL. The Marlins have no division titles, but two pennants. The 1978 Yankees-Red Sox was NOT a pennant race, it was a division race. John R.‘s comment above points out what would have been lost if we still had only two divisions, which is what… Read more »
Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.
The “Tier” set-up is actually pretty simple. Let’s say you divide the AL into an 8 team East and a 6 team West. In the NL you evenly divide the 16 teams into 8 team East and West.  At the end of a season you decide next years schedule according to how you finish. For instance, in the AL the top 4 teams in the East play the top 3 teams in the West.  Same with the bottom 4 and 3 teams. Nobody switches divisions.  Each year you play a majority of your games against the teams in your division. … Read more »
Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
“Given your example, when Atlanta and Minnesota finish last, the next season they play the bottom teams in the other division.” You completely missed my point. They both finished first the next year, without having to play in a second-division loser tier. Had they actually done that, they both wold have finished 30 games up. Your scheme would also place the ‘93 Athletics in the first tier (they finished first in ‘92), but they finished last in the AL west without any juggling. Had they been in a “top tier” they would have finished 30 games out of sixth. Where… Read more »
Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.

Here I am calmly trying to explain what I see are problems with baseball and how it can be made better, and I find I’m actually involved in an argument with someone who resorts to insults when he thinks he’s losing.

O.K. by me. I need to get back to listening to the Yankee game and working on my Pennant Race League.

Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.

Yeah, be sure to let me know when MLB adopts your “pennant race” league.

Cliff G.
Guest
Cliff G.

BOO HOO HOO!

Ed Buskirk Jr.
Guest
Ed Buskirk Jr.
I think you’ve misunderstood a couple of things I said. I think the wild card makes September more exciting, not less. I think it makes the regular season more interesting. I totally disagree with your statement about “manufactured ‘races’ between inferior teams”. Also, we seem to have different definitions of the phrase “pennant race”. No pennant has been decided in the regular season since 1968. What you think of as pennant races are division races. The playoffs alone decide the pennant. And for what it’s worth, there were many years when the pennant was decided in August. The 1906 Cubs,… Read more »
wpDiscuz