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Down the Right Field Line

Can MLB's Pennant Races Ever Get Out of the NFL's Shadow?

Attention everyone: I have an announcement to make. There are pennant races going on in baseball!

That's right! There are pennant races going on in a sport other than football. It's hard to believe that it is September on the baseball calendar. Maybe it's because of the lack of close pennant races. As of Monday September 5, only 4 races are separated by less than 6 games. (And in the case of the AL Wild Card the loser will get the AL Wild Card playoff birth.) Maybe it's because of the ever larger shadow the NFL is casting over the month of September. One thing is certain... baseball has a big problem on it's hands. So I put together a list of 3 things baseball can do to fix this problem.

First: Add 1 or 2 playoff spots. This idea is probably the most likely to happen. With one or two more playoff spots the top one or two teams would probably be given byes in the first round. If 2 playoff spots are added the Major League Baseball playoffs would be longer, generating more publicity, and similar in structure to the NFL playoffs. If MLB added more one or 2 more playoff spots in each league it would increase the competition level and it would give more small market teams, like Pittsburgh or Kansas City, a chance to experience playoff baseball. The extra publicity might shift the public's attention back to baseball during August and September. And I don't think the fact that more playoff games would generate extra revenue is lost on owners. By expanding the playoffs teams would get increased revenue from: ticket sales, luxury suit sales, parking revenue, food and drink sales, merchandise sales, ad revenue, and TV contracts. And at the end of the day money is really the only thing that matters to owners because baseball is a business first.

Second: Add a one game playoff. One game playoffs in baseball have been epics! So what if we built one into the season? This idea comes from the idea of adding playoff spots, in this case one in each league, and having the two wild card teams have a play-in game. Nobody can deny that elimination games are the most exciting games in sports! And throughout baseball's history one game playoffs have always lived up to the hype! (Before the divisional era the NL used a best of three to determine it's lone playoff spot.) That series, in 1951, featured the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Game 3 only produced the "Shot Heard Round the World". The 1978 playoff game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, at Fenway Park, to determine the AL East winner produced Bucky Dent's famous home run. 1959's Game 3 Tiebreaker produced a stunning comeback from the Milwaukee Braves as they rallied from down 5-2 in the ninth and won 12 innings. 2007 and 2009 saw incredible extra inning affairs that saw the San Diego Padres take on the Colorado Rockies and the Minnesota Twins take on the Detroit Tigers.

Third and finally: Eliminate the Divisional Format. This may be the most impractical solution: blow up the divisions and give the top 4-6 teams playoff spots, depending on which format is chosen. But seriously it may also be the most practical, and fair, solution to baseball's problems. After 41 years of a divisional setup in the National and American Leagues it's hard for most people, including myself, to imagine baseball without divisions. But believe it or not the National League existed for 93 years, 1876-1969, before having a divisional format. (Before the divisional era started in 1969 teams in both the NL and AL competed over an entire regular season for their league's lone spot in the World Series.)

Teams would be separated into their respective leagues and then playoff spots to the leagues top teams. Like the first expanded solution baseball may go to a system with the top 6 teams in each league getting in with byes to the top 2 seeds. The advantage that this system has over the others is it is the fairest. Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995 we have seen several times, as in 1997, 2000 2006,2007; 2008, where a team that missed the playoffs by not winning their division actually had a better record than a another division winner in their league. Things would have to be changed: interleague play would have to end, and the schedules would need to be balanced, but it could be the best solution for baseball.

Unfortunately for MLB there is no real way to get out of the NFL's shadow. The NFL has a virtual monopoly on the sports entertainment business. Football has replaced baseball as America's pastime. No matter the format the best thing MLB can do is hope for great pennant races! Football may be America's new pastime, but baseball is our "past time".

It's in every part of this country, and it has played pivotal role in making America what it is!

Phil Joens is a contributing columnist to and also maintains a Blog.

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