Musical Chairs

In keeping with the utter lack of practicality in these proposals, I'd like to do away with the playoffs entirely.

Used to be, when I was a lad, in addition to walking to school uphill all three ways, I used to watch all 8 teams (and later all 10) in each league compete for one playoff spot--each league's winner would then meet in the World Series. Typically, that system resulted in boring the fans of at least half-a-dozen teams in each league by August 1st. Any team more than 10 games behind with less than sixty games to go could forget about the pennant, so two-thirds of all fans would have no real reason to follow their teams beyond late July, other than blind loyalty, complacence, and cluelessness. (As a clueless lad, I rooted for the early Mets right up to the final out of their mathematical elimination--and doublechecked the math to make sure they were really out of the race, which, of course, they were never really in to begin with.) So, after enough expansion had taken place to fill the Hindenberg, and after the10-team leagues were carved up into 5-team divisions, and then after the Wild Card was created, the possibility of post-season play was given to maybe half the teams in the league for August and parts of September, extending the point of hopelessness for most fans by six or seven weeks, which has been exciting.

So why do I propose doing away with the wildly successful and exciting playoffs and the Wild Card? Do I hate baseball that much?

Well, if you're a Wild Card-contending fan reading this on or around September 15th, you probably understand that your team is competing with a bunch of other teams for a single playoff spot. That gives you hope, but it's really not a lot of hope most years--more like owning a lottery ticket than holding a good poker hand. The appeal is that you haven't been technically eliminated even if your division is locked up. Every game your team plays in the last few weeks is pretty important--now they need to get hot, and stay hot, for the rest of the season. But there is no one single do-or-die series that grabs your attention, when your stadium is packed to capacity, like it will be for the four playoff teams all through October. What I'm proposing gives every team at least one playoff-type series, that they have to win or go home. Most teams will have several such series.

Let's reconfigure baseball, such that we have a bunch of eight-team leagues (or divisions, or gaggles--the nomenclature doesn't matter. And in next month's column, I will propose reconfiguring the leagues, more or less along the lines I'm discussing here, only along a more radical principle. In any case, the number of teams per league is arbitrary: this principle applies to leagues with any number of teams.) The eight-team leagues will compete for the pennant just as they do now, only the regular season, as we know it, is over by the middle of August. At the conclusion of the 126th game, the team in first place wins the pennant.

We will pause briefly as traditionalists attempt to throttle me, not caring to learn whatever answers I might supply to questions like “Baseball history needs 162 regular-season games, so how we can compare one season to another anymore?” Forget that until the 1960s, baseball used to have 154 regular season games, and after you realize that my throat is frustratingly inaccessible to your grasping hands, please hear me out. There are 35 additional games I have in mind, 35 games whose stats will count as regular-season numbers. (Another pause as you add up 126 and 35 and get 161, which is close enough to 162 by almost anyone's standard.) These 35 games, the final six weeks of the season, will also substitute for most of the playoffs.

In the 126-game regular season, by the way, each of the eight teams will play each of its opponents 18 times apiece (which just happens to be the exact number of games each team played its opponents during the sainted 1960s--just a coincidence but a happy one.) The first two regular-season series between each opponent (home and away) is five games, and the next pair of series is also four games apiece. (Makeup games will be played on an open date at the end of the final series, or in the All-Star break, which will occur at the end of the regular season and will be a few days longer than it is now, both to accommodate the makeup schedule and to account for added dramatics of this scheme.)

Ah, the dramatics:
The first series after the All-Star game, the first one that matters very much, and the one on which playoff-style attention will be focused, is a five-game series between each league's eighth-place team and seventh-place team, who commence fighting for their lives. The team that loses gets eliminated from playoff contention--on these five games, rests their season.

This series is nationally televised, of course. During the All-Star break, the managers have been talking up their starting rotation, and their strategies for taking the series from their foe. It should be an even series, since both teams are the two worst teams in the league. For the one team that gets eliminated, they have no real kick--by this point in the season now (around August 25th), over twenty-five percent of the teams would otherwise be out of the running for the playoffs anyway. My way, half of those teams--the winners of the first elimination series-- will be playoff contenders.

While these two bad teams duke it out, what happens in the rest of the league? Do they just hang out, drinking beer, and idly watching the playoffs? They do not. They pair up, playing each other. But apart from accruing stats, what's the point of these games? Of the six “safe” teams, the one with the worst record at the end of 131 games (unless it's the team that has already won a playoff spot by leading at the end of 126 games, which is highly unlikely) plays the next elimination series against the winner of the first elimination series. There will be considerable pressure on teams to avoid being in sixth place at the end of 131, because games 132-136 could eliminate them from the playoffs too.

And so on. Every week, a different set of teams (one in each of the four leagues) will fight for survival, while the rest of the league strives to avoid facing the winner in the next elimination series. There are seven such elimination series, the final one being between the team that won the pennant on August 15th, and has been tuning up ever since, and the final team left standing at the end of these elimination series.

Do I hear someone saying “A travesty!”? Okay, I don't hear anything, but it might seem to make a mockery of the pennant race if the team in last place in the middle of the regular season has a chance to win the pennant. But if they win all seven series, they deserve the pennant, in my view. The worst record with which a triumphant last-place team could possibly finish the seven final series is 21-14, a .600 record, and that's possible only if they win all seven series by three games to two. If they go 4-1 once, and sweep one elimination series, that makes them 24-11. Moreover, think about that final series, in which they'll be facing the best team in the league (as of August 15th) that has been able to rest their tired players, heal their wounded, set up their rotation with this series in mind, while the last place team has been forced to play for their lives for the past six weeks. Finally, the 126-game pennant race winner will, like all the last-place team's opponents, have the home field advantage in this series. If David defeats Goliath for the pennant, he will have deserved his victory.

The post-season proper will be as it used to be: a seven game series between the two league champions, and its stats will not counted in the season's stats. This will also have the effect of returning post-season stats to what they once were: World Series records, so we can once again compare today's post-season performances to what used to go on before 1969, when the system of complicated post-season competition began. Next month: how to rearrange the leagues!

Enjoyed this article? You might want to check out the rest of our features. You can find content like this and more on the Mellophant Forums.


To start, yes indeed, I do think this is a terrible idea. But then I am a Yankees fan.

As to the World Series records, has always broken out World Series records and as I recall the venerable Baseball Encyclopedia also did. My most recent copy is probably from around 1993 but still.

Those early elimination games are not going to garner the interest you think they will in my opinion. Most fans will be watching their teams and the fans of the bottom dwellers are probably not going to show much more interest than they do now after a few years of watching the bottom dwellers not advancing.

After the first round elimination, what do those four teams do? Are they playing meaningless games against a good team or each other? Do they get to go home? What’s the deal? Do they play the 4th and 5th games of these elimination rounds even if one team took the first 3?

I look forward to your league reorganization. In mine, I would eliminate 2-6 teams first. Get back to 24 teams. Poor Pittsburg, one of the oldest franchises would be one of the causalities. Tampa, Florida, Oakland, KC and the Nationals (Natinals) would all be candidates. If you cannot provide a grass field instead of turf, you will probably go. No deep thought here, just tossing out ideas. I would go ahead and phase in a hard cap and a hard floor. All teams must spend $75M to a maximum of $150M. Slowly bring the floor up without raising the ceiling faster than inflation.

While I am at it, let’s either eliminate the DH or make it universal. I would make it universal. Let’s face the reality that 12-13 man pitching staffs are now standard and expand the roster by 3 for the season. Doing this and adding the DH to the NL will soften the blow of eliminating 2-6 teams for the union. If we eliminate only 4 teams, we are removing 100 major league jobs and a total of 160 as the 40 man roster goes. We are adding back 78 major league jobs and adding 12 larger salary positions in additional DHs. (There are now 14, we would have 26 when the change is made.)