MLB: Wild Cards and Replay Review

Originally posted to theclevelandfan.com on October 8, 2013

As a Cleveland Indians fan, the outcome of the Tribe’s AL Wild Card elimination game against the Rays was obviously disappointing. But as disappointing as the game itself was, it doesn’t change how electric the atmosphere was at Progressive Field until the inevitable Delmon Young home run (why does anyone even pitch to that guy?). As I was sitting on my couch watching the panning shots of the raucous Cleveland crowd, I could only think of one thing…

I wanted to be there so bad.

Playoff baseball is fantastic. The magnitude tied to every postseason pitch is a stark contrast from the meandering nature of a 162 game regular season. That magnitude is only intensified in a deciding game or, in this case, a one game playoff. When the whole season is on the line, it produces crowds like the ones in Pittsburgh and Cleveland last week; crowds that rival ones you would find on college campuses during football game days.

Simply put, one game playoffs are fun. There’s an enormous amount of buildup to a winner-takes-all baseball game. Writers get to write expansive columns detailing any and all possible permutations that could occur. Fans get to go bonkers knowing that the entire season is on the line with every pitch. And, perhaps most importantly, one game playoffs allow for ample opportunity to make snarky tweets at our favorite managerial whipping boys, which I think is why baseball was invented in the first place.

When baseball first announced the change in the postseason format that would have two Wild Card teams from each league face off in a one game playoff, it was (and still is) widely derided as being unfair. A one game playoff seems go against everything a 162 game season represents. The whole point of the long baseball season is to weed out the lesser teams, as well as provide a multitude of instances for people to ridicule managers for unnecessary bunting, which I think is why baseball was invented in the first place. To some, it just feels like there’s something unjust about a whole season of baseball being reduced to just nine innings.

But baseball eschewed the idea of “fair” a long time ago when it decided to go with unbalanced scheduling and allow the Yankees and Dodgers to spend over $150 million more per season than the Rays and Marlins. The concept of “fairness” has never really been at the top of MLB’s agenda.

On the flip side, one concept that MLB has been striving for is to make the game fun. Baseball faces, and will continue the face, the stereotype that it is boring and that it can’t hold the attention of young’uns with their iPhones and football and Reddit.

As much as those in and around baseball hate to admit it, there is some truth to that sentiment. I live with three people who can at best be described as apathetic towards sports in general. I can usually cajole them into watching a football or basketball game. Hell, I can even convince them to indulge in the occasional soccer match. But when it comes to baseball, I have no chance. For those that don’t appreciate the intricacies of pitch sequencing or situational hitting, a baseball game just feels like a lot of standing around until someone hits a home run.

There’s only so much MLB can do to curb these sentiments without drastically altering the game we all love. When viewed through this lens, it makes complete sense that baseball would try some unconventional things to introduce a little more vigor into the game.

Not unlike the new Wild Card format, MLB has brought some heat on itself with its recently announced replay review system featuring coaches challenging calls they think the umpires missed. This change has brought even more derisive comments and articles than the changes to the playoff format. The negative comments regarding the new replay system tend to circle back to the same “fairness” argument that is used by the opponents of the new Wild Card system. Most people would seem to favor a “fifth umpire” system, where an extra umpire sits in the press box and determines which plays need further review.

But what would be the fun in that?

I, for one, cannot wait until baseball implements the challenge-based review system. Putting the onus on managers to challenge calls is going to be an endless source of entertainment. The new system will open up a ton of opportunities to debate which challenges were worthwhile and which challenges were the product of ineptitude. The players will now have the chance to do the whole “c’mon coach, throw the challenge flag!” routine that has become so prevalent amongst football players. The new system also creates an opportunity for a writer to fill the Bill Barnwell role as the final arbiter of all coaches’ challenges (consider this my official application). And perhaps, no, definitely most importantly is that the new system will allow ample chances for the baseball intelligentsia (ugh) to make fun of Ron Washington, which I think is why baseball was invented in the first place.

And I’m supposed to believe that this is somehow a bad thing?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that baseball is a game. Yes, it’s a game played by highly paid professionals in front of thousands of fans who live and die with every pitch, but it’s a game nonetheless. And last time I checked, games are supposed to be fun. Fairness is fine and good, but good luck finding someone who watches baseball because of its “fairness”. Kudos to MLB for ignoring conventional wisdom and taking some chances with how the game is played.

Besides, if we decide we don’t like the changes, we can always go on twitter and make jokes about ‘ol Bud, which I think is why baseball was invented in the first place.

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About PapaBearJere

Jeremy Klein is an unabashed Cleveland Sports fan who only wants to see a Cleveland team win a title. You can follow him on twitter @PapaBearJere or email him at thenarrativeblog@gmail.com.

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