Joe Girardi has already lost one American League Wild Card Game in 2015. Hours before taking on the Minnesota Twins in the 2017 game, the New York Yankees skipper voiced his frustration with the one-game format.
Girardi, on wild card game format: "For me, I'd like to see a three game series."
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) October 3, 2017
There are a few ways to see this.
From a fairness standpoint, Girardi is right. Of all the sports, baseball is by far the most random in terms of what can happen in one game. So, something seems slightly off about one game deciding who advances in the playoffs.
Even acknowledging that, Girardi’s point has some negatives that are hard to escape.
One is that from a practical point of view, a best-of-three just doesn’t work that well.
Under the current schedule, Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for November 1. Even with the 2018 season starting on March 29 — the earliest an MLB season has ever started — excluding international series — Game 7 of that World Series would be on October 31. Unless we’re talking about a team that plays in a dome or in a particularly warm weather climate, going much beyond that brings real weather concerns into play.
If you’re making the Wild Card a best-of-three series, then you have to add at least two more days to the current schedule. If you want to add a travel date, you’d have to add four days. Even more would have to be added if the AL and NL series were staggered, as the Wild Card Games and all other series are now.
Sure, that’s possible. But the deeper a World Series goes into November, the more likely it becomes that we’d see real problems. Conversely, if your approach was to start the season even earlier than March 29, we’d hit the same issues. The first weeks of April already inevitably bring poor weather in some stadiums. Going too far into March is only asking for multiple rainouts in different cities.
That’s the practical problem with Girardi’s argument. The other, perhaps even more noteworthy problem is that for pure excitement, essentially nothing is better than the Wild Card Game.
Baseball is the ultimate marathon sport. It’s the sport where a five-game winning or losing streak just doesn’t mean that much. Because of that, the season can drag at times, even for diehard baseball fans. The Wild Card Game puts that problem on its head. All of a sudden, one game means everything.
When talking about the greatest baseball games of the 21st century, one would not need to go too far before bringing up the 2014 American League Wild Card Game between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics. Both teams put so much into that game because for the loser, there was no tomorrow. Quite frankly, that game would not have been as good if it was merely part of a three-game series.
The Wild Card Games guarantee at least two winner-take-all games in every postseason. Game 7’s are great things but they’re also fairly rare. No postseason is guaranteed to have a Game 7 (or a Game 5 in the LDS). The Wild Card Games give MLB something that other than the NFL, none of the other major American sports leagues can guarantee. That helps make MLB’s postseason special.
It’s not that we can’t understand where Girardi is coming from. We’re just not that moved by his plea.
Best-of-three is certainly the fairer idea but in this case, we don’t want fair. We’ll take the delicious excitement and urgency that comes from a single elimination game any day.