New contract in hand, Selig brimming with ideas
By Hal Bodley | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 01/12/12 6:23 PM EST
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- As Commissioner Bud Selig was taking bows Thursday after receiving a two-year contract extension, it amazed me that such a devoted baseball purist has enacted more changes to the sport than any of his predecessors.
And there are more to come.
Selig's adrenaline was flowing as he talked about expanding the postseason, hopefully this October, with two additional Wild Card teams.
Moments later, we were reminded about realignment scheduled for 2013, with the Houston Astros moving to the American League West.
Major League owners, who had just given Selig an extension that keeps him in office through 2014, marveled at the positive changes that have occurred since he became interim Commissioner in September of 1992.
There's also serious discussion of moving the All-Star Game in July from its long-standing Tuesday to Wednesday. That would enable pitchers who perform on Sunday to participate in the Midsummer Classic.
Often, some of baseball's premier pitchers who have been selected are unable to take part in the showcase event because they competed the previous Sunday.
There's always a risk of diluting the postseason, but the new Wild Card round is a superb innovation. As the commissioner so often says, it's fan-friendly.
Selig reiterated Thursday there are obviously scheduling problems but added, "I am very hopeful we can do it this coming season. I love the extra Wild Card, and we're just working out scheduling."
Selig was off to an afternoon session with his special committee for on-field matters, but as he was leaving, I asked how a purist could make so many changes.
"I am a purist, but my view of that is you have to do what you think is best for sport," he said. "This is 2012. You just can't do things like we did before. When I first got into the game [in 1970], they used to say about change, 'We've never done it that way.' That was the problem.
"You have to be careful and walk a very thin line. You don't want to make changes just to make a change. Look, I got killed [by critics] when I introduced the Wild Card [in 1994]. What would we have done the last 12, 14 years without it? They said revenue sharing would destroy the sport. Well, it made the sport. Nine of the last 11 World Series champions have been different clubs."
He added that 19 of the 30 teams have made the postseason over the last five years and 24 teams have made the postseason over the past decade.
The current Wild Card format was created amid widespread criticism, but it was not enacted until the following year because of the players' strike. From 1969 to then, there had been just two divisions in each league and the best-of-seven League Championship Series between division winners in the AL and National League.
And before 1969, only the AL and NL pennant winners met in the World Series.
When the two additional Wild Card teams are added to the postseason, 10 of the 30 teams will compete.
What makes this so attractive is the fact the two Wild Card teams from each league will meet in a one-game format, with the winner moving on to the next round.
"You don't do things for only one year," Selig said earlier. "You do things for a long period of time. We believe, after a lot of study and a lot of thought, that the addition of two Wild Cards is really going to help us in the long run. One thing you learn is baseball is a metaphor for life and nothing's perfect. People should be excited about this."
A one-game do-or-die playoff will have stunning results. Enormous pressure will be on the Wild Cards, but it will also make it much more important for teams to win their divisions.
Under the current format, Wild Card teams often advance to the World Series, as the St. Louis Cardinals did in 2011. They did that by eliminating the Phillies in the best-of-five NL Division Series.
The possibility of being ousted in a one-game playoff puts much more credibility for a team to win its division and play first in a best-of-five tournament.
"I had some early concerns about the one-game playoff, but much to my surprise, baseball people -- my special committee included -- only wanted one game. It will certainly be dramatic," the Commissioner said.
Selig and his 14-person special committee are attempting to solve the scheduling problem the new round will create for 2012.
Because the 162-game regular season doesn't end until Oct. 3, adding days needed for the extra round is difficult.
Selig has repeatedly said he does not favor having the World Series extend into November. Complicating the problem is the fact FOX, which televises the World Series, prefers to have it begin on a Wednesday night.
Extra days have to be included in the overall postseason schedule for travel and the possibility of weather-related postponement. Squeezing all that into 28 days will be difficult.
"It's not going to be easy, but I think we'll be able to get it worked out," Selig said. "And I'm very hopeful it will be this season."