The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

October 22, 2012

Thoma column: Money is the object in baseball postseason

We don’t know who will win the World Series this year, but we do know the winner won’t have a legitimate claim to being the best team.

The Detroit Tigers will represent the American League; their 88-74 record was only the seventh best mark in a 14-team league.

In the National League, there’s still a chance — actually now a pretty good one — that the third-best record (San Francisco Giants at 94-68) will advance. Otherwise it will be the St. Louis Cardinals, the No. 5 record, whose 88-74 mark matches that of the Tigers.

This might be the best way to identify a “purist”: If it bothers you that an 88-win team can win the World Series while a 98-win team (the Washington Nationals) is out hunting, you’re a purist.

I’m a purist. An honest one, if I may say so; as delighted as the Twins made me in 1987, I can never shake the knowledge that they had just the fifth best record in the American League that season (85-77).

The 1987 Twins won the World Series. That doesn’t make them the best team that year.

Professional baseball, by definition, is more about the money than the competition. Bud Selig and his co-conspirators with the players union and the television networks want to maximize the dollars, not reward quality.

That’s why we have an expanded playoff system that inevitably degrades the value of the regular season and creates the illusion of pennant races when, by traditional standards, there are none.

And it explains regular season schedules in which division rivals play markedly different opponents.

The new format this year, with two wild-card teams per league in a one-game play-in, had the merit of enhancing the value of a division title. It did nothing to make it more difficult for a weaker team to emerge as the champion.

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