For ratings or for integrity? That is the question.

By Michael Ruskell

Before I begin, I must announce who I am. I am an Atlanta native who has been an avid Atlanta Braves supporter since my young memory’s commencement. This is relevant because my topic today concerns MLB’s new wildcard system, which now allows for the top two finishers to have a one game playoff for the final postseason spot (MLB terms both wildcard participants as “postseason qualifiers,” but I imagine the postseason is hardly satisfying for the loser of the play-in game). The combination of having a guaranteed playoff spot in any other year since 1993 and the lingering memory of last year’s painful collapse has me losing hair very early in life. More important than my own sanity though is the concept of fairness. MLB’s new format has surely been a success in terms of ratings in interest, but it has compromised the importance of the regular season and the pursuit of excellence.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the Braves have secured their wildcard berth. The Cardinals are likely to be the second finisher and currently sit six games back of the Braves. While six games is not a devastating differential, it is certainly strong, and the Braves have proven over the course of 162 games who the better team is. While the Braves will host the wildcard game (WHOOPIE!), baseball is a funny game. The Houston Astros, let alone the Cardinals, can beat the Braves in one game. One game is not an adequate reward for 162 games of work. While interest is high, mediocrity should not be rewarded as is done so here. Also, the effects for the winner must be considered. In a one game playoff, the teams are forced to pitch their best arms before playing the ensuing series the next day! This puts the wildcard winner at a massive disadvantage, and is particularly frustrating when a team has excelled like the Braves have.
I understand that sports are a business. As much as the rhetoric is thrown around, it comes down to the bottom line. And I am usually okay with that. This experience though has proved unnerving, and it will be a shame if the Braves don’t experience true playoff baseball because of MLB’s ratings grab. All the positive press is great until a team gets robbed and a fan base is alienated. The integrity of the games and the teams must be upheld, and this biased fan sees a flaw.

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