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Baseball owners, hear me OUT: You are out-and-out exclusionary. Because of you, greedy players have been locked out, Fay Vincent was forced out, and blacks were once kept out, which has something do with why Marge Schott was recently kicked out.
All of this goes to the essence of the game. Three strikes? Yer not in, yer out. Ceremonial first pitches are thrown out. What's your favorite baseball movie, Eight Men Out or Fear Strikes Out? Get 27 outs without allowing a run—in other words, don't let some outfielder hit one out—and what have you got? A shutout.
Yet, when a committee of you owners met behind closed doors (KEEP OUT!) in Phoenix last week, you evidently decided to do something very strange about the baseball playoffs: to let everybody in. Which is an outrage.
Well, not everybody. The Cleveland Indians still won't get into the playoffs without showing a ticket. But most of you are leaning toward doubling the number of teams that qualify for the playoffs from four to eight, beginning with the 1995 season.
Here is how you say it would work. Both 14-team leagues would fragment into three divisions. Two divisions in each league would have five teams, and one division would have four. The three division winners and a wild-card team (the division runner-up with the best record) would make the playoffs in each league. The 162-game regular season would be shortened to accommodate the extra postseason series.
The reason for all of this, of course, is as clear as Diet Crystal Pepsi—and about as unappealing: More teams mean more money. Your thinking is, If there is no pennant race come September, you will manufacture it. And if you build it, they will come. Fans, that is. Fans of a team that is 10 games out of first place but is now, suddenly, a playoff contender! Plus, a longer televised postseason means more network dough. Major League Baseball will have all the success of...the National Hockey League.
I'm all for change. Baseball needs to change. It docs so too infrequently. Baseball's quaint reluctance to change once meant an unquaint reluctance to integrate. Talk about reluctance to change: Two years ago Dodger Dogs were steamed and not grilled—for all of two weeks—and Dodger Stadium nearly imploded. Tradition had been violated.
I say tradition is fine, but sometimes tradition must give way to progress: Pete Rose, for goodness' sake, had the same hairdo for two decades. Was that good for baseball?
Clearly not. But neither is it good that the game is suddenly seeking change like a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike, because too often, when baseball docs embrace a change, it is a very bad one. I speak of the designated hitter, late-night World Series games, lights at Wrigley Field, polyester double-knit uniforms and the Seattle Mariners. I speak of vigorous enforcement of the balk rule. That was a visionary idea?
And now an eight-team playoff. Bad idea.