Ethics Dunce: Major League Baseball

MLB Wild Card play-off, 2020

I dislike baseball’s play-offs, especially the fact that a team that finished second over a 162-game season can still win the World Series and be called a champion. I really dislike the addition of a second “wild card” team to the post-season formula this year, which theoretically means that a team can finish third and end up as a champion. Yes, I know this is the way it has been for decades in football, basketball and hockey, but they are lesser sports, after all.

Baseball’s rules for the new one-game play-off between the wild-card teams, however, marks a new low in baseball’s integrity. Since it the single game is a separate play-off round, the suits who run the game have decided that managers can devise a unique 25 player roster for that game alone, and reconstitute the team if it goes on to the next round, a three-out-of-five series. The practical effect of this rule is that two teams will face each other not only bearing insufficient resemblance to the teams that actually earned the play-off slot, but will also play with a roster that would be disastrous over the course of  a season.

Baseball is not, as football is, a leave-it-all-on-the-field, “there’s no tomorrow” sport and culture. Each baseball game is a small component of a season-long strategy. Managers frequently and wisely play line-ups that are not their strongest to make sure the players last the season at maximum strength. Pitchers are removed from games while still pitching well to protect their stamina for the next starting assignment. It makes no sense for a player to risk a season-ending injury making a spectacular play to win one game when his extended absence from the line-up could lose many more.  These new rules for the play-off game, however, apply football’s culture, where a full week separates games, to baseball, where the teams play almost every day. Everything, including the roster, will be designed for one game, as if there will be no tomorrow–and baseball is about there always being a tomorrow. A manager will have no reason, for example, to keep more than one starting pitcher on the roster, at least none that could not also come into the game in relief.  Though most teams carry 12 pitchers during the season, as many as four or five of those spots could be given—for one game only–to various specialists with narrow skills that could make a difference in one game but that would never be worth a roster spot over the the course of a season: pinch runners who can steal bases but who can’t hit well enough to get on base themselves; pinch-hitters who scorch right-handed sinker-ball pitchers and no one else; defensive whizzes stuck in the minors because they can’t hit their weight; fat, lame old sluggers who might be able to hit a game-changing homer.

That’s not how baseball is played during the rest of the season, and to have championships determined by game strategies that are impossible during the season as well as redolent of pro football is a cardinal breach of the game’s integrity.


Spark: Craig Calcattera

Facts: Sports Illustrated

Graphic: Moblog

6 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Major League Baseball

  1. That’s not how baseball is played during the rest of the season, and to have championships determined by game strategies that are impossible during the season as well as redolent of pro football is a cardinal breach of the game’s integrity.

    I was with you pretty well, and then this statement happened: First, the game already has different strategies for the post season. Second, I don’t see that the strategies of this game are more similar to that of pro football than the strategies of the regular season and existing playoffs are. Third, I don’t see why a strategy that is employed by football should be any less worthy than one that isn’t.

    • Because it means that the teams are being tested in an ultimate contest that isn’t a fair measure of the team’s actual strengths during the season. A minor league player who is unqualified to play at the major league level IS qualified, and an asset, in a one game season. Pro Football is always played with this attitude.

      Yes, it isn’t that’s it’s a football approach, but that it’s a non-baseball approach that happens to be more consistent with football. I should have been clearer. And true enough, the strategy for 5 and 7 game “seasons” in the post season also differ from the regular season. This is just reductio ad absurdum.

  2. You’ve got to kidding me! Baseball has no integrity and never has. Yes it is the greatest game on earth but what other sport can you name where cheating and deception are so much a part of te game? Also with the expansion of the leagues you have to have an expanded tournament after the season to make sure all the teams fans have a vested interest in watching the whole season. It IS a business after all and it’s purpose is to make money. It would be in unethical to not insure that the teams did so. What would have them do ? Go back to when the team with the best record in the AL ane NL just played each other?

  3. Meanwhile, the biggest ethics test may come shortly in the NL MVP voting – and it’ll make for a nice follow-up to an earlier post.

    Ryan Braun is leading the NL in a number of offensive categories, including home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS.

    Given that a suspension over performance-enhancing drugs was overturned prior to this season, should the Brewers make the playoffs (they stunned the Nationals tonight and are 1.5 games back of the Cardinals), there is a VERY strong case that Braun deserves a second MVP award, particularly since Prince Fielder left via free agency.

    So… does Braun deserve to repeat as MVP? And have the doubts been put to rest?

  4. Jack, the 40-man roster in September also bears slight resemblance to that of the regular season. Together with all the trades, and minor league call-ups, teams that take the field in September look strange indeed – almost like a new season’s roster.

    The one-game knockout puts the better team at a disadvantage: previously, they would have advanced to the Division Championship Series automatically. Now a stumble and they’re gone. If the suits are looking for a way of reducing the chances of wild cards winning the World Series (1997 & 2003 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2004 Red Sox, 2011 Cardinals) they will do so with this extra round.

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