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Here's to the wild cards


Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball, has convinced his owners and the players to add an extra wild card team to the playoffs, so now five teams per league will qualify. Not only is this terrific for the fans, but Selig also wisely managed to make it so that the wild card teams engage in a one-game showdown for the privilege of being the team that joins the three division winners in the battle for the league championship.

I have just the old-fashioned word for this new-fangled development: nifty.

But, as we might expect, the diamond fundamentalists have thrown a conniption fit. It's simply not fair, not the American way, to play 162 games and then have your fate decided by one lousy itty-bitty game.

Well, here's the answer: while regular seasons in any sport are, by virtue of their great length, pretty fair, playoffs are not meant to be fair. They're meant to be popular. These are games they're playing, my friends, not mathematical equations they're proving. If all playoffs did was validate the winner of the regular season, then what would be the point? For my money, it would be even better if there were even more playoff teams and more playoffs that were just one game, winner take all. It's more exciting, and, face it: the regular-season champion is rarely going to win anyway.

Just look at this past year. The Cardinals won the World Series even though they didn't qualify for the wild card till the last day of the season. But then, in this century, two-thirds of the World Series have included also-rans from the sanctified regular season. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl even though they'd finished the regular season at 9-7. The Kings took the Stanley Cup as the eighth and lowest seed in their conference.

Okay, the Heat did repeat as conference champions and win the NBA title, but then basketball is always the most predictable playoff spor because it involves the fewest variables: a handful of the same players, playing each other over and over again on standardized courts, customized, indoors with no weather issues.

The wonderful thing about a team sport is that it is so dicey that games are not decided by all those nerds who worship at the altar of statistics. Look right now, for instance, at the Baltimore Orioles, who are prominently in the expanded American League wild-card race despite being eighth in the league in ERA, eleventh in batting average, and worst in all the majors in fielding. That is, they can't pitch, hit or pick up the ball. They are not the beautiful orange and black bird of their name, but, rather, a version of the yellow and black bumblebee, which in common myth, aerodynamically isn't supposed to be able to fly, but does.

So the Baltimore Bumblebees still win games even though they're outscored overall. You know what? So did the New York Giants last year actually score fewer points than their opponents in the regular season, but then this underwater team got hot and won the Super Bowl.

Hooray for wild cards and one-game showdowns and second chances. Playoffs are nifty.