Baseball's changes welcome

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2011 - 11:42 PM

Bud Selig continues to make improvements to our pastime.

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Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig

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Milwaukee resident Bud Selig, commissioner for life, has done a favor for baseball fans in his neighboring state.

Next time the Yankees sweep the Twins in the playoffs, Minnesotans will have to agonize for only one game.

Selig ushered in or pushed for a few sensible changes Thursday. He announced that the American and National Leagues will, by 2013, feature the same number of teams, 15.

Houston will be shifted to the AL West, creating a natural rivalry with the Texas Rangers. And interleague play eventually will occur throughout the season.

And he hopes to add two more wild-card teams and institute a one-game playoff between wild-card teams, creating more incentive for teams to chase division titles.

Many baseball fans aren't sure what they hate more: change, or Selig. They should recognize that both are good for the game.

Baseball's adherence to tradition has led the game to support silliness in many forms.

Having a different number of teams in each league was ridiculous, as was separating the two Texas teams. Kudos to Selig for presiding over a common-sense solution.

Interleague play should be welcomed by anyone who has ever watched the Twins play the Royals 19 times in one season, and anyone who can't afford to fly to San Francisco to see Tim Lincecum pitch. Every baseball fan should get a chance to watch every team play in the home ballpark.

Changes to the playoff system are more easily assailed. Opponents will argue that playoff expansion dilutes the product and cheapens the playoffs, and that a one-game playoff is unfair for teams who survived a 162-game proving ground.

Once baseball departed from the purity of a one-round postseason, the number of playoff teams became as arbitrary as the number of teams in each league. More playoff teams means more playoff games, which is good for those of us who like drama in October and meaningful games in September.

Minnesotans know better than anyone how exciting a one-game playoff is. One-game playoffs produced two of the most dramatic games in franchise history, with Jim Thome's home run and Carlos Gomez's mad dash providing the winning runs.

The current system does not reward division titles enough, making the road for wild-card winners too easy. Putting another roadblock between wild-card teams and the World Series is only fair.

You can argue that the proposed playoff system would have robbed the past season of much of its drama, but each system and each season creates its own possibilities. Baseball found ways to be dramatic when there were no playoffs leading to the World Series (Bobby Thomson?) and when there were eight spots available in 2011. Drama is not enabled or dissuaded by any system; it just occurs.

Those who don't like Selig will use these changes as ammunition against him, but under Selig baseball has become more popular, labor peace has been achieved, and dozens of state-of-the-art ballparks have been built. The game is in good shape. It never will challenge football again in terms of raw popularity, but that's because football has inherent advantages in garnering huge television ratings.

David Stern is damaging the NBA when it should be capitalizing on last year's spectacular playoffs. Roger Goodell is a hall monitor who pretends he has something to do with NFL success he only need safeguard. Selig has been tainted by baseball's steroids era, but anyone in his position would have been, while dealing with a powerful union that wanted to protects its members' right to cheat.

When the current batch of changes is implemented, Selig will have improved a great game, and will have left himself with only one urgent task: dealing with the designated hitter.

No sport should find itself alternating between two sets of rules during its ultimate showcase, or forcing teams to play for a championship under rules they didn't acclimate to during the season.

Make one more game-altering decision, Bud, and you can fully enjoy your non-retirement.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Chart: MLB changes

    Thursday November 17, 2011

    Baseball is going forward with changes that have been discussed for several months. Among them:

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