There was nobility to that term when Minnesota joined the American League in 1961. Ten teams, one pennant winner, and it qualified for the World Series.
If a baseball fan’s favorite team was “in the race,’’ you understood clearly what that meant and felt a sense of accomplishment for your lads.
The Twins were truly “in the race’’ three times in eight years: As an upstart club in 1962 that was three games behind entering September; as the runaway AL winners in 1965; and as one of the handful of teams battling to the end in “The Great Race’’ of 1967.
The true definition of a “pennant’’ is a league championship, and those were no longer won in the regular season starting in 1969.
The American and National leagues both expanded to 12 teams, played in six-team divisions of East and West, and the game’s Playoff Era started with a best-of-five league championship series.
No more Pennant Race. We had division races starting in 1969.
Twenty-five years later, in 1994, baseball went to three divisions per league with a wild-card team, although that was the season wiped out in August by a players strike.
The Wild-Card Era officially started with the postseason of 1995, and it was expanded to a second wild card and five playoff teams per league in 2012.
The alleged reason for this was to put more emphasis on winning a division title, although what it was in reality — with the one-game wild-card format — was an attempt to kick off the postseason with artificial drama.
The NFL is so casual about handing out playoff positions that it will use complex tiebreakers rather than actual games to determine its field. Nobody knows who won a division in the NHL or NBA once the playoff starts.
Yeah, but our friends in baseball suddenly decided they had to protect the sanctity of winning a division title?
Either that, or the marketeers in the commissioner’s office were impressed with the attention placed on the exciting Game 163 between the Twins and Detroit in 2009, and said, “How do we make sure we get a couple of these every year?’’
I’m a kid from the ’50s and thus my favorite game in a landslide is baseball. One thing that hooked me was the day-after-day grind. The first thing I did on a summer morning, even before the Twins were in the league, was to look in the Minneapolis Tribune and check the Pennant Races.
What made baseball great, in my view, was the excellence required to win the Pennant over what was then a 154-game schedule.
We are now 47 years removed from actual Pennant Races, and you’re right: It’s time to get over it.
I did, long ago.
Yet, when you’re raised with the standard of excellence that existed before 1969 (or even 1994), it’s not possible to jump in with both feet and label adding wild cards to guarantee one-game playoffs as anything but cheesy, phony drama.
The problem this time is that the cheesiness is what enables us to have a valid interest in the Twins entering September for the first time in five years.
If there was a sole wild card, the Twins would be 5 games behind the Yankees — a better club — and you would be looking at the locals (67-63) as a surprise, not a playoff contender.
The second wild card puts the Twins behind flawed Texas by one game, and ahead of the floundering Angels by 2 ½ games.
Strange as it seems, particularly with a starting rotation that has been gasping, you have to look at the Twins as a possibility for the last spot in the AL playoff field with five weeks and 32 games remaining.
I’m conflicted. I can’t join in what’s basically a universal media celebration of the extra wild card — “It keeps so many more teams in contention!’’ — due to a long-standing admiration for baseball’s standards of excellence.
At the same time, knowing that when Miguel Sano smashes a rising liner into the second deck, or Byron Buxton speeds into the gap to turn a double into a routine out, it means more than a glimpse of a brilliant future … that’s pretty good, too.
In the end, I guess, this has to go down as a vote in favor of cheesiness.