Is It Really Just About Money?

by Michael Potemra


The distinguished historian Allen Carl Guelzo posted the following on Facebook:


It used to be in baseball that the teams which won the most games went to the World Series. Simple as that. We now have a three-week-long Rube Goldberg system of play-offs which guarantees that nothing which happens during the long haul of the season will out-weigh a fluke in the post-season. In the long, memorable, and unhappy history of Philadelphia baseball, last night’s loss can be laid squarely and unequivocally on the folly of MLB’s play-off lottery and the bloated franchise system it accommodates.


It’s not just the Phillies this year; it also happened to the Yankees. The team with the best record in the National League and the team with the best record in the American League both were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  


Someone commenting on Guelzo’s post said that the reason for the playoff system is the pursuit of the “(once was) almighty  dollar” — in other words, that having a long playoff season is lucrative, and that’s why the MLB does it. Now, I have no doubt that baseball officialdom is motivated by the desire to make money. What intrigues me is the idea that this necessarily renders their choice somehow less legitimate — and this, in turn, makes this controversy significant beyond the frontiers of the baseball world.


A corporation – in this case, the MLB — is seeking to maximize interest in its product. It experiments with various ideas for doing so, and hits upon an idea that succeeds in focusing national attention on the product for one month every year, which results in a financial windfall for the corporation. It represents a vote by consumers, a declaration by millions of people that “we like this; it is fun.” Of course, free-market economics is not an arbiter of right and wrong; the fact that vast majorities of Americans happen to like something does not mean it is necessarily objectively good. (Remember the old adage: “Nobody ever went broke . . .”) But I don’t think the majority should be denied its pleasures. FWIW, I enjoy the excitement of the current postseason system, in large part because my Mets are never in it and therefore I don’t really care who wins; in the absence of a desire for a particular result (besides the generalized desire that underdogs win), all that matters to me is the sheer fun of the games themselves.


Still, an important test of the overall health and justice of a political regime is how well it respects and accommodates minority points of view, and it’s okay to be creative on this. In a later Facebook post, Guelzo suggested that a counter-World Series be held, between the Phillies and the Yankees. I’m sure there are all sorts of practical legal obstacles to this, but I like the idea in principle — it would, if nothing else, increase the October Fun Quotient, as fans on call-in shows heatedly debate which is the “real” World Series.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.