The MLB Wild Card vs. The NHL Shootout

Tonight is the first night in baseball’s new approach to fixing its playoff format – i.e. satisfying the frothing, Attention Deficit Disorder-suffering public – and the St. Louis Cardinals are the first team through the finish line.

(*Currently, the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles are tied 1-1 in the American League one-off in Arlington ballpark.)

Every league faces this decision once in a while: do we go for flash, or for substance?

Almost always, they go for flash. They go for the promos. Look at the video above… “When bold performances create perfect moments…”

This whole Wild Card playoff has been handpicked and tailor made for FOX Sports and Joe Buck’s voice.

If everything was decided on substance, the NCAA would have had a real playoff system set-up in 1960, Major League Baseball would pick a solid four, six, or eight teams instead of some lame-duck one-game Wild Card approach, and hockey would have ties.

Ties. There’s nothing wrong with them. Unless, of course, you live in somewhere like Tampa or Clearwater. Somewhere they don’t understand the game.

But, no, the NHL opted for shootouts after a lockout ended the 2004-05 season. They’re cool n’ all. They’re exciting. But now, even the most uneducated of hockey fans is starting to think, “Wait, isn’t this a bad way to decide what teams do or don’t make the playoffs?”

“Would you decide NBA ties by holding a slam dunk contest, Bill?” wrote one blogger in response to Bill Simmons’s column in 2005. “A slunk dunk is about the most-exciting play in basketball, but a slam dunk is just one single other play that maybe pops up every now and again in the course of a game.”

Simmons, for his part, recently questioned the shootout on a B.S. Report with Katie Baker, Grantland’s hockey writer (who we haven’t seen in a while since, you know, there’s no NHL).

This was Simmons, however, at the beginning of last season (before that B.S. Report episode):

“I mean, what’s not to love (about hockey)? It’s a sport with the best in-game format (long period, long break, long period, long break, long period, go home), and best regular-season in-game wrinkle (the shootout)… They fixed many of the sport’s problems, made it better, and now we’re here.”

And, yes, it does affect them.

In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs on the final day of the season by beating the New York Rangers in a shootout. They went to the Stanley Cup Final.

The New York Islanders won a high-intensity shootout on the last day of the season in 2007, grabbing the eighth and final playoff spot over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Is there anything wrong with it?

No, but it’s a man-made and random way of deciding who wins and who doesn’t. Mitt Romney would call it Obamacare.

And now, baseball is trying to satisfy our taste buds with a thrilling one-day playoff between four teams who – on their best day – deserve much better.

It will last and we will watch. For a couple years.

Baseball’s only problem is that they’ve now built a foundation by catering to the whims of a wobbly public.

And, you know what they say about castles built of sand.