RIP Game 163; new playoff system ends 1-game tiebreakers


Farewell Bucky Bleeping Dent. Adios, Walker (redacted) Buehler. And Russ Hodges, we’re afraid you wouldn’t be immortalized today if your epic shout were just, “The Giants win the tiebreak!” The Giants win the tiebreak!”

A rare but revered bit of baseball tradition — the playoff game to decide a division or playoff deadlock after 162 games — has fallen victim to modern times, a nine-inning Test to decide a season-long fight, which gives way to a tiebreaker system.

It’s ostensibly in the name of both revenue and progression to squeeze dates into an unforgiving baseball calendar for a three-game wildcard series that will replace the one-game format, the big thrill but also instant closure for playoff loser bot.

pennant race: The Yankees’ struggles and the Dodgers’ injuries are a cause for concern

HELP IS ON THE WAY: Injured MLB stars who could shake up the table

You can certainly see the appeal to ESPN, which owned the rights to all of the Game 163 tiebreakers, as well as one of the wild card games. Instead of a winner-takes-all game and a series of tiebreakers just in case — the last one came in 2018 when the NL West (Rockies-Dodgers) and Central (Brewers-Cubs) both needed an extra day to settle things – why not sell four best-of-three Joker miniseries across the ESPN family of networks?

Twelve games is always better for the bottom line than one, which is why ESPN spent between $85 million and $100 million on the expanded field of 12 teams, a key element in wage negotiations that were finally settled in March after a 99-day lockout.

But time is finite, especially in a sport with six weeks of spring training, a 162-game season and now a four-round playoff rankings. Something had to go. The question this season can partially answer is whether the competitive integrity of the season will be compromised.

Instead of a playoff to determine division or wildcard winners, MLB will instead revert to an NFL-style tiebreaker that begins with head-to-head records from the teams involved. If it’s still a tie, the teams involved then look at the within-division win percentage, followed by the between-division win percentage, followed by the best within-league win percentage over the last half of the games, plus one, until the tiebreaker is broken.

The league developed this system to resolve home field disputes over the past few years, and will certainly keep trains running on time and the curtain on ESPN’s suite of wildcard round-robin games, beginning Oct. 7 with a quadrupleheader, rises.

It is unclear whether the playoff field will be determined fairly.

“It’s a shame that the game is going away,” says Jake McGee, a veteran assist, a member of two teams that have played 163 in a game in their 13-year career. “We play 162 games and if it ends the same way, I like the 163

“You’ve got to play this game rather than just say, ‘OK, head-to-head.’ I was kind of surprised they did that.”

McGee was a member of the victorious 2013 Tampa Bay Rays team that went to Arlington, Texas and eliminated the Rangers a day after the regular season ended. Five years later, he threw a scoreless inning for a Rockies team flattened by rookie Walker Buehler, who extended the Dodgers streak of NL West titles to six after Los Angeles and Colorado ended the regular season 92-70 each had finished.

The Dodgers transitioned to a second consecutive World Series. The Wild Card Rockies were sent to Chicago where they faced a Cubs team disheartened by their own Game 163 loss to Milwaukee.

The Rockies beat the Cubs in 11 innings and then took the bus to Wisconsin, where they arrived at their Milwaukee hotel after 3 a.m. They were swept by the Brewers, who then lost to the Dodgers in an NLCS seven game.

You could say the system worked this year: division winners, determined by a final battle of wills, advancing further in the playoffs than their defeated wildcard brethren. Under the new system, one result would be different: The 2018 Dodgers went 12-7 against the Rockies, the Cubs 10-9 against Milwaukee. The Brewers would have gotten into a three-game wildcard shootout down the road.

And McGee’s 2013 Rays would also have fallen into an all-road scenario due to a 3-4 record against the Rangers from a tie for the No. 1 wildcard.

In fact, of the seven winner-takes-all playoffs since the wildcard era began in 1995, four have been won by teams with the worse head-to-head records.

These include the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who beat the California Angels 5-7 but rushed back, won 24 of their last 34 games and forced a playoff in a game at the Kingdome. Randy Johnson famously mowed down the Angels to win the franchise’s Major League title, a title that would have gone to California under a tiebreaker system.

Before and after Mark Langston lay flat on Kingdome’s turf after giving up Luis Sojo a division-clinching “Little League” grand slam in the park, the division/league tiebreaker has produced many indelible moments. None was bigger than Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” which ended an epic pennant race between the Dodgers and Giants in 1951 that then culminated in a best-of-three tiebreak streak.

That shot was cut short by Hodges’ iconic call, but subsequent playoff extensions would make the tiebreaker series a game. In tiered heroes like Dent, whose 1978 flight into the Green Monster net made for the most consequential Red Sox Yankees moment through 2003. Or Buehler, the cocky but popular rookie named division-winning 2018, locked the Rockies in the seventh and later told a rowdy crowd and live TV audience, “We need this the whole (expletive) playoffs.” !“

Surely the new format will spawn its own legends; With four best-of-three series, there might be some walkovers, but almost certainly some thrillers. It’s just going to feel different, rather than preparing for a winner take-all tiebreak, trawling through a results page and seeing if it was the Cardinals or Brewers who won 10 of 19 games against each other, or if it was the Orioles managed to win four out of six against the Mariners.

The coming years will show whether the compromise was fair and worthwhile.

“I understand why they’re going to the three-game series,” says McGee. “I like that better than the wild card knockout in a game.”