Bud Selig has always gotten more credit than he deserves for pushing the concept of wild card baseball, mostly because sports media tends to list the person making an announcement as both its author and lead vocalist. It’s how we’ve arrived in a world in which fans hate commissioners even though they have little actual power but generally ignore the people with the actual power because they normally don’t talk to us.
This is all preamble to a new development in this grand wedgie of a baseball season in which there are suddenly way fewer American League wild card spots than legitimate contenders—as in five rather than two. This is good for you, the interested fan (as opposed to being “good for baseball,” an idiotic phrase that in a just world would be prohibited under pain of high-speed groining) because it actually allows us for the first time all year to consider the possibility of neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox making the postseason for only the third time since the playoffs were expanded in 1995 to help cover up the lockout of 1994.
I do not have to explain why it is good for you that two of the most irritating fan bases in the diaspora of irritating fan bases might have to sit this one out. Why it isn’t necessarily good for baseball is because the ratings for almost any such series would suck. Why this second one doesn’t matter is because none of you are network executives, owners, advertisers or other free-range grifters, and so you should never have to defend your level or manifestation of fandom in those terms to anyone. That’s why beer steins are made with handles and are heavy—to enable rapid attitude corrections for anyone in the tavern who wants to bother you with such details. If you’re letting those kinds of people into your home, you have bigger problems than baseball, my friend; after all, you don’t need a health emergency to declare a quarantine.
Anyway, back to cases. Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Houston are already all but locked in as division winners, and depending upon how long you like holding grudges, only two of them have a reputation for cheating, with one of those cheating-related résumés now 102 years old. You have your statute of limitations and I have mine.
The fun comes down-ticket. The Yankees, once a seeming lock, have Jenga-towered a 10-loss-in-12-game run that pretty much negated the 13-game winning streak that immediately preceded it; the Red Sox are COVID-riddled and apparently ratting out MLB for telling them to pretend they aren’t. The Yankees are also currently being credited with Saving America in 2001, a story that was overwrought then and is now becoming just one more panderdemic. Nobody needs that storyline rammed down their gullets two decades later, especially since the retelling never seems to include the fact that they lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks because Mariano Rivera couldn’t get Luis Gonzalez out.
But the two teams the nation is sickest of remain WCs 1 and 2 (and yes, we surreptitiously want you to associate WC with Water Closet), which means our other three candidates need to keep cracking. To wit:
- TORONTO: The Jays have played in three different cities, haven’t seen a crowd north of 15,000 all year because of stadium and virus limitations, but are ardent proponents of the Five True Outcomes—Vladito Guerrero, Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and Comrade Roth’s Yeti V cooler-shaped crush Alejandro Kirk. They just swept the Yankees after sweeping Oakland, and are a half-game behind New York. If things in sports can ever be deserved, these hyenas deserve this.
- SEATTLE: The Mariners’ run differential says they are 64-76, their record says they are 76-64, and if people suddenly love San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler so much for changing his reputation, they should be power-ovulating over Seattle’s Scott Servais for guiding a remorselessly league-average team to this point. When asked two weeks ago about his team’s recent run differential, Servais said his team has a plus-90 “fun differential,” which has now been included on their BaseballReference.com page. That alone explains the power-ovulation phenomenon for what is still a seventh-place team.
- OAKLAND: They have the same record as the Fun Differentii, but their road has been harder because their fan base has essentially refused to throw any more money at a management team that has been flirting with graceless aggression all year with cities that don’t seem to care about them one way or another. They have drawn fewer than 5,000 announced mammals for 33 of their 71 home dates, but they remain delightfully ornery in the face of all this ennui, which beats trying to figure out the Yankees any day. Their last 13 games will be against Seattle and Houston, so they’ll either blow up the postseason or or gloriously immolate.
All are more than capable of regressing their way out of this conversation, but for now this leaves us three decent alternatives to the hegemonic bullyings and science-ignoring machinations surrounding the Yankees and Red Sox. Sure, it ain’t Kansas-Coastal Carolina—that’s tonight’s big college football game between two future conference mates—but you must chase your fun where you can find it. Besides, it would be a positive inspiration to see the A’s try to hustle up a Lamborghini give-away to the first 10,000 fans at the wild card game just to see if they can still draw a crowd. It might help them figure out the true price point is for repurchasing an abused fan base’s allegiance.