Pennant races no longer exist. Since the latter part of the 20th century, baseball teams play to make the playoffs, either by winning the division title or having the best record among the second place teams.

In 1996 and in 2005, bizarre consequences occurred as a result of the wild card.

The Team That Loses Can Win

Entering the final day of the 1996 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres each had 90 wins.

They would be playing each other in the last game of the regular season for each team, but no matter which team won, both would have a chance to win the World Series.

The winner would win the division and the loser would “win” the wild card.

What should have been a crucial game, a game that was for “all the marbles,” became almost meaningless, except for creating a situation that the cynics among us might think could affect the integrity of the game.

Now, no one should have the temerity to question the fact that everyone follows the rules and always tries to win at all costs, but what effect does knowing that losing doesn’t matter have on the integrity of the game?

Los Angeles’ manager Bill Russell started his ace, Pedro Martinez’ big brother, Ramon. That sounds good, but wait.

Russell knew that his team would be in the playoffs whether they won or lost, so he allowed Ramon to make only 11 pitches as a tune-up for his playoff start. Pedro Astacio took over.

Padres’ manager Bruce Bochy didn’t even start ace Joey Hamilton (yes, Joey was considered the ace), giving the ball to Bob Tewksbury.

What should have been the most important game of the season became similar to a March exhibition game.


Los Angeles Was Pleased Despite Losing the Division Title

San Diego won 2-0 in 11 innings on a Chris Gwynn double, which pleased the Dodgers. You read that right.

Losing to the Padres pleased the Dodgers because “…they protected their precious pitching staff today. The game appeared to be anticlimactic….”

The Dodgers played the St. Louis Cardinals, who won 88 games, in the first round of the playoffs, while the Padres, as a consequence of winning the division title, played the Atlanta Braves, who won the most games (96) in the National League.

By losing, the Dodgers were “rewarded” by not having to play the Braves, who won eight more games than the Cards.

This doesn’t seem right, but who cares? Los Angeles and San Diego were both swept in the first round.


Isn’t Every Game Important?

Sometimes, playing a game isn’t even necessary to win, as was demonstrated in 2005.

Fans are told repeatedly that every game is important and that a win against the last place teams (there are usually three last place teams) count as much as wins against first place teams.

The Boston Red Sox discovered how true that was in 2005. The New York Yankees won 95 and lost 67. So did the Red Sox.

But the Yankees were the division winners and the Red Sox were the wild card because a playoff game was not needed. Why add another playoff game a day before the playoff games begin? We can make up rules.

Since the Yankees had won the season series from their New England friends, they were the division winners.

Yes, every win counts the same. All wins are equal, but sometimes, such as when the Yankees beat the Red Sox, some wins count more than others. Ask our little friends from George Orwell’s Animal Farm .


Who Won the 1994 World Series?

Having three divisions and a wild card has been a financial success.

Baseball attendance records have been set, fans with short memories don’t recall who won the 1994 World Series, and the team with best regular season record often doesn’t win the World Series, but who cares?

In 2010, the goal is to make the playoffs, which really are another season.

Although it is only the middle of May, it seems as if the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays will have better records than any second place team in the American League Central or West Divisions.

Who needs a fortuneteller? Who needs a baseball expert? Don’t say this in front of Pete Rose, but does anyone want to bet that the Yankees and Rays make the playoffs? What excitement there is in Baltimore.





Friend, Tom. “Another Gwynn Give Padres Title; Padres 2 Dodgers 0.” New York Times . 20 September 1996, p. C7.

Baseball Reference


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