Since taking over as commissioner of Major League Baseball five years ago, Rob Manfred has worked tirelessly to create the illusion that he's doing The Important Things That Baseball Needs.
The game is too long - and the pace of it too slow - so Manfred implemented a bunch of initiatives that have done little: Last year, regular-season games took 3 hours and 10 minutes to complete, on average, setting a new league record for average game length. The game is too boring, as well, so Manfred contracted the independent Atlantic League to test a host of off-the-wall rule changes to gauge if they could enliven the game at the highest level.
Now, apparently, the playoffs are broken, too. Manfred is seriously weighing a major overhaul to the league's current playoff structure that could be implemented for the 2022 season, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Under the proposed format, seven teams from each league would make the postseason, with the top-seeded team in each league earning a first-round bye into the league division series. Meanwhile, the two other division winners and the top wild-card team from each league would host the bottom-three wild-card teams for a best-of-three series - with each game to be played in the higher-seeded club's ballpark - to determine who advances to the LDS. Here's the kicker: The division winner with the second-best record in its league gets to choose its opponent for the wild-card round from those bottom-three teams, with the next-best division winner then selecting its opponent from the two remaining clubs.
This idea is problematic, to say the least. Expanding the playoff pool to include 14 of the league's 30 clubs would further incentivize mediocrity, compounding teams' existing reasons not to field the best roster possible. Why spend money on an extra free agent when 84 wins is enough to get you into October? Beyond that, the proposal evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of - or perhaps a willful disregard for - how the postseason's exclusivity is part of what makes baseball special. The drama is born of the fact that even good teams miss the postseason.
Ultimately, though, the viability of this proposal is irrelevant. Reasonable people can debate whether baseball's playoff format needs to be tweaked, but most everybody would agree that it's not the problem with baseball.
And that is really the problem here.
Once again, Manfred seems determined to fix a problem that doesn't exist while remaining apathetic about the actual issues plaguing the game.
Non-competitiveness has metastasized under Manfred's watch while ticket prices have increased, alienating fans and fueling an attendance crisis. Labor relations have become so strained that a work stoppage now seems inevitable when the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season. In a similar vein, many minor leaguers - whose wages fall under Manfred's jurisdiction - don't make enough to live. And, of course, the game's integrity at the big-league level remains in tatters amid the seemingly unending fallout from the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal (and the ongoing investigation into the Boston Red Sox, who also allegedly used technology to cheat).
Manfred, however, doesn't seem particularly fazed by any of that. Quite the contrary: He contributed to or exacerbated many of those issues, be it with his aggressive posturing in preliminary CBA discussions and renegotiation of the agreement with minor league baseball operators, or his unwillingness to hold the guilty parties in the Astros' sign-stealing case accountable. (According to a bombshell report in The Wall Street Journal last week, Manfred had knowledge that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was aware of the sign stealing, yet the commissioner still characterized the plot as "player-driven" in his findings while stating that his investigation "revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme.")
These are all serious issues that have stained the reputation of Major League Baseball - and that, if properly reckoned with, would restore its image - yet Manfred would rather try to reshape the perception of the league with a gimmicky new playoff format. It's not hard to see why, either. Manfred isn't beholden to the fans, or the players, or the game itself. Manfred works for the owners, and "fixing" most of baseball's biggest outstanding issues would ultimately cut into their profits. That's unacceptable, of course, even though not a single MLB franchise is currently worth less than a billion dollars. Instead, Manfred invents a problem that he can fix.
Today, it's the postseason, and this shiny, new format is The Important Thing That Baseball Needs.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.