An Argument for a Mid-Season Title Game in Major League Baseball

Julien Rodger is a writer who enjoys theorizing about sports.  You can find him at his twitter account @ASFWJrodgerII or personal blog asubstituteforwar.wordpress.com.

Last week it was revealed Adam Silver is mulling over a mid-season NBA tournament. I presume this is unlikely, both because the next CBA negotiation is already expected to be a battle without it and because the NBA is in “don’t fix what’s not broken” mode. Franchise sale prices are exploding leading up to a new TV deal.

But the concept reminded me of another one I’ve pushed for years, how there should be an MLB mid-season game and trophy. My proposal is simple. At the 81 G mark of the season, the team with the best record in the American League plays the team with the best record in the National League. The winner gets a mid-season trophy, likely named after a important historical figure in the sport such as Jackie Robinson. It’s not as big as winning the World Series, but it’s still a prestigious trophy that comes along once a year. Think of it as the Euro Cup to the World Series’ World Cup, or the Golden Globes to to its Oscars. Both getting into the game and winning it is an accomplishment.

The arguments in favor:

- First, there’s immediate financial benefits in a game with likely strong television ratings. Because of the stakes, I suspect it’d have potential to rival or surpass the World Series games in ratings. This comes along with strong gate revenue for the team who hosts. Played in early July with the NBA, NFL and NHL in off-season, the week of the mid-season trophy game could dominate the sports media talking heads, helping create buzz for the sport and momentum for the second half of the season.

- I struggle to get into baseball’s regular season because of each game only being worth 1 / 162 of the season, half the stakes of a sport like the NBA. With a mid-season trophy game, the first 81 games of the year have increased importance and intensity. The “race” for the mid-season trophy game spots, could end up as intense and fun as the divisional pennant races at the end of the year. As is the case with the MLB introducing an extra wild-card spot, the benefit isn’t just involving the fan-bases for the team who get into the game or win the extra wild-card spot, but how it makes even the teams who miss be “in the race” longer. This extra engagement for all baseball fans halfway through the season can only be good for the sport.

- For example, the last 3 mid-season trophy games would have been between Oakland Athletics (AL)-Milwaukee Brewers (NL) in 2014, Boston Red Sox (AL)-Pittsburgh Pirates (NL in 2013, Texas Rangers (AL)-Washington Nationals (NL) in 2012). Having teams like 2014 Milwaukee and 2013 Pittsburgh make the game is an engrossing underdog story. But at the same time, a team like 2014 Oakland benefits for how they’ve dominated the league this year. In the present system they could have the best record and best roster by the end of the year, but not make it out of a five-game series due to a high variance sport. At least hosting a mid-season trophy game gives them a more guaranteed validation for having the best record. Another option for the MLB is instead of having either participant host the game, to have its host chosen a year or more ahead of time, such as what the NHL does for the Winter Classic or of course the Superbowl.

- An argument against a mid-season trophy game, is whether it’d make the World Series seem less important. First, it’s unclear this is true until tested, but a side benefit is what happens when a team wins the mid-season trophy and the World Series in the same year. Or for example winning a mid-season trophy, the World Series and then the mid-season trophy again the year after, making 3 major trophies in a row. This creates a more “validated” champion than the present system often allows. I believe the MLB has been hurt by having no repeat champions since the 2000 Yankees. Repeat champions, dynasties and “historically significant cores” help define eras for sports leagues. More pragmatically, when the World Series has teams who have been there before, it can help attract casual fans just by having players/stars they already know. A team like the late 90s Yankees were a “brand” who’s previous appearances in the World Series helped draw more fans the next time they made it, just like a well liked original film creates a brand to sell sequels. Even if repeat World Series champions are now unlikely for a multitude of reasons such as the analytics revolution, having the mid-season trophy game helps reclaim at least some of this repeat-appearance effect. Because a team trying to win a World Series after they won the mid-season trophy game is a more rare accomplishment, it could draw more attention when the chance happens. And of course there’s also the potential for the reverse, a team landing the “choker” label by losing both the mid-season game and the World Series in the same year, then facing the narrative of redemption or further pain the following season. Once again narratives like this is most likely good for the theatrical engrossment of the sport.

- Another minor benefit is it allows the MLB to drop the silly rule about the all-star game determining home field advantage in the World Series. Just let the mid-season game determine World Series home field advantage, either by who wins it, or who has the best record going into it.

Financially, I see all positives and little downside to this concept for the MLB. The best test is “Would the fans like it?” Barring traditionalists, I have to think the answer to that is a clear-cut yes. In upcoming decades the MLB will need to be creative retain the youth appeal sports like the NFL and NBA have and I feel a change like this is a good start.

- Julien Rodger

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