When Is More Less? When Eight Teams Reach The Playoffs

Posted: January 31, 1993

Once upon a time, being known as the best team in baseball meant winning about 103 games, then having to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

But if baseball decides to expand the playoff action from four teams to eight next year, all it's going to take to become the best team in baseball is one hot month - as long as that month is October.

Oh, there may be lots of terrific reasons to expand the playoffs. It will keep the folks in Milwaukee and Texas from nodding off in September. It will provide lots of sensational cable-TV entertainment in the first week of October. It may help keep baseball from going broke.

But it also is going to mean that one of these days, some team that won 83 games during the season is going to come along and win the World Series. And what a special honor that will be.

In all of baseball history, just two teams - the '87 Twins and '85 Royals - have won a World Series after winning as few as 85 games in the season. But the odds of that happening in the future explode if you double the number of teams that make the playoffs.

How many teams have made the playoffs with 85 victories or less under the current system? Only three - the '87 Twins, the '85 Royals and the '73 Mets.

But how many would have made it if baseball had taken the four best teams in each league instead of the two best? Twelve, believe it or not.

How many of those teams would have gotten a couple of starting pitchers on a roll at the right time and won it all? We'll never know. But we're about to get a good idea.

"Hey, does anybody think the '69 Mets were a better team than the Orioles?" wondered Phillies president Bill Giles, a member of a committee that is about to recommend expanded playoffs to the other owners next month. ''And I thought we were the best team in baseball in 1977, but we didn't even get to the World Series.

"The question is: Is that bad? And I don't think it is. It concerns me. But I don't think it's a big enough detriment to outweigh the good things in this."

He may turn out to be right. But the first time his team wins 106 games and loses in the playoffs to a team that won 84, he might not be so sure.

TRIVIALITY. This week's Super Sunday trivia question: Only two baseball teams have ever been in the position the Buffalo Bills will be in today. In other words, they lost two straight World Series, then made it back for a third. One of those teams won the Series. The other lost. Can you name them? (Answer later.)

PHILLIES FABLES. At this point, it would practically take a miracle to keep the Phillies from going to an arbitration hearing with both Terry Mulholland and Ricky Jordan. Jordan's hearing is Wednesday afternoon. Mulholland's isn't until Feb. 19. But there has been zero progress in negotiations. . . . There has been a lot of talk that Seattle will trade Randy Johnson, the best 6-foot- 10 pitcher in history, to either the Reds or the Phillies. But while Johnson might still go somewhere, it won't be here. The Mariners are looking for young (meaning cheap) pitchers in return. And that translates to either Ben Rivera or Curt Schilling, neither of whom the Phillies would move. "There was a time last season when I thought something had a chance to be done," said general manager Lee Thomas. "But I don't think we're in the hunt anymore." . . . Darren Daulton is looking to get his contract extended going into his free-agent year. And despite what Daulton may have said in the past about not wanting to sign with the Phillies until they demonstrated they were committed to winning, it would be tough for him not to want to cash in on last season, especially given these uncertain economic times. But there's also no assurance the Phillies will salivate at the chance to get him signed in a hurry. The Phillies have never been big fans of making contract history, and they would have to in Daulton's case. The highest-paid catcher in baseball is Benito Santiago, who makes $3.6 million a year. It would be shocking if Daulton asked for less than $5 million a year. "If we can sign him, we want to get it done," Thomas said. "But if we can't, you take your chances like everybody else." . . . Remember Ron Roenicke, the old Phillies outfielder

from 1986 and '87? He's presently a Dodgers coach. But after watching Tom Candiotti and Tim Wakefield rev up their knuckleballs last season, Roenicke started thinking about unretiring and coming back as a knuckleball pitcher, at age 36. He called his old friend, Phillies farm director Del Unser, and Unser was tempted to give it a shot. "I used to play catch with him, and his knuckler was unbelievable," Unser said. "But we just decided that at 36, it was a little too late." Which sounds logical until you remember that Phil Niekro won 188 games after he turned 36.

RUMBLINGS AND GRUMBLINGS. You know things have gotten pretty strange when Glenn Wilson (Pirates), Dave LaPoint (Twins), Sil Campusano (Royals) and Jerry Willard (Braves) can still get a job but all these guys remain unemployed: Mike Scioscia, Jeff Russell, Randy Milligan, Scott Sanderson, Kal Daniels, Pedro Guerrero, Bob Milacki, Kevin Seitzer and Billy Ripken. . . . Our vote for the weirdest deal of this off-season goes to the Angels, who traded first baseman Lee Stevens to the Expos for minor-league pitcher Jeff Tuss and then were shocked to learn that Tuss had decided to retire to play quarterback at Fresno State. "Aw, let him go play football," said Angels GM Whitey Herzog. ''I didn't expect him to be Walter Johnson, anyway." The Expos were embarrassed enough to add another minor-league pitcher, Keith Morrison, to the deal. But Montreal P.R. man Richard Griffin said, "We put on the bottom of the press release that he lettered in football, basketball and baseball in high school. We're not taking any chances." . . . In case you missed the big bulletin of the week, Barry Jones finally found employment - with the White Sox. . . . One of the great 1993 soap operas will be seeing how Will Clark and Barry Bonds get along in San Francisco. Already, Clark has insisted he doesn't want to hit anywhere but third. So Bonds will bat fifth, with Matt Williams sandwiched in the cleanup hole, where he hit a Kingmanesque .176 last year. . . . Oh, yeah. And the Giants' new leadoff man is Willie McGee, who has averaged fewer walks per season over the last five years (31) than Bonds had intentional walks last year (32).

TRIVIA ANSWER. Hinkey Haines' 1923 Yankees won the World Series after having lost it in 1921 and '22. And that enabled Heine Beckendorf's 1909 Tigers to maintain their dubious distinction as the only team ever to lose the Series for a third straight year.

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