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A Brief and Highly Inaccurate History of the MLB Playoffs

A game that wouldn't have mattered if it happened this year.
A game that wouldn't have mattered if it happened this year.

Major League Baseball is adding two more teams to the playoffs, bringing the total number of playoff teams to five in each league. This is a ridiculous number of teams with which to contest a playoff. It makes you wonder - just how did we get here? Well, the history goes a little something like this...

1891: The National League successfully kills off the American Association by stealing all of its teams, most of which are named ridiculous things like "Bridegrooms" and "Earl P. Scruggs." In the last of the NL-AA postseason championships, Jamie Moyer throws eleven shutout innings to lead Louisville to a 3-3 tie with Brooklyn.

1901: The American League begins. The National League refuses to play a post-season series against the upstart league. "And we'll never use the designated hitter either, whatever that is," says a National League spokesman.

1903: The first modern World Series is played. Boston beats Pittsburgh five games to three, as the idea of odd numbers had not yet been invented.

1904: New York Giants owner John T. Brush refuses to play the AL champions. This touches off a media firestorm, during which the papers point out that football at this point is just bare-knuckle brawling with occasional attention to the ball, and basketball had barely figured out to cut the bottom of the basket, and just give us a playoff or something, would you?

1919: The Chicago White Sox throw the World Series. Baseball bans the offending players, and announces that as punishment, both teams in Chicago have to stay there.

1920: The leagues announce the agreement that will guide the playoffs for the next half-century: there will be eight teams in each league, the team with the best record in each league will play in the World Series, and at the end of the Series, the Yankees will win the championship.

1955: New Philadelphia Athletics owner Arnold Johnson realizes that there are no teams south or west of St. Louis in the major leagues. Johnson resolves to strike out for the western borders. Unfortunately, he is using a map that predates Lewis and Clark, and so ends up moving his team to Kansas City.

1958: The Giants and the Dodgers make it all the way to California, a move that will eventually lead to the formation of divisions in baseball, the enfranchisement of the New York Mets, and the creation of approximately 42 million books and plays about Brooklyn in the fifties.

1969: With two teams now in Los Angeles, as well as teams in Oakland, Houston, and Minneapolis, baseball continues the westward expansion by awarding franchises to San Diego and Seattle. Montreal also gets a franchise. Twelve teams now exist in each league, spread across America, and so baseball creates two divisions in each league, with the winners playing off for a spot in the World Series. The Cleveland Indians set a record by finishing eighth for six years in a row in the six-team AL East.

1975: Owners realize that Montreal is east of New York City. "Vancouver!" they say, smacking themselves on the forehead. "That's the one we meant!"

1977: The American League expands to fourteen teams, seven in each division. Seattle gets another franchise, to replace the original that moved to Milwaukee. As punishment for losing their team, the Mariners are required to finish last every year. Cleveland finishes eleventh in the East and, somehow, ninth in the West as well.

1993: The National League adds Colorado and Florida, giving each league 14 teams.

1994: Displaying the math skills prevalent throughout baseball, both leagues split 14 teams into three divisions. Partway through the year, they realize that this makes no sense, and cancel the rest of the season to figure out what to do.

1995: Baseball decides to pretend that they meant this all along. "Oh yeah, we totally meant to have a four-team division in each league," they say. "And we absolutely realized that you couldn't have a playoff with only three teams in each league. We totally meant to have a wild card that didn't win anything at all in the playoffs. You guys just don't realize what geniuses we are." Cleveland, aiming for their traditional seventh-place finish in the new five-team AL Central, accidentally screws up and wins the division.

1997: Florida finishes nine games behind Atlanta in the NL East, but goes on to defeat the Braves in the NLCS and win the World Series. Baseball refuses to acknowledge that this now means the regular season pennant is meaningless, or that there is any such team as "the Florida Marlins."

1998: Baseball puts another team in Florida. The Rays draw 534 fans to their home opener, 300 of which are bearing tickets for the "Tampa Springtime Tractor Pull." Over in the National League, Arizona gets a big-league team for the first time, though fans don't understand until 2000 that this is not just extended spring training.

2004: For the third straight year, a wild-card team wins the World Series. When asked to comment, commissioner Bud Selig denies that baseball ever had such a thing as a "pennant race."

2010: The Yankees coast down the stretch in order to get the Wild Card and a favorable first-round matchup with the Twins, rather than winning the pennant and having to play the Rangers. Says a baseball spokesman, "NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE THIS IS WHAT WE MEANT TO HAPPEN."

2012: Faced with the problem of too many divisions and too many teams making the playoffs, baseball makes the only logical move by adding two more teams to the playoffs. "There, that ought to fix things," they say. Teams are required to remove the word "pennant" from their own club histories, replacing it with "top seed in the playoffs."