By Ray Hamill
This month marks the 20th year of the wild card in baseball, and thus far it’s been a memorable celebration.
Considered by many as the one bright spot in Bud Selig’s legacy, the wild card has changed the nature of Major League Baseball. It not only has given a multitude of teams something to play for late in the season – and the resulting excitement for the fans that goes with that – but it has also altered the playoff landscape in ways few of us could have imagined.
And this year is no different.
In fact, this year the wild card teams are having a bigger impact than ever, setting all kinds of records and stunning some so-called better teams along the way.
Going into Sunday night’s NLCS showdown, the two wild card teams – Kansas City and San Francisco – are a combined 11-1, including a remarkable 7-0 on the road.
The Royals, making their first playoff appearance in almost three decades, have yet to lose and have set a postseason record with four of their six wins coming in extra innings, while the Giants are doing what they seem to do every two years and finding all kinds of innovative and interesting ways to score on their way to a NL record seven consecutive postseason victories on the road.
And each has done so at the expense of better regular season teams, knocking out the top seeds in both leagues, and proving to all the doubters that once you get in anything can happen.
Of course, wild card teams having success in the postseason is nothing new.
In 19 seasons, a wild card team has won it all five times – the Marlins (twice), the Angels, the Red Sox and the Cardinals – with five others reaching the World Series, and in the eight seasons between 2000 and 2007, only once (2001) did a wild card team not reach the World Series.
Recently, however, the wild card participants have enjoyed less success, with only the 2011 Cardinals even reaching the Fall Classic within the past six years.
The Royals and Giants will be looking to change that trend, and both appear hot enough to do exactly that and set up an all-wild card World Series for the first time since 2002.
Twenty years on, the tradition of the wild card is alive and well.