Chipper Jones reached the majors for the first time with the Atlanta Braves in 1993, the year before Major League Baseball implemented the wild card and a season in which the Braves had to win 49 of their final 65 games in order to finish 104-58 and win the NL West by a single game over the San Francisco Giants.
Had the Giants and Braves finished with the same regular season record, they would have played a one-game playoff to determine the NL West champion. Nineteen years later, there’s a very good chance Jones — who is retiring after this season — will try to extend his career in the type of one-game playoff that is entirely different from the one the Giants could not force.
The MLB playoffs have room for a pair of second-place teams thanks to the addition this season of an extra wild card team. The two wild card teams will play each other two days after the end of the regular season, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five Division Series.
But even though the wild card will likely provide Jones his best chance to continue playing — despite owning the third-best record in the National League (78-60) entering play today, Friday, September 7, the Braves are 7.5 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East — he’s not a fan of the new format, which he feels is more about maximizing profits and less about fairly filling out the playoff field.
“Major League Baseball wants this cutthroat, Game Seven-type atmosphere that makes money, I guess,” Jones told TicketNews during the Braves’ visit to Citi Field in August. “It doesn’t make much sense that you play 162 games to possibly get a bad break in one nine-inning game and have it cost you your season.”
Jones is particularly uncomfortable with playing a 162-game season filled with multi-game series and then using a single game &mdash: and all its random elements — to determine a playoff berth.
“I think it should be, if you want to add another team, let’s make it best two out of three — we’re used to playing three-game series and trying to win series,” Jones said. “That seems to me to be the fairest way to do it, so that some team doesn’t get unlucky with a bad break or a bad call or whatever.”
Jones also doesn’t like it because he remembers the 1993 Giants, who, had this format existed in 1993, would have had to play the Montreal Expos — who finished with 94 wins, nine fewer than the Giants — in the one-game, winner-take-all wild card playoff.
Since the wild card actually came into play in 1995 (the 1994 season ended in August because of the players’ strike), 11 wild card teams have finished at least six games ahead of the next best, non-playoff team. In 2001, the Oakland Athletics won the wild card with 102 wins, 17 more than the Minnesota Twins.
And the 2002 Anaheim Angels and 2004 Boston Red Sox — each of whom went on to win the World Series — would have been forced to begin their postseason runs with a one-game playoff against teams that were six and eight games worse, respectively, over the 162-game season.
“You could possibly see a division have two teams with the two best records in the league and one of them’s going to have to play a cutthroat game,” Jones said. “It is what it is.”
With that, Jones paused, as if realizing all the discussion in the world won’t change what is already done and won’t change what increasingly looks like the only opportunity for he and the Braves to keep playing once the regular season ends Wednesday, October 3.
“We’ll take it as it’s given to us,” he said. “And just try and go win ballgames.”