Note: This post was written on Monday, February 28, before any updates from that day’s negotiations were released. Since then, there’s been a lot of progress, and a 12-team postseason is all but certain, with a 14-team field still on the table.
During discussions on Sunday between the MLB owners and the MLBPA, the players proposed an interesting new format for expanded playoffs. The owners are intent on increasing the postseason field (more playoff games = more money) but the players are concerned that a 12 or 14-team postseason would compromise competitive integrity during the regular season.
Thus, the players proposed the “ghost win” format, in which “the best overall team in each league would get a bye to the next round” and “the other two division winners would be awarded a “ghost win” in a best-of-five series,” which means they would start the series with a one-game advantage.
Example: Brewers in 2021 would have faced Phillies in best-of-three. Under union plan, Brewers would have needed to win 2 games, Phillies all 3. Without “ghost win,” only advantages for non-bye division winners in league proposal would be choice of WC opponent and home field. 3/3— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 28, 2022
It’s a strange idea, unlike anything MLB has ever done before, but the players proposed it with good reason.
If the 14-team postseason had been implemented in 2021, the 82-win Phillies would have faced off against the 95-win Brewers in the first round of the playoffs. The MLBPA would want the Brewers to have a clear advantage in a series like that.
Anything can happen in a short series, so the Phillies might have beaten the Brewers, even though the Brewers were a significantly better team last year. After all, while the Milwaukee finished 13 games ahead of Philadelphia in 2021, the Phillies won the season series 5-2.
The players are rightfully concerned that, if the postseason is expanded, teams like the Brewers won’t be incentivized to field the best possible team during the regular season, because they could still easily lose to a team like the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs. The “ghost win” would give the Brewers an advantage in that series, and therefore, it would incentivize teams to be more competitive during the regular season.
It really is a solid plan. And yet...
...a lot of people just don’t like it. For many fans, the “ghost win” is simply too bizarre of a concept. I put out a poll on Twitter, and the results were pretty much what I expected. A quarter of responders supported the “ghost win”, while three quarters opposed it.
“Ghost wins” in the playoffs — what’s your gut reaction?— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) February 28, 2022
Personally, I’m strongly opposed to expanding the postseason. But if the postseason is going to be expanded whether I like it or not, perhaps the “ghost win” is the best way to do it. The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long, and those games should mean something.
Yet for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, the “ghost win” makes me feel uncomfortable.
I’m not usually one to hold onto traditions. I was a huge supporter of the universal DH, for example. But this feels different.
The best way I can think to explain it is this: the classic “best-of” series is not only a time-honored tradition, but it is a proven method. The current format has been producing exciting playoff baseball for years. And part of what makes postseason baseball so exciting is that both teams in any given series are on an even playing field. Anything can happen, and that’s where the magic comes from.
On the other hand, perhaps the “ghost win” is merely a logical extension of home-field advantage. It's not really true that both teams are on a level playing field, because one team always gets to play in their home stadium. So since one team already has an advantage in every postseason series, would it really be such sacrilege to increase that advantage?
I don’t know.
My argument in favour of the “ghost win” is stronger than my argument against it. The “ghost win” would incentivize teams to win their division, which is a good thing, and there is a precedent for giving teams with the better regular-season record a leg up — home-field advantage. That being said, the “ghost win” still makes me feel weird.
Maybe I’m irrationally clutching onto tradition. Or maybe I should trust my gut. Or maybe I should ask for some advice.
I put a poll down below because I want more opinions about this. Please voice your point of view in the comments too. This is a complicated and contentious issue, and I want to know how more people feel.
"Ghost wins" in the playoffs — what’s your initial reaction?
This poll is closed
I’m for it
I’m against it
We might never hear about “ghost wins” again. For all we know, the owners laughed at the idea and the players decided to shelve it for good. But even so, “ghost wins” raise a lot of interesting discussion points about how we value tradition, change, and competition in baseball. So whether or not “ghost wins” are ever implemented, I’m glad the idea came up.
To help spur discussion, here are some of the opinions voiced in response to our Twitter poll:
“Some playoffs good, more playoffs better” is a disaster for a sport that plays ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-TWO REGULAR SEASON GAMES— Wet Luzinski (@Wet_Luzinski) February 28, 2022
It does make sense, just the “ghost” phrase seems lazy and lame imo. If it was called something along the lines of “advantage” (like in tennis) it’d be better portrayed. I’d like to think there’s another way, but theoretically it could work— Dylan Campbell (@DylCampbell09) February 28, 2022
If they seed by record and not division it’s a— Anthony Esbensen (@ESBN__) February 28, 2022
It depends on the Ghosts. Are the malevolent or are they just a lost Victorian girl?— nate (@nate_c_jones) February 28, 2022
No— M E Devers (@med247) February 28, 2022