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The Major League Baseball postseason is an elimination tournament held after the conclusion of Major League Baseball's regular season. It consists of one best-of-five series and two best-of-seven series.

Major League Baseball itself does not use the terms "playoffs" or "tournament" for postseason action. Instead they use the term "postseason". MLB has stuck with "____ Series" for each level of its postseason tournament. In the Majors, the singular term "playoff" is reserved for the rare situation in which two teams find themselves tied at the end of the regular season and are forced to have a playoff game (or games) to determine which team will advance to the postseason. Thus, in the Majors, a "playoff" is actually part of the regular season and thus can be called a "Pennant playoff". However, the plural term "playoffs" is conventionally used by fans and media to refer to baseball's postseason tournament (and has always been used by Minor league baseball for its own postseason play), so this article defers to that usage.

Major League Baseball is the oldest of the major professional sports, dating back to the 1870s. As such, it is steeped in tradition. The final series to determine its champion has been called the "World Series" (originally "World's Championship Series" and then "World's Series") as far back as the National League's contests with the American Association during the 1880s.

Baseball has always been the least-generous sport in allowing teams to enter its postseason tournament; only one team that won less than half its games has advanced to the postseason, though several teams have finished only a few wins above the .500 mark. In 1903, the two modern Major League Baseball leagues began annual postseason play with a one-round system in which the American League team with the best record faced the National League team with the best record in a best-of-seven series (in 1903, 1919, 1920, and 1921 it was best-of-9) called the World Series; however, there was no 1904 Series because the National League Champion, the New York Giants, refused to play. This single-tiered approach persisted through 1968, even with the expansions of 1961-1962 that made it necessary for two teams each year to finish their seasons in ignominious double-digits, as it were, in tenth place.

Adoption of two-round postseason system

In 1969, both leagues expanded to twelve teams and this made it harder to make the World Series because there were more teams competing for the AL and NL pennants. To remedy this, and imitating the other major sports' long-standing playoff traditions, Major League Baseball split each league into Eastern and Western divisions, creating four divisions overall and no worse than a sixth place finish for any team in any division until later expansions in 1977 and 1993. This created a new postseason round, which was dubbed the League Championship Series (LCS), a best-of-five series. In 1985 the LCS was expanded to a best-of-seven series.

Current postseason system

By 1994, further expansion was making it very difficult for a team to make the postseason. Major League baseball went through a re-alignment, expanding to three divisions (East, Central, West) in each league. However, only allowing divisional winners in the postseason would make an odd number of teams in each league, three. To rectify the odd number of teams, the league added wild-cards to each league, imitating the original post-merger NFL system. This system was in place for 1994, but the players' strike canceled the postseason. The system was realized on the field in 1995. The wild card team would be the team with the best record in each league of all the teams that did not win their division. Splitting the leagues into 3 divisions, plus the addition of a wild card team, doubled the postseason contenders in each league from two to four, and from four to eight teams overall. The additional teams meant another elimination round was necessary. This new round would become the new first round of the postseason, the best-of-five, Division Series. This term had first been used for the extra round required in 1981 due to the "split-season" scheduling anomaly following the mid-season players' strike. The three-tiered tournament is the system currently in use. In the event that the wild card team is from the same division as the best divisional champion, the 2nd best divisional champ plays the wild card team and the top divisional champ plays the bottom divisional champ.

The wild card approach has proven to be a great success with the "mass market" , providing the potential for a good deal of extra drama during the final month of the season, although admittedly it has sometimes taken away from the normal "pennant race" drama when the two best teams in the league happen to be in the same division. The wild card qualifier (#4 seed) has actually won more World Series than any other seed since wildcards became eligible in 1995. They have won a total of four World Series, and won three years in a row from 2002-2004. The 2002 World Series was a competition between wildcard teams from both leagues. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in an interview on FSN, said that although he is not opposed to an extra wildcard team in each league, he doesn't want to change the postseason system yet because "the current system is working so well."

Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, for his part, has called for each league's postseason tournament to be seeded strictly by regular-season record. Although the division champions would continue to receive automatic postseason berths as in the current system, the seeding would not consider whether a team won its division. No major North American sports league currently uses this system in its purest form, though the NBA comes very close to doing so by treating the highest non-division team as a division winner (allowing it a higher seeding than some division winners) and awarding homecourt advantage based on record. Had Beane's proposal been in place in 2006, both leagues would have seen Division Series matchups between a division champion and a wild-card team from its division — impossible under present rules, which forbid intradivisional matchups in the first round. If it had been in place in 1998, 2004, or 2007, a wild-card team, with the second-best record in their league, would have had home-field advantage in the Division Series over a division champion, which is also impossible under present rules, though wild-cards hosted the first two games of their series from 1995 to 1997.

Home-field advantage

The World Series used several different formats in its early years. Initially it generally followed an alternating home-and-home pattern, except that if a seventh game was possible, its site was determined by coin toss prior to the sixth game. In 1924 the Series began using a 2-3-2 format, presumably to save on travel costs, a pattern which has continued to this day with the exception of a couple of the World War II years when wartime travel restrictions compelled a 3-4 format. From the start of the 2-3-2 format through the 2002 season, home-field advantage generally alternated between leagues each year. Prior to the 1994 strike, the National League champion received home-field advantage on even-numbered years and the American League champion on odd-numbered years; these were reversed for 1995-2002 (because 1994 would have been the NL's turn to have home-field). That changed starting in 2003.

The 2002 All-Star Game had ended in a tie, much to the displeasure of both fans and sportswriters who complained about a lack of intensity and competitiveness on the part of the players. This hit especially close to home for Commissioner Bud Selig, as the game had been played in his home city of Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker. In response, to give some real meaning to the game, in 2003 MLB began assigning home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner of that year's All-Star Game, which is typically held in mid-July.

Thanks to a 7-All Star Game winning streak for the AL, coupled with the American League's scheduled home-field advantage in the 2002 Series, this has given the American League (a) the first two home games and (b) home field in any seventh game in each World Series since. It did not help the Yankees in 2003, the Tigers in 2006, or the Rays in 2008, but arguably it gave a jump start (by hosting the first two games) to the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 and the White Sox in 2005, all three of which ended up sweeping their opponents in the World Series. But this small sample roughly correlates with the overall record, in which the team with home-field advantage has won the Series only about half the time.

League Championship Series

Until 1998, the LCS alternated home-field advantage with a 2-3 format in the best-of-5 era (1969-84) and a 2-3-2 format when it went to best-of-7 (1985-present). Now home-field advantage goes to the team with the best record unless it is a wild card qualifier.

Division Series

Until 1998 the Division Series rotated which of the three division champions would not have home field advantage, with the wild card never having it. Now the two division winners with the best records in each league have home field, with the least-winning divisional winner and the wild card not having home field. The DS used a 2-3 format until 1998 and now uses a 2-2-1 format. This is seen as a much fairer distribution of home field advantage because previously under the 2-3 format, the team hosting the first two games had absolutely no chance of winning the series at home. With the current 2-2-1 format however, both teams have the home field advantage in a way. While one team gets to host three games (including the critical first and last game), the other team does get two chances out of three (games 3 and 4) of winning the series on its home field. Also, the team earning homefield is assured of hosting two games instead of the lesser record team being guaranteed the two games.

Postseason bonuses

There are three factors that determine the actual amount of bonus money paid to any individual player: 1) the size of the bonus pool; 2) their team's success in the season/post-season; and, 3) the share of the pool assigned to the individual player.

How the Bonus Pool is determined

There is a separate pool for each series – the Division Series, the League Championship Series, and the World Series. The player’s bonus pool is funded with 60% of the gate receipts for each series. The value of the gate is determined by the size of the venues, the amount of high-priced premium seating in the venues, the number of games played in the series and whether or not the games sell out. Ticket prices for each series are set by MLB, not the home teams, so they are relatively uniform across baseball.

How much the winner and loser receives from each pool

The World Series winner gets 36%, the World Series loser gets 24%, both League Championship Series losers get 12%, and both Division Series losers get 3%. In addition, the four second place teams that do not win the Wild Card receive 1% of the pool.

How the team’s share of the pool is divided

The player shares are voted upon by the players that were on the team during the entire regular season in a meeting chaired by their union representative. This meeting follows the trade deadline on July 31st. Players who have not been with the team for a full season may be granted a full share, less than a full share or no share as a result of the vote. Non-players, such as trainers, may be granted full or partial shares. The pool of money is split according to the shares determined in the vote. There is no limit to the number of shares that may be granted, but a greater number of shares dilutes the value of each share, and consequently the amount each player is awarded.

Just to give a sense of the amount of money a particular player might receive, members of the St. Louis Cardinals received over $362,000 for winning the World Series in 2006.

References



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