(So instead of making one huge post about baseball as i said i would earlier, i'm just going to post little independent thought streams. My essay writing skills are not what they used to be, and my thought-writing skills are...well, better than my essay writing skills.)
It must be frustrating for baseball fans to know that unless they are one of the top 9-10 teams in a league of 30 at the beginning of the year, they have almost no chance of seeing their team in the playoffs, much less win it all.
Meanwhile fans of basketball or hockey need only have their team in the top 50% of the league, and no one is ever really eliminated until well past the half-way point of the season. Some years all but 5 or 6 teams are still in "the hunt" with just a few weeks to go. Last year, there were about 23 teams out of 30 in the NHL fighting for playoff position down to the wire.
Will the team in 9th place trying to get a spot win it all if they get in? Probably not. But there are always stories like the Oilers last year or the Knicks in '98-'99 where the number 8 team went all the way to the finals. Sometimes they actually win. Most importantly, it keeps the fans engaged and gives them reason to hope. For baseball fans, "playing for pride" with months left in the season doesn't keep you excited, especially in the era of free agents and trades where a players loyalty to team is not what it once was.
- In the NFL, 10 out of 32 teams (31%) make the playoffs, but you have the "any given Sunday" phenomenon where the season is so short, that all it takes is a few wins or losses to swing a season - so, at least at the beginning of the year, most teams' fans have hope.
- In the NBA and NHL, 16 out of 30 teams (53%) make the playoffs. There is an 82 game season for both, meaning there is a good balance of weight for making games "matter".
- In MLB, only 8 out of 30 teams (26%) make the playoffs, and the games are close to meaningless.