BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 02/13/2020

Thiel: MLB needs upgrade to ‘Naked and Afraid’

MLB is said to be studying a new playoff format that includes having top teams choose their playoff foes, sorta like The Bachelor TV series. Well, if you’re going to go low . . .

If MLB really needs more revenues by stealing ideas from reality TV, what about Naked and Afraid? / Discovery Channel

Responding to a decade-long decline in attendance and relevance in American sports, Major League Baseball apparently is considering for the 2022 season expanding its playoff format from 10 to 14 teams, and throwing in a time-tested selection gimmick from one of reality TV’s more mind-numbing shows.

In the elimination style of The Bachelor and its numerous spit-ups . . . uh, spinoffs, a higher-seeded team gets to choose from a small field the opponent it would most like to play in the first round. In this baseball version, the selection would tend to favor the weakest and homeliest, offering figurative dandelions instead of a rose ceremony.


If MLB is going to draw from lowest-common-denominator entertainment, I would have preferred it develop a version of Naked and Afraid. Especially since David Wells and Prince Fielder are retired.

If MLB is serious about deploying TV stunts to trick an addled public, just go balls-out.

But don’t go naked and afraid for for the whole game. Just one inning. We don’t want the stunt to become as ordinary as a regular-season game between the Mariners and Orioles. Baserunners can wear sliding pads and catchers can cup up, which also makes a better background for stealing signs. And yes, umpires must remain dressed. Lordy.

MLB probably won’t go there.

Then again, I didn’t think MLB was going to go where the New York Post first reported this week the sport was going.

MLB is contemplating having each league’s three division winners joined in the playoffs by four wild-card teams. The best team in each league would have a bye into the division series. The two remaining division winners and the wild-card team with the best record of the four would each host all games of a best-of-three series in the opening round.

The team with the second-best record gets to choose who it plays in the best-of-three wild-card round from the other three lower wild-card teams. Then, the division winner with the worst record gets the next choice, with the two remaining teams playing each other.

The selection portion to determine match-ups for the best-of-three series would be done Sunday evening on national TV after the final regular season games. Besides The Bachelor analogy, the presentation evokes some of the drama of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Selection Sunday.

The undeniably good thing is the format gets rid of the current do-or-die play-in game for wild-card teams. For the losing team, the one-and-done is a ridiculously hasty end to a 162-game season. Three games is more fair, even if all are played on the field of the team with the better record.

And the decisions to play one team over another will be a second-guesser’s dream, which is the lifeblood of baseball. So maybe the stunt is stupid enough to work.

The reason behind the proposal is what is behind every big change in sports — money. The bloat-up provides more games and more watching in more cities. Since the TV contracts for Turner and ESPN are up after 2021 (Fox goes until 2028), the first chance to deploy this plan is 2022. And since big-time live sports remain the only entertainment in the culture that is appointment TV, the networks figure to pony up for it.

The proposal has yet to go formally public, and first needs to get approved by the players union. The initial signal was positive: Players union chief Tony Clark said in a statement he was open to “expanding the playoffs in a sensible way is something worth discussing when part of a much more comprehensive conversation about the current state of our game.”

Objections will be raised by many who say 14 is too many for 30 eligible teams. It is a lot, but it’s not quite like the NBA and NHL, where anyone can get in the postseason with a driver’s license and a tattoo.

Yes, there is a threat for teams with sub-.500 records to make the field. In fact, in 2017, only five teams in the American League had winning records. But that happens in the other sports, and they don’t appear to have developed any fatally toxic conditions from it.

Certainly, no one in Seattle complained when the 7-9 Seahawks beat defending champion New Orleans in coach Pete Carroll’s first year of 2010 on the back of Marshawn Lynch’s Beastquake run.

Mariners fans should be thrilled.

After 43 years of trying and failing to come forward in the game, the Mariners would discover the game is going backward to reach them. Had the proposed system been in place following their most recent playoff appearance in 2001, the Mariners would have reached the postseason in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Suddenly the whole narrative arc of the franchise changes. Instead of being portrayed as misbegotten ne’er-do-wells, the Mariners can claim victimhood, saying the MLB system was rigged against them, and finally took belated corrective action.

A side benefit would be that the Mariners would begin to be loved again nationally as they once were in the Piniella/Griffey years, because what team wouldn’t want to play the Mariners in the playoffs?

For the national picture, however, there’s unsorted problems. For example, in 2018, the Nationals, Diamondbacks and Pirates all finished with 82 wins, which would have been seventh place in the National League in the proposed format. How is that tie broken? Paper, scissors, rocks?

Much as it works for Seattle, MLB already has enough problems with the sign-stealing scandal without MacGyvering the postseason. Just play an inning of Naked and Afraid and whole new audiences would pour revenue into the game.

Baseball is already losing its integrity. We’re merely quibbling over price.



  • Tian Biao

    can MLB make the change retroactive to 2001 and play a bunch of simulated playoff series? that way the M’s might win an imaginary World Series. everyone’s a winner here! (even Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. or is that going too far?)

    • art thiel

      “Going too far” for MLB these days is a non-operative phrase, to borrow from Richard Nixon’s thugs.

      • Husky73

        ….expletive deleted…..

        • art thiel

          What are you swearing at — me, Nixon or MLB?

          • Husky73

            I have a good brain. I have the best words.

  • jafabian

    I’m not a fan of more games in many of the major American professional sports. IMO it invalidates the regular season. I’m happy with just the division winners and a wild card team. If adding more teams to the playoffs is what MLB wants just make the regular season what counts, get rid of the playoffs, and make whoever has the best record the champ. I’d think in the long run perennial playoff contenders like the Yankees would have their regular season attendance affected because their fans wouldn’t be interested in going to games until the playoffs start.

    • art thiel

      Pro sports subscribes to what John Belushi wanted on his headstone: “Too much is not enough.”

  • Effzee

    Woah, tucker down there, fireball. “… what team wouldn’t want to play the Mariners in the playoffs?” I think you underestimate just how low the M’s are capable of going in order to keep missing the playoffs, no matter the playoff structure. ;p

    Lets just cut to the chase. Nobody needs 162 games anymore either. 162 games to determine 14 playoff teams? That’s just silly. Why don’t they just shrink the season to 82 games and make the second half into a zany round robin playoff format with all kinds of reality TV style shenanigans? I know. Money. They’ll never reduce the number of games because that means a reduction in revenue. Also ‘Murica needs something to draw its attention during not-football season. “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.” Hence, playoff gimmickry. Gotta keep the people on-board in this short attention span society.

    • Husky73

      The MLBPA will never go for any of this.

      • art thiel

        I bet they’ll go for a lot of it because it figures to grow the revenue pie, and the CBA expires after 2021.

    • art thiel

      Bread and circuses — true dat. It’s why we keep reading and caring.

  • Parts

    What a great idea! However it begs the question, when the world series inevitably ends up being payed on Thanksgiving day, will Fox bump its NFL coverage or move the baseball to FS1?

    • art thiel

      For the NFL, Fox would bump the WS to its This Old Sport channel.

  • Kirkland

    I think what MLB really wants is to add two teams and turn the leagues into an NFL-style four-divisions-with-four-teams-each structure. The playoffs would be just the four division winners, or also like the NFL, adding two wild-card teams playing the lower-ranked division winners with the two better-ranked division winners getting a bye.

    • Husky73

      They cannot add teams until the stadium and attendance problems with the A’s and Rays are solved. The answers are to blow up the Oakland Coliseum and move the A’s to a new Portland stadium; and move the Rays to a new covered stadium in Montreal. MLB is apparently stuck with the Marlins long term.

      • art thiel

        Husky73 is tracking well the current scene, Kirkland. MLB has two financially broken franchises, but they don’t have a baseball-free major market ready to break ground on new digs.

        Kirkland’s formula is the MLB ideal.

        • Kirkland

          Montreal is getting close. They’ve got investors and politicians on board, and fan sentiment is coming to their side (the circumstances of the Expos’ departure was exactly like the Sonics’ except far more protracted). I’m also hoping to see what happens in Portland.

  • LarryLurex70

    Following Google’s lead, MLB, NBA and NFL just can’t stand to leave well enough alone and are hell-bent on unwittingly providing me with even more reasons to ignore them. I almost pity the NHL for still being such a niche league (in the States) and not having such issues…yet.

    • art thiel

      So you don’t want to see a 7 seed beat a 1 seed? Or have you forgotten the majesty of the 8 seed Nuggets beating the 1 seed Sonics?

      • LarryLurex70

        With regards to the aforementioned leagues collectively, I was referring to the constant need to tweak the rules for the specifically designed purposes of enhancing the fan experience, improved scoring, or whatever it is they’re selling when the subject invariably comes up every few years. With regards to MLB specifically, I referred to the ridiculousness of the expanded playoff format.
        I think it was Lasorda decades ago who was quoted saying that the majority of advocates about rules “needing” to be changed – particularly, speeding up the pace – and the majority of the complaints were coming from people who don’t even play the game at all: the press box. I’m not saying that it’s the press who’re driving this particular train wreck of an idea. But, from a fan standpoint – neither the press nor any rules committee can speak from that perspective – things are/were generally fine as they were. MLB doesn’t REALLY need to expand its playoffs, NBA didn’t NEED to move the 3-pt. line inward when it did, nor take 2 seconds off the allotted time to cross half court. NFL didn’t really HAVE to tweak the sudden-death OT format, nor does it NEED to shorten/eliminate the preseason and/or add 2 games to the regular one. And, the NHL hopefully won’t succumb to playoff re-seeding now that they’ve already gone the gimmick route in the regular season with 3-on-3 OT.
        I just genuinely always question exactly who these rule changes – implemented and proposed – are REALLY for.

      • Chris Alexander

        Yeah …. that was pretty … um …. ‘majestic’. I was a 24yo Sonics fan at the time and that HURT. But, 25+ years later, I can appreciate the historical aspect of it.

        • LarryLurex70

          I don’t personally know of any Sonics fans who have ever been able to appreciate anything about that series.

  • Chris Alexander

    Alright … since we’re going for crazy, how about this:


    1. Break the season into four 40-game “quarters”.

    2. Assign points each quarter based on order of finish within each division (4 points for 1st, 3 points for 2nd, 2 points for 3rd, 1 point for 4th).

    3. DOUBLE the points in the 4th quarter (8 for 1st, 6 for 2nd, etc.) … just because it makes things more interesting.

    4. Add up all the points at the end of the season …. The team with the most points wins the division.


    1. All 3 division winners in each conference make the playoffs as well as the non-winner with the most points in the conference.

    2. Award seeding by total points.

    3. In the case of a tie, either to determine the wildcard team or seeding within the division winners, have a home-and-away series to decide with the team that scores the most total points “winning” if the 2 teams split the series 1-1.

    4. Once the playoffs start, games that are tied after 9 innings are decided by a home run contest.

    OH, AND …..

    Regular season games CAN end in a tie …. after 12 innings. Because, really, why is there any need to keep playing at that point? Especially if the game started at 7 PM on a weeknight.