Why do they call it the “wild card” spot in the playoffs? Doesn’t “wild card” really mean a card that can be anything? You know…deuces are wild! That means even a lowly 2 of clubs can be an ace of spades. When it comes to the playoffs for Major League Baseball and the NFL the term “wild card” refers to teams with mostly marginal records scamming a shot at actually winning the league championship by recording just enough victories to gain a spot in the tournament to fill in the bottom half of one of the brackets. Now by definition, if such teams were truly “wild cards” they could act like the wild deuce in poker and play as the first place team if they wished, gaining home field advantage and playing the worst-qualifying team in the first round. But they are not wild. They are what they are. Deuces who remain worthless twos, where every other card is better. Indeed, “wild card” is a misguided euphemism for “crappiest team to scam a seat at the adult table.”
The NHL and NBA are much more honest about a team’s position in the playoffs. Teams are ranked by their records. Number 1 plays number 8 in the first round. In baseball, number 8 could hide its lousy record behind the “wild card” label. Actually, in baseball there are two wild card teams, giving fans in two cities hope their under-achieving teams have a shot at the big prize.
Now, if I’m on a team that actually played well most of the season and earned a division or conference title I would be royally pissed that some lowly wild card team could get lucky and eliminate my team from contention and win the championship, as has happened several times.
When I was a kid, it was simple in baseball. The first place teams in the American and National Leagues at the end of the regular season played each other in the World Series to determine that year’s champion. If your team ended up a half-game out after game 162, tough beans. Better luck next year. That made for some amazing pennant races and gave the regular season real meaning.
Remember the original meaning of the term. If you’re a “wild card,” it just means you have the right to pretend you’re something you’re not.