One of baseball’s biggest charms is that the game’s quirky nature has a way of leveling the playing field for underdogs like no other. A bad hop here or a hot pitcher there can sink the best of teams.
But the inherent unpredictability of the game is also why the Central Coast Section’s single-elimination playoff format makes no sense.
Just last week, we saw Carlmont High turn the CCS Division I playoff bracket on its head when loaded with eight Division I-bound college players – something you won’t see in football or basketball anytime in your lifetime.
Hurray for Carlmont.
That the Scots, who hadn’t won a postseason game in 16 years and have a total of zero Division I-bound players, pulled off arguably one of the greatest upsets in CCS baseball history is a tribute to their guts and determination.
But losing a team of St. Francis’ caliber in the early rounds of the playoffs – an inevitable consequence of single-elimination playoffs -- is bad for CCS baseball.
There are several reasons why it would make sense to implement a double-elimination format, the least of which is the poor Lancers’ title aspirations.
For one thing, many CCS baseball fans never got to see what might be one of the most talent-rich teams in recent area history. Instead, we’re stuck with a ho-hum title game on Saturday between No. 3 seed Palo Alto and fifth-seeded San Benito.
The San Diego and Sac-Joaquin sections have adopted a double-elimination format in the last decade. And it’s time the CCS followed suit.
St. Francis, after all, isn’t the biggest loser in the current system. Their guys already got their scholarship money and can spend the rest of the summer playing golf if they want to.
Those who are hurt most by an antiquated playoff format are the players from other teams who won’t get a chance to showcase their talents in front of professional and college scouts while playing against teams such as St. Francis.
If you’re left to languish in the lower tier Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division, a CCS playoff game might be the only time you ever play in front of a big league scout. Even if you’re in the upper PAL Bay Division, you’re not getting nearly as much exposure as those who play in top leagues.
The PAL team might lose 8-1, but the Little Johnny, the pitcher nobody’s ever heard of who doesn’t have great numbers, might have a plus curveball nobody knew about until a scout sees him strike out the stud Division I prospect three times that game.
Might seem far-fetched to you, but dreams are what propel all challenging endeavors, and high school sports are no exception.
And it’s not just scouts’ eyeballs that count.
Athletes gain notoriety by earning the respect of opposing players and coaches. The PAL’s divisional format has already done enough to sequester talented athletes on bad teams in all sports from getting any meaningful exposure. You have to wonder how many players on lower division teams have already slipped below the radar.
Adapting a College World Series-style double-elimination format for the section playoffs would require some logistical gymnastics.
The CCS would have several options, if it wanted to qualify 48 teams. The options would include shortening the regular season or stretching the playoffs out another week.
The best option would be adding an additional division. You’d have four 12-team divisions, and you could eliminate four teams the first day by having a one-game qualifying “play-in” game as they do in San Diego with five divisions.
An unscientific poll of four CCS coaches showed a strong consensus in favor of adapting a double-elimination playoff, with four of the coaches supporting the idea.
“I think you’d get a truer champion, no question about,” said El Camino coach Carlos Roman, who just completed his 28th year at the helm of the Colts.
Count Capuchino coach Matt Wilson in, too.
“I’m all for it,” he said. “It gives the kids a chance to get more exposure and play more baseball.”
Sacred Heart Prep coach Gregg Franceschi said he’d support the idea as long as it didn’t mean playing fewer regular season games, something he said would hurt small-school programs such as his.
He acknowledged the unpredictable nature of baseball makes the double-elimination format an attractive option.
Carlmont coach Rich Vallero, expressed the lone dissenting view, noting that a double-elimination format would be a Cinderella-buster.
“Hell no,” he said.