What If There Was A Wild Card In The 1980s?

A big seller in the movie industry over the past decade are the films based on the books of Marvel Comics. From X-Men to the Avengers, they have made the comic book company billions of dollars and spawned countless series of films that fill theaters over the summer months.

Even with all those films, there still are a few series left for the public to consume. They haven’t done Ant-Man and the She-Hulk is still waiting for a green light. Dr. Strange has been strangely absent from the big screen and hopefully Namor the Sub-Mariner will get some love some day.

Then there’s The Watcher. He is the little known narrator of the series, “What If…” which pitted Marvel characters in different situations, such as “What If Spiderman Joined The Fantastic Four?” or “What If Iron Man Became a Traitor?” These fictional tales were entertaining and frankly made you think.

One day, Hollywood will get its hands on The Watcher and in fact, they may be doing it this summer with Spider-Man (What If Toby Maguire Didn’t Play Spider-Man?).

But until then, we are going to take the “What If…” series and give it a Mets spin.

Today, let’s look at one from the 1980s, a topic Hernandez muses about on the air from time to time:

“What If MLB Had A Wildcard In The 1980s?”

What would have happened if, back in 1984, commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced a radical plan – which Bud Selig enacted 10 years later, dividing each league into three divisions, and adding a Wild Card format to be introduced that season?

In the National League, the Mets, Phillies, Expos, and Braves would have formed the East, with the Pirates, Reds, Cubs, and Cardinals comprising the Central. The Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and, Astros (yes, Houston gets the short end of the stick here) will be the West.

Over in the American League, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles would play in the East, with the Tigers, Indians, Brewers, White Sox, and Royals in the Central, and Rangers, Twins, A’s, Angels, and Mariners in the West.

With that type of format, the Mets would have had a clear path to the National League East Title every season until 1991. They would be in the playoffs every year, probably with mixed results. One thing is for certain, though, with their pitching staff, they would probably have won more than one World Series in that decade.

In 1984, the 90-72 Mets would have finished 9 games ahead of the second place Phillies (We will assume similar records even though the schedule would have been a bit different.) Under this new format, they would have faced a post-season squad of Cubs, the Padres against the Cardinals as the Wild Card, then playing the Padres in the division round.

The young Mets would have given the Padres a valiant fight, but probably would have went down in five games with the Tigers still having their dream season.

A few other things would have changed. Because they won the Division, Gooden would have won the Cy Young along with Rookie of the Year, since winner Rick Sutcliffe split the year with the Indians. Keith Hernandez would have received more than a passover for MVP consideration and Davey Johnson would probably have won Manager of the Year.

In the offseason, they still would have traded for Gary Carter.

Nineteen Eighty Five gets more interesting. Instead of going down on the second to last day of the season, the Mets win the East and play the West-winning Dodgers in the first round. The Cardinals play the Wild Card winning Reds.

Although, the Dodgers had Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, Gooden was unhittable that year and Ron Darling chips in to get by LA.

Against the Cardinals in the NLCS, the seven-game series comes down to Gooden winning three games, with the bullpen squeaking out one more win to send the Mets back to the Fall Classic a year earlier than real history reports.

And there they play…wait for it…the Yankees in the World Series. Yes, the Billy Martin led team wins the Wild Card, smokes Kansas City – no matter what George Brett had to say about it and they vanquished the Jays to meet the Mets.

Gooden, Darling and Sid Fernandez are too much for Ron Guidry, Phil Niekro, and Ed Whitson – who the Mets light up and win in six for their first World Series.

George Foster, of all people, is named series MVP (6 hits, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, .315) and Gooden still claims his Cy Young. And an enraged George Steinbrenner fires Billy Martin after the series and has Mr. May, Dave Winfield, followed. So no change there.

Next year – 1986 – the Mets still trade for Bob Ojeda, after seeing John Tudor’s season and still have the same blowout year. The Phillies and Reds tie for the Wild Card – edge to the Phillies there with Kevin Gross pitching them into the post-season and the Giants with 83 wins take the West.

The Mets mow through the Giants and then face the Astros who sends Philly home. In the American League, the Red Sox take out the Central-winning Tigers in the first round and the Wild Card-winning Yankees lose to the Angels.

The final results remain the same. The Mets repeat as champions. And since Fred Wilpon wanted to clean up the clubhouse, they still trade for Kevin McReynolds.

However, there is no three-peat in 1987, since the Mets lost Darling and Bob Ojeda in September. They are able to squeak by the Giants in the first round, but are no match for Terry Pendelton and the Cardinals. They still lose to the Minnesota Twins, who were just on that unbelievable run and take out the Jays and Tigers.

Even with the new format, the Mets still lose the NLCS to the Dodgers in 1988, as Hershiser was just unstoppable that year. Strawberry still gets robbed of the MVP.

The Mets’ worst year as division winners comes in 1989 as they squeak in with 87 wins. Former Met Kevin Mitchell torments the club in the first round. They still trade for Frank Viola.

All of these wins gives Johnson a longer leash with management and they do not fire him in May, 1990. And the Mets come together, losing the NLCS to the Pirates. It was still the A’s year, however.

Strawberry still makes his ill-fated move to the Dodgers, and the Mets still end up out of the playoffs in 1991. Johnson is fired after the season, so the Buddy Harrelson era never gets off the ground. They still err and hire Jeff Torborg and create the worst team money could buy.

So there you have it. If baseball had the three division Wild Card format in the 1980s, the Mets would have been consistent attendees to the dance and probably would have won the Subway Series in 1985.

But history shows us there would be other factors involved and many times the same teams would have won no matter who they would be playing.

About the Author

Joe McDonald

Joe McDonald is the founder and former publisher of NY Sports Day. After selling to i15Media in 2020, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief and responsible for the editorial side of the publication. In the past, Joe was the managing editor of NY Sportscene magazine and assistant editor of Mets Inside Pitch. He has covered the Mets since 2004.

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