Matthew Taylor: How a second wild card might have rewritten O’s history

It’s June, and I’m scoreboard watching. I’ve actually been doing so since early May. It’s not the best way to weather periodic losing streaks, blown saves or even a rival’s hot streaks.

Nevertheless, I do it all the same. The process is made more enjoyable by the realization that for much of the recent past there was no reason to scoreboard watch at any point in the season for us Orioles fans.

Scoreboard watching, regardless of when it takes place, has become a little less stressful with the addition of a second wild card in 2012. So far this year, four American League East teams are packed together tightly in the standings (sorry, Toronto) and the fourth-place team’s record (Tampa Bay) is nearly identical to that of the AL Central leader (Detroit). The AL East needs all the playoff berths it can get.

As for last year, would the BUCKle Up Birds story have been as special absent a playoff berth?

Having two wild cards is a game changer. But how much would it have changed the game if baseball had those wild cards all along? I reviewed the American League standings from 1954 until now to answer that question for the Orioles.

This is by no means a flawless analysis. The AL didn’t have divisions until 1969, and even then it was only two divisions. Meanwhile, there were eight to 10 teams in the junior circuit throughout the 1960s compared to the 15 teams there are now. The further you go back, the more assumptions you need to make. It’s better, then, to consider this a thought exercise.

First, the general overview.

* Given two wild cards, the Orioles would have had 10 additional playoff appearances, five of them (all post-1969) with Earl Weaver as manager.

* Given two wild cards, the O’s would have made five straight playoff appearances from 1973 to 1977 (instead, they made two playoff appearances in 1973 and 1974). Also, the O’s would have had a run of nine playoff appearances in 10 seasons from 1968 through 1977 (instead, they had a run of five playoff appearances in six seasons from 1969 through 1974).

Now, some specifics.

You have to go back 30 years before even one wild card would have changed the Orioles’ fortunes; however, those changes would have been significant. The early 1980s could have provided entirely more satisfying outcomes for players and fans alike in Baltimore.

The 1982 season would have offered a more fitting capstone for the Orioles and an even fonder first farewell for Earl Weaver (were that possible).

You’ll remember that the 1982 Orioles finished one game off the pace set by the Milwaukee Brewers in the AL East after winning four consecutive games - three of them against the Brewers - to set up a winner-take-all scenario at Memorial Stadium on the final day of the season. With two wild cards available, the 1982 Orioles (94-68) would have made the playoffs and faced the Kansas City Royals (90-72) in a one-game playoff. Of course, those final days in early October wouldn’t have employed nearly the same level of drama were even one wild card available as a consolation prize to the loser of the O’s-Brewers series.

Forget 1982, it’s the 1980 Orioles (100-62) who have the real gripe. Those O’s had the second-most wins in all of baseball but stayed home come October. Of the five Orioles teams to win 100 games, they are the only one to not make the postseason. They finished three games behind the Yankees in the American League East. With a double wild card system, the 1982 Orioles would have played the Oakland Athletics (83-79) in a one-game playoff.

It’s never too soon to be scoreboard watching. Looking back on the past provides an appreciation for how good we now have it when we do so. There’s simply more to look for.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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