It had been a tough summer for the folks in St. Louis. Their beloved Hometown Nine had fought valiantly in the early parts of the season, overcoming injuries and ineffective relief pitchers, to be neck-and-neck with the Brewers of Milwaukee for first place in the division. But the early season optimism had given way to that late summer pessimism so singular to a fan base whose favorite team has unceremoniously fallen out of the playoff hunt.
With the locals in a foul mood, a traveler came to town, calling himself The Commissioner, selling the good people of St. Louis hope. Downtrodden and frustrated, they gathered to listen. There had been rumors of this man in the local newspaper, that he could eliminate a baseball fan's late-season sorrows. And so many made their way to the ball yard to hear his pitch. After all, what could it hurt to listen to what the traveler had to say, to consider what he was selling. The Commissioner's wagon pulled up near the stadium and he set up his soapbox right next to the statue honoring The Greatest Cardinal of Them All. After a substantial crowd had gathered, he launched into a sales pitch for a miracle cure-all that would help alleviate the frustration of a late-season fade by their local Cardinals.
"Gather 'round, folks! Come one, come all! I am a man of the road! I have traveled far and wide in these United States of America! From San Francisco to Tampa! From Cincinnati to Los Angeles of Anaheim! Cleveland to Arlington! I have seen the malady inflicting our great Major League Baseball fans in these dog days of summer! I have come to St. Louis, my friends, because I hear you have caught the malady! Down in the dumps? Feeling blue? Frustrated? Yessir, I have the prescription! And it comes from the future!
"You are the faithful of a ball club that is over .500! Yessir, you heard me right. The Cardinals, they're winners! As such, the fans deserve more! Dare I say, the fans deserve better? I dare! As the fans of a winning team, you deserve to have caught a different malady than frustration. Yes, friends, I'm a talkin' about Pennant Fever!
"In baseball, friends, in baseball, fans have it harder than in other sports. In the NFL, how many teams make the playoffs each and every season?"
"Twelve!" shouted a man from the crowd.
"You are correct, sir! And, if I may, how many teams make up the National Football League?'
"Thirty-two!" offered a lady from near the back of the crowd.
"Correct again! You St. Louisans know your handegg. Thirty-two teams total and twelve playoff qualifiers! If my math is correct, folks, that means that thirty-seven and one-half percent of NFL teams make the playoffs. Why, that's thirty-eight percentage (if we round up)! Thirty-eight percent!
"Now, what about the NBA? Do any of you know how many teams are in the NBA?"
"Thirty, I think!" yelled a boy in the front.
"Well, son, you think correct! Thirty teams make up the National Basketball Association. And, son, answer me this. How many teams make the playoffs in the NBA?"
"Um, sixteen?" the boy offered in the unsure volume of something less than a shout.
"What's that son?" the salesman asked, holding his gloved hand to his ear. "Louder so that all of us can hear ya!"
"SIXTEEN!" shouted the boy, more confidently.
"Correct again, son! Sixteen basketball teams make the NBA playoffs! Sixteen out of thirty! That's, why, that's fifty-three and one-third percent of the entire league!!!!"
The crowd gasped in surprise at just how many NBA teams make the playoffs, but the traveler was quick to bring their attention back to him and what he was peddling.
"I know, I know, that is a lot, isn't it? Perhaps even too many. I have one last pair of questions--"
"What about MLS?" interjected a dandily coiffed young Asian man in the crowd.
"Son, I appreciate your concern, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss Lou Gehrig's Disease," the traveler replied before quickly picking up where he left off, addressing the crowd in a booming voice. "Now, let me ask you this...How many Major League Baseball clubs are there in both leag--?"
"THIRTY!!!" the crowd of St. Louisans exclaimed in unison before the question could completely leave the traveler's lips.
"Right! Yes, thirty, it is. The rumors are true! You folks know your baseball!"
The crowd murmured in concurrence and some members even patted one another on the back.
"Then you ought to be able to answer my last question. How many baseball clubs make the postseason?"
"EIGHT!!!" the crowd boomed collectively and simultaneously.
"CORRECT! Eight out of thirty playoff teams in the National Pastime! That is but twenty-six and two-thirds percent! Half of the share of the NBA and less than NFL, too! It's unfair to the baseball fan, by gum! UNFAIR! You have cheered on your beloved Redbirds in the St. Louis heat and humidity for nigh one hundred forty games! And the Cards, they've won more than they've lost, haven't they? Yes, they have! So, why then should their season be mathematically over so soon!? There is no good reason! And, in the future, my fine friends, it won't be!
"Ya see, I have seeeen the future, folks. Yes, I have. In the future, the doom-and-gloom is replaced by the joy of meaningful baseball in August! And September! Pennant Fever, friends! Imagine once again feeling the white-knuckle intensity of the pennant race at summer's end and fall's beginning! Ladies and gentleman, if I may be so bold, that is the future!
"I am here to offer you a chance, as fans--THE BEST FANS IN BASEBALL--to experience pennant fever again. What I am offering is my own patented Playoff Expansion Tonic! It has worked wonders in the past! Many a fan has felt its positive effects! Why, even the fine fans of St. Louis did back in Aught-One! I'm here to offer it up yet again! Instead of a measely one Wild Card in each league, what if we had TWO!?"
The crowd's murmur rose to a roar as the realization spread that, if the National League had two Wild Card spots, their beloved Cardinals would be in a race with the Giants and Reds for that second spot.
"Ladies and gentlemen! You can form a line here to buy the second Wild Card that I am selling!"