The term wild card refers broadly to a tournament or playoff berth awarded to an individual or team that has not qualified through normal play. In North American professional sports leagues, wild card refers to a team that qualifies for the championship playoffs without winning their specific subdivision (usually called a conference or division) outright. The number of wild card teams varies. In most cases, the rules of the league call for the wild card team to survive an extra round and/or to play the majority of their postseason games away from home.

The term should not be confused with playoff formats that call for a set number of teams to qualify per division. The American Football League's 1969 playoffs (qualifying the top two finishers from each league), the National Basketball Association's 1967-1970 playoffs (qualifying the top four finishers from each division), and the National Hockey League's 1968-1974 and 1982-1994 playoffs (qualifying the top four finishers from each division) should not be confused with wild-card playoff formats. When a wild-card playoff format is used, the number of teams that may qualify per division is not fixed; the divisional champion will usually qualify automatically, but non-division finishers qualify based on record either in the league overall or within a conference.

Major League BaseballEdit

In Major League Baseball, the wild card playoff spot is given to the team in each league with the best record among second-place teams.

Since the wild-card took effect in 1995 (was to have been in 1994 prior to a players' strike), the wild-card team must surrender the home field advantage in both the Division Series (ALDS and NLDS) and the League Championship Series (ALCS and NLCS). Home field advantage for the World Series, however, has always been determined beforehand, regardless of how a team reaches the Series. Prior to 2003, it was decided on an alternating schedule; as of 2003, it has been granted to the winner of the All-Star Game due to the results of the 2002 Major League Baseball All Star Game. Controversy erupted in 1997 when the Florida Marlins, who had won the NLCS and qualified for the playoffs as the wild card, were given home field advantage over the Cleveland Indians, who had won the ALCS title. The Marlins went on to beat the Indians in seven games, winning the last decisive game at home, allegedly the result of the advantage. Of the teams that reached the 2002 World Series, both were wild card teams: the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants. Indeed, wild card teams won three consecutive World Series from 2002-2004.

In the Division Series, the wild card team (which could be considered analogous to the fourth seed in other sports tournaments) usually plays the team with the best record within their league. However, an MLB rule states that teams from the same division are not allowed to face each other in the Division Series. Therefore, in the event that a wild-card team ends up sharing the same division as the team holding the best record, the former will play the second-best team in the league while the latter will face the third-best. This perfectly parallels the previous policy of the NFL after the NFL/AFL merger, when the league opted to include a wild-card team in each conference’s playoffs. (This policy thus ensured that the two best teams in a given conference, even if both of those teams were from the same division, could face off in the conference championship.)

This rule was applied in the 2005 NLDS, when the division winners in the NL were as follows (in order from best to worst according to regular season records): the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves, the San Diego Padres, and the Houston Astros (as the wild card). Typically, the Astros would have opened their Division Series against the Cardinals and the Padres would have faced the Braves; however, as the Astros and Cardinals were both within the NL Central Division, it was arranged so that the Astros played the Braves and the Padres played the Cardinals.

In the 2012 season, a new format called the "play-in game" was added in which two National League teams and two American League teams battled in two separate games in a single day to determine which would move onto the playoffs. The first of these games were held on October 5, 2012 and featured the St. Louis Cardinals at the Atlanta Braves and the Baltimore Orioles at the Texas Rangers. The Cardinals-Braves game was won 6-3 by the Cardinals, but was played under official protest by the Braves following a perceived blown call regarding the infield fly rule. Fan outrage at the call resulted in a 19-minute delay as fans littered the field with debris and the teams and officials were forced to seek shelter in the dugouts. The Orioles-Rangers game was won by the Orioles with a final score of 5-1.

Korea Professional BaseballEdit

In the 2015 season, a new format called the "wild-card game" will be added in two separate games in a single day to determine which would move onto the Semi-playoff.

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