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How I’d Fix Major League Baseball | Kestrel's Aerie

How I’d Fix Major League Baseball | Kestrel's Aerie

How I’d Fix Major League Baseball

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As I was folding laundry on Friday, I happened to catch ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” hosted by Bob Ley. The discussion centered around the idea that Major League Baseball’s (MLB) playoff system—specifically, the wild card concept—is flawed.

The immediate case under discussion is the situation in the American League (AL) East, where the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are battling for the division lead. The argument was made that the race is not as compelling as it could be, since the second-place team will be the AL’s wild card team. In addition, while the division champion gets home field advantage (if, in fact, that is an advantage—not an argument I’m prepared to discuss here), there is also an argument that the respective teams might be better off if they rest key players over the last couple weeks of the season, to better prepare them for the playoffs, rather than play them to try to win the division.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged, in a clip taped during a game last week, that MLB will look at the playoff situation. Some points are pretty clear: The 162-game regular season schedule, in place since 1961, isn’t going to be shortened; after this year, playoff games, including the World Series, will not be scheduled past October 31; the start of the regular season won’t be earlier than the last week of March.1

Currently, each league has three divisions, and each division champion plus the team with best win-loss record that isn’t a division champion make the playoffs. One of the most common proposals is to have a second wild-card team in each league. The two wild card teams would open the playoffs against each other, in either a single “play-in” game or a three-game series. (There is also a lot of sentiment for changing the current opening round of the playoffs to a best-of-seven series, instead of the current best-of-five.)

Well, I have a better idea. (You probably guessed that was coming, right?) I have never been a fan of “wild cards.” One problem—and a huge problem, in my judgment—is that it is not uncommon for a team with a better record than a division champion to be excluded from the playoffs. In fact, that’s happened in seven of the last ten years!2 Conceivably, it could happen this year, given the tightness of the race in the National League (NL) West.

Now, I’m not going to advocate something as radical as selecting the four teams from each league with the best overall won-lost records: There are divisions for a reason. Nor am I going to advocate getting rid of divisions with each league, and just have the best two, three, or four teams in each league make the playoffs. There is merit to that idea, in that it ensures only the “best” teams make the playoffs, but it also could eliminate a lot of teams from contention much earlier than if six, seven, eight or more teams are battling for division championships and wild card berths.

Instead, my idea perhaps more radical: Expand the American League to sixteen teams, and realign each league into four four-team divisions. I’d retain the East, Central, and West divisions, and add a South division to each league. The playoffs would involve only the four division champions from each league.

Pros: More teams equal more money for owners. And let’s not kid ourselves: MLB exists to make money. Realignment, as I envision it, would be along geographical boundaries, so current rivalries would remain intact, and, in fact, be reinforced. Thus, fan interest would be heightened, resulting in more people going to more games. Scheduling could be easier, and road trips shorter, for the most part. Short version: More $$$.

Cons: Expansion (by two teams) would further dilute what many see as an already-depleted talent pool. Scheduling could be even harder (depending in part on how balanced the scheduling is done). Are there markets for two more major league baseball teams? After all, this isn’t the NFL. And if those markets don’t materialize, there won’t be more dollars coming in; not a happy thought for owners.

But hey…it’s my idea, and I like it! Here’s how I envision realignment and expansion:

First, to maintain some balance, a team would move from the NL to the AL, and each league would get one of the expansion franchises. My proposal for the team to move would be either the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Colorado Rockies. An argument could be made to move the Washington Nationals (given that the old Washington Senators were an AL team), but keep in mind they used to be the Montreal Expos, and have been in the league much longer than the D-backs or Rockies.

The two expansion franchises would be placed in the respective South divisions. Possible expansion locations could be Carolina, Tennessee, and New Orleans. So here’s my proposed restructure:

Proposed MLB Expansion and Realignment

The placement of Carolina and New Orleans are somewhat arbitrary, as is the selection of Arizona to move to the AL rather than Colorado. But if you really want to get radical, how about restoring the old intercity rivalry in New York, and establish a corresponding one on the west coast? Check this out:

OH YEAH BABY! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Of course, one of the first objections is you eliminate the possibility of a Subway or Freeway World Series. Yeah, like that happens a lot. Can you imagine if the Mets and Yanks play each other ten, twelve, or even sixteen times a year? Likewise, the Dodgers and Angels? Especially in August and September, in a hot pennant race? Now we’re talking real dollars!

So what do you like about these ideas? What do you hate? (And if you simply hate baseball, take your hate elsewhere. :p)

__________
Notes:
  1. Remember regularly scheduled double-headers? They’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs, all in the name of the almighty dollar. I just don’t think a double-header one Sunday a month from May to September will bankrupt the teams.
  2. I’m fairly certain this is what I understood from the “Outside the Lines” discussion; if I misheard, I hope someone will correct me.

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