A Practical Approach to Realigning MLB
I love baseball. I love being at the stadium for batting practice. I love going to spring training games in Arizona and getting to chat with the players. Every year it seems like whatever team you’re watching they are all excited about the upcoming year. Happy to be on the field again. That’s how I feel every spring too. I’m always excited to see how the winter meetings/trades/signings affect each team. But, at the start of every year I look at the divisions and one thing stands out. They are unbalanced. In 1998 for scheduling reasons,and I’m sure personal reasons too, Bud Selig agreed to move Milwaukee to the NL Central trying to make each league even-numbered. When the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks were enfranchised it left the league with its current number of 30 teams. In order for the scheduling to be fair Selig made the switch. You see, with 15 teams in each league only 7 games could be played on any given day making teams have an odd day off each week. It would make for a very random schedule, something I’m sure nobody wanted to deal with. However, it created another dilemma altogether. Now there is a 6 team NL Central and a 4 team AL West. The size of the divisions heavily impacts the way the teams schedule each other. For instance, the Oakland A’s play more games against their division than the New York Yankees play against theirs. Due to the size discrepancy the NL Central teams play the least amount of games against each other. This seems unfair to me for all teams. I feel it should be an even schedule for all teams in regards to games against division, games against the league, and interleague games played. So, I have proposed a solution (along with a colleague) to help solve this dilemma and also spice things up a bit.
For starters there are a few teams that flat-out don’t compete and haven’t in a long time. Whether its “bad” owners, tough divisions, or just longterm bad luck/decision-making a few teams in the MLB just don’t seem to make a positive mark. Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Florida are the ones that stick out the most. Now I know Florida has actually won 2 World Series in the last 15 years but they seem to be this up and down franchise that can’t decide what it wants. They are riddled with attendance problems and a lack of fan base. The same holds true for Tampa Bay. Although recently they have made the playoffs, they are forced to trade(or let go) of their best players to keep their salary down. That doesn’t bode very well for competition against teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox. As for Kansas City and Pittsburgh, well, they haven’t been relevent since the late 80’s – early 90’s. Baltimore, just has a bad owner. Period.
A drastic move would be to eliminate these teams and have an expansion draft to sort out all the players. But that’s not very friendly, and in actuality a laboring task. Instead what I propose is to expand MLB to 32 teams, with 4 Divisions per League, 4 teams per Division. To do this I propose a relocation of Tampa Bay and 2 new expansion teams. Here’s how I’d set it up.
The positives in general:
This makes the regular season and divisional games more important by having no wild card teams and all Division winners make playoffs. It also makes sense geographically. Currently teams in the west travel a ton more than teams in the east. Each Division is balanced and has its own unique characteristics. Not one Division under this format has a majority of “good” or “bad” teams. They are balanced as far as the playing field is concerned. Although Houston and Colorado switch leagues I think both would prefer the AL hitter friendliness anyways. Both parks are hitters parks. For Houston it also creates an extended rivalry with Texas. Colorado doesn’t have to fly to San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles anymore. Instead Kansas City, Houston and Texas are much closer. As for Tampa Bay, a relocation to a metropolitan area that craves a MLB team would be a real spark for the franchise as well as MLB as a whole. Portland has been trying to land a team since the Expose were being considered for relocation. In fact, Portland already has an interim park to play in while the city builds a stadium. Seen in the link below is an extensive proposal to bring a team to Portland. A waterfront stadium looks really nice up there as well as some of the other options shown. http://www.oregonstadiumcampaign.com/submission/pdx_ballpark_mlb_082604.pdf
For the two expansion teams there would have to be an expansion draft. Something MLB has done 4 times since the mid 90’s, 5 if you include the Expos move. It would be difficult for them to become elite teams but for each of them their respective Divisions give them an angle in which to get better.
For the Iowa franchise: what do you think of when you hear Iowa and baseball? Field of Dreams. Shoeless Joe. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Tradition. Folklore. It’s a perfect place and a perfect division to place them. You could even call the team the Moonlights if you wanted. Surrounded by St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee the Iowa franchise would be playing against teams with a lot of tradition and a “bluecollared”approach to the game, scrappy teams you could say. Perfect for Iowans. There are plenty of places in Iowa to build a new stadium and also places to play in the interim. It just makes sense for baseball.
As for the South Carolina franchise: I considered Indianapolis and also Las Vegas for this last team and decided to go with South Carolina as the location. For one, Selig would be against a team in Vegas even if it makes a ton of sense to have a team there. Unless Pete Rose were the owner/operator/manager of the team, you just cant have a franchise there, for now. Just kidding. Indy sounds nice too especially nestled in between St. Louis and Chicago. However, South Carolina is a perfect fit for Divisional purposes. Not only is South Carolina a hotbed of baseball fans but talent as well. Considering that for college athletics the state of South Carolina boasts teams in the SEC for baseball as well as other sports. The talent directors would have a firm base on which to grow their minor programs. Not to mention that travel wise South Carolina is close to Atlanta and close enough to Cincinnati and Miami to make it work. Since Florida already has to travel to Washington during the season a trip to Cincinnati is roughly the same distance. And under this format they’d cut out trips to New York and Philadelphia altogether. Speaking of Florida, in 2012 they will be renamed the Miami Marlins and be playing in a new stadium. So this Division would boast perennial frontrunners Atlanta, with up and coming Cincinnati, a Miami team with a brand new stadium and fan base (due to Tampa Bay relocating), as well as a hot ticket expansion team in South Carolina.
It makes sense to expand MLB in place of retraction. For one, no one likes losing money and that’s what would happen if you shut down a few teams. The union wouldn’t like it and neither would the owners. Even when Montreal wasn’t doing well the league still went out of its way to find the Expos a new home as opposed to eliminating them altogether. The influx of new teams and changes to a few others would bring about an air of excitement for the die-hard fan and also attract new fans. The travel schedules for a lot of teams would be diminished, saving money and keeping players rested. I also think the reduction of Division size in addition to the elimination of wild card teams would make for intense divisional games, year round. Under this format the New York Yankees would currently be panicked with the news that the Red Sox added All Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and missed out on Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. Imagine a scenario where you see the Kansas City Royals vying for the Division and the Red Sox missing the playoffs altogether. I’d also be in favor of eliminating most of the inter league games. I’d propose each team gets 4 inter league series per year against interstate rivals or historic rivals. 2 series would be played before the all-star break and 2 right after. This again would reenforce the importance of Divisional games. I also don’t think the majority of fans really cares if it sees the Orioles play the Dodgers. Or the Mariners play the Mets.
In closing, this plan would give MLB the bump it needed both financially and publicly. It would bring an exciting new time to the sport, revive some teams, and build new baseball communities in American cities. I will be sending a version of this to MLB in hopes that they write back. I would also like to thank Sam for his help on brainstorming the alignment and team placement.