Sunday, July 09, 2006

Baseball Realignment

If I were the "czar" of Major League Baseball (TM), I would add two teams and create four leagues of eight teams each. Gone would be the designations American League and National League, which have become less and less meaningful with free agency and the standardization of umpiring practices. The remaining distinction that makes a difference -- the designated-hitter rule -- has been blunted by interleague play, and it would be simple enough for a "czar" to say "make it so" across the board.

My criterion for realignment would be to cluster natural rivalries, which would be a boon to fans and, thus, to owners and players because of greater attendance and media coverage. Think of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, subway rivals for decades. Think of the attendance at Yankees-Mets interleague games. Then consider the demands of Peter Angelos, owner of the American League Baltimore Orioles, for compensation because the National League Montreal Expos were relocated to Washington, D.C., a mere 30 miles or so from Baltimore. Having a Baltimore team and a Washington team in the same division wouldn't be a threat to Baltimore's attendance, it would be a boon.

Anyway, here's how I'd realign MLB (current league assignments in parentheses):

Pacific League
Seattle Mariners (A)
Portland ? (new)
San Francisco Giants (N)
Oakland Athletics (A)
Los Angeles Dodgers (N)
Los Angeles Angels (A)
San Diego Padres (N)
Arizona Diamondbacks (N)

Central League
Colorado Rockies (N)
Kansas City Royals (A)
St. Louis Cardinals (N)
Minnesota Twins (A)
Milwaukee Brewers (N)
Chicago Cubs (N)
Chicago White Sox (A)
Detroit Tigers (A)

Northeastern League
Cincinnati Reds (N)
Cleveland Indians (A)
Toronto Blue Jays (A)
Pittsburgh Pirates (N)
Philadelphia Phillies (N)
Boston Red Sox (A)
New York Yankees (A)
New York Mets (N)

Southern League
Texas Rangers (A)
Houston Astros (N)
Baltimore Orioles (A)
Washington Nationals(N)
Charlotte ? (new)
Atlanta Braves (N)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (A)
Florida Marlins (N)

Yeah, a few old (but not very intense) rivalries would be broken up (e.g., Tigers and Indians, Tigers and Blue Jays), but look at all the new pairings: Mariners and Portland, Giants and As, Angels and Dodgers, Angels and Padres, Royals and Cardinals, Reds and Indians, Indians and Pirates, Yankees and Mets, Rangers and Astros, Orioles and Nationals, Charlotte and the Braves, Devil Rays and Marlins.

A return to eight-team leagues would allow for a shorter regular season. In my ideal MLB, there would be no interleague play until the end of the season, so that each team would play every other team in its league 22 times during the regular season -- 11 games at home and 11 games away -- just like the good old days from 1901 through 1960. That would reduce the regular season from 162 games to 154 games.

The season would be further shortened by eliminating the (yawn) All-Star Game. So, the season could start in mid-April instead of early April, when so many games are rained-, snowed-, and frozen-out.

Post-season play? Simple:

  • The league champ with the best W-L record faces the league champ with the worst W-L record,* leaving the division champs with the second- and third-best records to face each other. Both series are best-of-seven.
  • In the first round, the team with the better regular-season record is the home team for the first three games and the last two games (as they are necessary).
  • The first-round winners meet in the World Series (best-of-seven, of course). The team with the better regular-season record is the home team for the first three games and the last two games (as they are necessary).

The two-round playoff (vice the present three-round format) would cut a week off the end of the season. Games could be postponed when the weather is truly foul, instead of forcing players and fans to endure cold, rainy nights.

Would postseason play determine the best team? Probably not, for the reasons spelled out here. But my scheme would eliminate the possibility that a World Series could be won by a weak division winner or wild-card team.
* Throughout the playoffs, ties for best/better-worst/worse record are decided by coin tosses.