As you’ve probably heard by now, the Houston Astros will be an American League club in a near future. It won’t be next season, but they will officially be part of the AL West in 2013. Major League Baseball intends to create two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions, which unfortunately means interleague play all season long. The league also seems determined to create a playoff system with two wildcard teams.
Realignment proposals have been part of the baseball media scene for years now, as people have tried to figure out a way to punish the big market teams for making more money than everyone else while rewarding the poorer teams. I figured it was my turn to do the impossible, to come up with a way to make everyone happy with baseball’s schedule and competitive balance and all that. Easier said than done doesn’t do this task justice. Let’s dive in…
We’re going to stick with the two 15-team leagues idea, basing the six divisions on simple geography. Here’s the breakdown…
Obviously those divisions don’t look very fair (poor Orioles and Mets), but I’m going to explain why that doesn’t matter in just a second.
With the two distinct leagues, we’re going to completely eliminate interleague play. The only time an MLB East team will meet an MLB West team will be in the World Series, like I think it should be. Those “natural” rivalries Bud Selig tried to create with interleague play (Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Giants-Athletics, etc.) still remain intact.
With interleague play out the window, we’re free to balance the schedule. Under this plan, every team would play the other 14 teams in its league 12 times (six games at home, six on the road). That creates a 168-game regular season, so six additional regular season games and three more home dates for
owners to line their pockets fans to see their team. This isn’t the NFL trying to expand the season from 16 games to 18 games (a 12.5% increase), the baseball season would be lengthened by less than four percent (3.7% to be exact). The balanced schedule means the division alignments are just for show, so that big bad Northeast division is all talk and no action.
The odd number of teams per league means someone will have to be off everyday, unless they schedule doubleheaders. MLB could make events out of them, think about it. They could have the Red Sox play the Mets in CitiField at noon then the Yankees in Yankee Stadium at 7pm. They could do the same thing with Oakland and San Francisco, or Chavez Revine and Anaheim, or the north and south sides of Chicago. That would be a serious draw. Every team would have to play one doubleheader for every eight series they play to make it work, which is seven doubleheaders per team for the entire season. That’s one per month with an extra one thrown in somewhere, make it September with the expanded rosters.
Forget this two wildcard teams per league stuff. Since the schedule is nice and balanced, the teams with the four best records in each league qualify for the postseason, regardless of division. Like I said, the divisions are just for show. The one seed plays the four seed and the two seed plays the three seed, with home field advantage going to the club with the better regular season record. Head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker, run differential the second tiebreaker. That goes for the World Series too. All rounds are best-of-seven series with off days for travel only (after Games Two and Five).
The All-Star Game
Since home field advantage in the World Series is determined by regular season records, the All-Star Game goes back to being what it’s supposed to be, a glorified exhibition. It shouldn’t count for anything. With no interleague play, the East vs. West matchup becomes a lot more intriguing because you’re seeing great players you don’t ever see together right there on the same field. That’s how the All-Star Game used to be, it was pretty awesome.
The Homerun Derby has to be overhauled, mostly by actually getting homerun hitters to participate in it. I want to see Mike Stanton and Adam Dunn take their hacks, not Rickie Weeks and Matt Holliday. Also, let’s shorten the thing up please.
Real World Problems
All of this sounds great on paper, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s far from perfect. For one, The Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies are huge draws on the road, and none of the MLB West clubs will ever see them in their ballpark. Those game have a very real financial impact. All of the big market teams are in one league as well, so there’s a total imbalance of power. Great idea on paper, but in practice, trying to schedule all those doubleheaders? Not so much.
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I’m interested and also afraid to see what will happen to baseball 18 months from now, with the constant interleague play and two wildcard teams and whatnot. Then again, Selig could make it all better by abolishing the whole “let pitchers hit” thing to make a) life easier for everyone, and b) the game much more enjoyable. I doubt that will happen, but we can all dream.