In last week’s column I discussed the problems with the rumoured Major League baseball alignment plans and how I thought realignment for money or to increase competitiveness and give struggling teams a better (I believe the words being used by baseball are fairness and increased attendance) shouldn’t be THE motivating factor.
But equal opportunity usually runs in cycles. One division can be strong for many years potentially leaving a team with a record better than a rival division winner out of the playoffs and sitting on the sidelines watching on television. Baseball’s luxury tax and the wild card were introduced in an attempt to rectify the perceived large market vs. small market problem. Certainly to some extent that has worked.
But if interleague play is here to stay and realignment and more playoffs are inevitable, I suggest Major League Baseball end piecemeal solutions and go all the way. Of course there are problems with any suggestion and mine is probably far from perfect but let’s have some fun with this shall we?
Let’s combine both leagues and have four divisions based on geographical locations as much as possible.
East: Yankees, Mets, Blue Jays, RedSox, Orioles, Nationals, Phillies
North: Tigers, Indians, Twins, Whitesox, Cubs, Brewers, Reds, Pirates
South: Marlins, Astros, Rangers, Royals, Cardinals, Rays, Braves
West: Mariners, Giants, A’s, Padres, Angels, Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks
There are some built in rivalries in this proposal which address the most popular interleague games (Cubs-Whitesox, Yankees-Mets, Indians-Reds, Astros-Rangers) and maybe some new and potentially popular ones. Some divisions would be stronger than others but again, that is an ebb and flow situation over the course of many seasons.
I haven’t decided how the scheduling would go (I don’t like balanced as it defeats the purpose of divisions while others would argue that the only fair scheduling is each team playing each other the same amount of games). An unbalanced schedule would greatly cut down on travel but limit exposure from a fans point of view. I’m no mathematician either.
In this scenario, the playoffs would have the top two teams in each division meeting in the playoffs, East No. 1 vs. West No. 2 and East No. 2 vs. West No. 1 and so on or something similar. The first place team would have home field advantage during round one. Each series would be best of seven. Trim the regular season to 154 games.
Of course, a realignment this radical could see the World Series being played between two teams previously in the same league but chances are these teams met in the regular season anyway.
It might play havoc with the traditional league records but interleague play sort of does that now anyway to a lesser degree.
The All-Star game could be something like East and West vs. North and South.
Such a realignment would also necessitate the awarding of only one MVP and one CY Young, one Rookie of the Year and one Manager of the Year. In the old days, that’s how it was done. Might be the only solution.
A decision would have to be made concerning the DH. Here’s what I would do. I read this idea somewhere a few years ago and I still think it’s an interesting one. Keep the DH but change its usage in the following manner. The pitchers would bat as in the NL but once a game, a pitcher could be pinch hit for without having to leave the game. This would mean that the DH became strategically important and would allow a manager to leave his ace starter in late during a tight game.
Keeping in mind that I am a staunch traditionalist, (no DH, interleague, wild card etc.), I am starting to think that there is a time to put tradition to bed. After all, I own an mp3 player, I download cds and I sold my turntable. The heck with what few traditions remain?
Perhaps this solution will make baseball too similar to other sports. Perhaps it would cause more problems than it would solve. But it’s just an ideal.