Radical change: realignment

Well, it’s very nice to know Commissioner Bud Selig is hard at work, trying to get some handle on how to dilute the World Series even further by adding even more playoff teams, with the subject planned for this week’s winter meetings.

Here in the real world, we know that the more you dilute the process, the worse it becomes and the more irrelevant regular seasons and even early playoff rounds become. Before long even the World Series becomes irrelevant—who thinks a champion should have a losing record in the regular season? Remember the 1973 Mets, who made it with a near-.500 record? It turned out to be a good series, but it was oh-so-close to being awful.

Wait! Maybe we could have a 162-game playoff season, beginning in April; mix it up, let the teams play each other in weekly series, with the overall record of the teams, over several months, being used as eliminators. Then, the two best teams meet in the final—oh, yeah…hmmm…that’s the old way of doing it, isn’t it?

Well, in the spirit of invention, here’s a solution that actually brings regional rooting interest back, keeps the leagues just big enough to have clear races and also provides enough true champions to maintain interest. How, you ask? Glad to tell you.

First, we need to go back to two ideas that worked for decades, until expansion in 1961-62 intervened—154-game seasons and eight-team leagues.

No, I’m not suggesting contraction—quite the opposite. I’m proposing expansion, from 30 to 32 teams. In the process, we’ll create four more-or-less regional leagues, with some traditional rivalries. We’ll keep the American League and National League names, and add to them two classic baseball league names, advanced to the big stage: the Southern League and the Pacific Coast League.

Here’s the new American League, composed of teams traditionally associated with the league:

New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles. These names are listed in the order they would have finished this past season, all things being equal. (Which they wouldn’t have been, of course, since the teams didn’t face just each other over 154 games, but let’s go with it instead of doing all that math, shall we?)

The National League, likewise, consists mainly of the traditional cities, if not all the traditional franchises:

Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Both the American and National Leagues in this scenario cover the East Coast and the Midwest; if we want to get very radical, of course, these two could be split more regionally:

American League: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians.

National League: Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds.

The Southern League, in this new construction, has the Sun Belt teams and the two expansion teams, simply for argument’s sake. I’ve chosen these teams for some pretty arbitrary (read, random) reasons, but logically, this is the region where expansion will likely occur, if and when:

Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Indianapolis Aces and San Juan Sugar Kings.

The Pacific Coast League is composed of teams in cities that—you guessed it—traditionally fought for titles in the West’s grand old league:

Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners.

There are two reasons to go with the eight-team format. One is that it has been proven that eight teams can make a shorter season work; the 154-game season is ideal for this size league. Additionally, in an era when transportation issues make travel more and more expensive, cutting back to traditional rivalries and regions makes solid economic sense (even more so if we completely realign the AL and NL).

But what about interleague play, you ask? Well, what about it? It could go away, of course (wishful thinking), but since all revenue streams must be explored in Seligland, a way for it to work would be to rotate inter-league games every year. AL vs. NL, SL vs. PCL, then AL vs. SL, NL vs. PCL, etc. Eventually, all teams would play in all cities. But, to keep the integrity of the leagues intact, the inter-league statistics should be kept separate, used to determine home-field advantages, seeding, etc. in the playoffs.

Here’s another thought for the inter-league series as well: The team with the best record could represent America in the World Baseball Classic—an honor, to be sure, and something to make the win-loss record count for something. (Of course, some of the players may be siphoned off to play for other nations, so positions would have to be filled in some cases by other players.)

So what about the playoffs? Well, we’d have four certain participants: the four league champions. Then, let’s take the second place finishers—no wild card winners in this bunch—and then let’s go three-deep, to 12 teams! The second and third-place teams in each league play each other, with the pennant winners earning a first-round bye.

The winners of the first round then take on the first-place teams for the right to go to the championship round, which would pit the champion team with the best inter-league record against the champion with the worst inter-league record; and then the teams with the second- and third-best records facing each other.

The winners of these two rounds would then, of course, meet in the World Series.

This structure gives the league winner a slightly-better-than-average chance to advance to the World Series yet gives eight other good teams an opportunity to shine in playoff action.

So how would it have worked this year? Well, the AL champion would have been the Yankees, with the Twins and Red Sox vying for the opportunity to play the Yankees in the second round. In the NL, the Phillies would have taken the title, with the Reds and Cardinals (the only other above-.500 teams) battling to continue. In the SL, we would have had the Rays winning, with the Braves and Rangers fighting each other to face Tampa Bay. And in the PCL, the Giants would have won the pennant; the Padres and Rockies would have challenged each other to advance.

We would have had a spirited American League race, with five teams over .500. The Red Sox-White Sox battle would have garnered a lot of headlines, but the Twins-Yankees battle for the pennant would also have been a doozy. The National League would have been a snoozefest: only three teams were above .500, with significant distance between them. Likewise with the Southern League, though the Braves did do well early and might have made this interesting. In the PCL, we would have had the same battle we had in the NL West, though the Athletics might have kept it interesting.

We would have seen the Red Sox, Rockies and Cardinals added to the playoffs—without concocting some bogus wild-card series to justify it. When three of your four or five teams in a division make the playoffs, you’ve got a legitimacy problem; when the second- and third-place teams (out of eight) play to meet the top team, it’s a little more legitimate, or at least a little less cheesy.

So how does the All-Star game fit? Frankly, I don’t know. Perhaps it could rotate pairings and locations mirroring interleague games, which then would be inserted just before the All-Star break. And yes, these interleague games would equal eight, making the season 162 games total (154 league games, eight interleague that would not count in the standings).

To take the realignment idea further, each league should have its minor league teams in or close to its major league region, and playing only the minor league teams affiliated with their league competitors. This would create even more regional identity, top to bottom, while cutting minor league travel costs and affiliate costs. Most of the current minor leagues could be adjusted to make this work, but some restructuring would have to occur. The plusses would outweigh the negatives, however.

So there you have it. Interleague play? Check. Expanded playoffs? Check. Regional rivalries? Check. Reward for winning the league’s pennant? Check. Expenses curtailed? Again, check, especially when the minor league component is added. Costs down, profits up, interest pumped.

It could be a winner.

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  1. Brad Johnson said...

    I don’t know mike, as far as payroll parity goes, that division has a good chance of being pretty evenly matched. The Indians being the sole exception, they would need to adopt a Rays style of development.

    I think with fans being used to seeing around 20 different teams a year now, more effort would have to be put into interleague play. Why not just let every team play all non-division opponents in a single 2 game series a year? In a 154 game schedule, that’s 15 games per season against divisional foes with a remainder of 1 game.

  2. rempart said...

    What I meant was get STL/KC together. Switch STL for Indy, and only have 1 expansion team in the Southern league.

  3. Charles from Macon said...

    I always like hearing different ideas for “radical realignment” but the short of it is that most ideas just won’t work.

    Here I think the bigget problem is what would be considered interleague play. If I read correctly each eight team league would play a shortened season against each other. That would mean no Dodgers in Atlanta, no Yankees in Seattle and no A’s in Boston. That to me, seems to thin out the profitability of the powerhouse teams making their appearances with the lower revenue teams. The Royals, Mariners and Pirates in particular need the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs. The reastest arguement I can see against that idea would be that the teams would have a better chance of making the playoffs but if the field is expanded anyway what’s the difference between being a second wild card (having the third best record in your league) and being a league champ (of a presumably weaker league with watered down talent)?

    I think the very best way to exapand the playoffs (if it must be done) is to eliminate the divisions altogether, shorten the season, schedule each team equally and have the top teams meet in a tournament culminating in the World Series. If anything that might mean contracting two teams from the NL.

    I love your line of thinking but I just can’t imagine it working.

  4. Matt from Indy said...

    I’d be in favor of Indy getting a professional team. Then I’d have an excuse to stop having my heart ripped out by the Cubs every year.

  5. Daniel Evensen said...

    Radical alignment is a fun idea, but I really don’t like having three playoff teams from each league. If that were to happen, the 154 game season would be far too long, in my opinion, and I doubt the marginal benefit you’d get from having an expanded first round is worth the benefit of adding playoff cities.

    Fans are used to watching 20 different teams a year? I think fans have grown accustomed to it, but I seriously doubt removing interleague play is something most fans will complain about. I would much rather see four geographically aligned leagues with absolutely no interleague play, after which only the top four teams will enter the postseason.

    It’s not going to happen in real life, admittedly. It sure makes for some fun APBA leagues, though.

  6. John Dupont said...

    I wonder what sort of playoff series you were thinking in your article (1, 3, 5 or 7 games and for which rounds?).

  7. Mike Clark said...

    Thanks for the comments—
    Indy & San Juan—these two cities were sort of picked from straws in my mind; perhaps San Juan isn’t ideal, and I do like the idea of putting KC & StL in a league together
    Interleague – I detest interleague play – it messes up pennant races and essentially indicates that mlb has zero faith in its product, so it has to resort to gimmicks. I think LA v. LA duking it out every year will more than make up for NY Yanks coming to California, ditto with Oak/SF, Chi & Chi, on down the line. Gimmicks are just that- gimmicks.
    DH – eliminate it. Two more teams should give plenty of ballplayers jobs, probably more than the DH rule does. Now, it may put a few broken down ballplayers out to pasture, but we’ve seen over the last few years that salary demands do very well at pruning talent as teams have shied away from the Sheffields, etc. being highly-paid bats. IMHO, of course.

  8. JeffA said...

    Terrific job Mike. Never heard this idea before. We don’t see out-of-the-box, creative thinking like this about—or particularly from—Major League baseball very often. The realignment ideas are most intriguing. I too like 32 teams, but I’m still a bit partial to the idea of 2 leagues, 4 divisions in each, with 4 teams in each of those, with only the divisional winners making the playoffs; no stupid wild cards anymore. “Winners” deserve to move on, not runners-up. And agreed: make the World Series special again, eliminate inter-league play. The true rivalries have always been within the leagues already. You can’t create a new rivalry by thinking that San Diego and Seattle must despise each other just because they’re both on the West Coast; that just shows the truly shallow brain depth behind that thinking (Bud!).

  9. mike said...

    Interesting idea.  I’d worry a little about competitive balance.  An “American league” of Yankees, Twins, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians, and Baltimore Orioles would be even tougher than the existing AL East.  Not ideal.

  10. dave silverwood said...

    Do any of you feel this is not better than right nowand xompetitive balanxe is a idea that can not be followed look(SOUND LIKE PINIELLA)—the Rangers and Giants played in the world series in 2010 which is one of the greatest happenings in my 61 years as a fan,Q—Where were the Yankees,Redsox or the 113 million Xubs?

  11. Buford said...

    San Francisco

    White Sox
    St. Louis
    Kansas City


    San Diego


    Tampa Bay

    21 games vs. each of the 4 teams in your division (84)
    7 games vs. each of the other 10 teams in your league (70)
        154 games total

    No interleague games
    Same wild card as today

  12. Gerald Nosfa said...

    What you could do for interleague is keep the 162-gm schedule, and have 8-games with another league rotating each year, 14 in your own league.  98+64=162

  13. DonM said...

    Some kind of reshuffling is necessary. I prefer the idea of two divisions in each league playing a balanced schedule with the top two non-division winners getting wild card spots. And I don’t care that wild card teams can upset division winners—it’s no big deal —or that there’s a DH. Right now, to compete in the AL East for example, teams have to spend more and more money to keep up with the Yankees and Red Sox. This could, in theory, result in the best players being concentrated in one division.  Realignment would be okay (Mets and Yankees in same division, for example), though that could intensify the DH argument.

  14. dave silverwood said...

    the dh is along with the current form of free agency a croc and needs serious changes—-a fa draft like rule 5 or real free agency with salary caps—-no dh

  15. Joe Pilla said...

    The All-Star Game solution couldn’t be simpler:

    14 players from each league (with at least one player from each team, natch) gather en masse on the field a few minutes before the start of the Game. The respective team managers then alternate choosing the players for his team. There could be the spice of some bruised egos. [“OK, I guess (sigh) I’ll have to take the guy from the Mets. We’ll stick him in right.”] The losers buy the winners (as well as all the fans in attendance) post-Game pizza and beer.

    ‘Love the regional league idea, but do keep the Mets and Yankees in separate leagues. Not only does it keep their few interleague meetings fresh and contentious, but it leaves the possibility that they’ll meet again in the WS in my lifetime. (I suspect Chi fans have similar feelings, even if for them it’s only been the stuff of daydreams.)

  16. Matt said...

    I think one of the coolest things MLB could look toward doing in the future would be to expanding to a world-market.  It would take decades to make real but if players in the 1880s could make train trips to St. Louis, players today can certainly make extended road trips to play teams located in Tokyo, Seoul and Europe. 

    On a completely different track though I think whatever realignment occurs should keep older teams in their proper leagues.  That is one thing I like about Mike’s proposal.  A proposal putting the Pittsburgh Pirates in the American League ends a tradition of more than a century there.

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