This is an article that was originally published on HardRockSports.com.
In his second look at the structure of baseball, HardRock Sports columnist Scott A. Ham wonders why baseball would even consider radical realignment.
A couple of days ago I wrote an article on why I felt it was time to get rid of interleague play. My timing was absolutely perfect: on Friday I posted the article, on Saturday the Yankees and Mets made every single point I tried to drive home seem insignificant as they played one of the most thrilling regular season games I have ever seen. On national television no less.
Saturday was truly a great game, there’s no doubt about that. The fire that was behind each team in trying to win bragging rights for New York City with a raucous crowd cheering every pitch made for a truly electric atmosphere. Even if you aren’t a New Yorker, you could feel what was going on that day in Flushing.
I stand by my assertions, though. The weekend series at Shea has truly been enjoyable, even if my beloved Yankees come out on the losing end. What worries me is what looms ahead.
Interleague play is merely the stepping stone in making Major League Baseball completely unrecognizable. The game has undergone a couple of major structural changes in its history, the biggest being the addition of the League Championship Series in 1969. The LCS became a necessity after both leagues expanded from ten to twelve teams a piece by adding the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos in the NL and the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots – who became the Milwaukee Brewers the following season – in the AL. This marked quite a departure from the tradition of baseball, but has since proved to be a welcome addition to the season. The LCS started as a five game series up until 1985 when it was expanded to seven games.
The next major revision came in the restructuring of the American and National Leagues in 1995 from the two-division format into three: the East, West, and Central. The league’s expansion to twenty-eight teams left baseball in a dilemma: load up the East and West with seven team divisions or break the leagues into three separate divisions. The subsequent three-division split left the playoffs in shambles, requiring the addition of the wild card team and the Division Series. For the most part, the Division Series has produced some truly exciting games, the inaugural series between the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees quieting most nay-sayers, including myself. The downside was the lengthening of an already long season. The World Series, instead of being the first week of October, was coming dangerously close to running into Election Day.
Now, with the placement of Milwaukee Brewer’s owner Bud Selig as baseball’s commish, we could be facing another restructuring, one that would turn the game on its ear.
In one version of the proposed restructuring, baseball would be aligned according to regions. The American League would comprise the East Coast teams, the National League comprising the West Coast teams. That would mean fifteen of the thirty major league teams would be changing leagues:
The new alignment:
Boston Red Sox
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
Obviously, these are sweeping changes, changes a lot of the teams involved are not in favor of. The Mets have been a major factor in stalling the realignment process in their protests against joining the American League, saying that sharing opponents with the Yankees will dilute attendance. The same can be said for the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics or the Chicago Cubs and White Sox.
These are valid arguments, as baseball obviously doesn’t want to employ a structure that will effect the revenue of its teams, especially those like the Athletics who have been publicly struggling with finances. Likewise, the power of such large market teams as the Yankees and Mets will surely play a role in whether this situation comes to light.
But who cares about the owners? What about us, the fans?
Well, one question that would have an interesting answer would be interleague play. Without the regional rivalries that have provided the sparks in interleague play, would there be any reason to continue it? How many people are going to come out to see the Florida Marlins play the Milwaukee Brewers?
Interleague play would probably meet it’s demise if a major realignment took place, contradicting the main reason Major League Baseball claimed they were giving us interleague baseball to begin with: to show off the stars from around the league in arenas they wouldn’t normally play. With realignment in this manner and no interleague play, the Dodgers would never see Mike Piazza. The Pirates would never see Barry Bonds.
With realignment, this would become even worse. Placing the National League on the West Coast puts them almost entirely in a different time zone. Except for Saturdays and Sundays, the only time us East Coasters would ever see an NL game would be after ten o’clock, thereby alienating an entire region from baseball. How will baseball appeal to kids, the future of the game, when part of the country won’t be able to see half the league?
To solve that problem, baseball would have to have some kind of interleague play, possibly in the style of the NBA. This would draw many of the problems I addressed in my previous column, one being the continued unbalancing of the schedule. Plus, adding interleague games contradicts one of the benefits of regional realignment, which is less travel for teams and a possibly tighter schedule. It would be nice if baseball could start April 15th instead of the bitterly cold April 1st starts some fans in the north have had to endure.
The final question that comes into play is the designated hitter. National League cities would suddenly find themselves confronted with a different kind of baseball. Pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine who have thrived on the National League game would be faced with American League umpires. Edgar Martinez would have to learn to play first base or be traded by the Seattle Mariners. Realignment would cause sweeping changes to players in the league, a change most probably are unwilling to accept. Fifteen teams would be forced to take a long look at their rosters and make a lot of moves, in some cases trading local heroes like Martinez.
I think realignment has been Brewing for a while (Selig pun intended). The restructuring prior to the 1995 season was done with the knowledge that the league was in place for something larger. The Marlins and Rockies had been in place for one and a half seasons and the need for more teams to balance the leagues was already in discussion. It’s a shame, too, because not only has over-expansion diluted the pitching, it may eventually force baseball to change the leagues in a very drastic measure that could alienate everyone.
What’s the solution?
No More Expansion. I do not see the logic in allowing this league to grow when the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins have been flirting with relocating for a couple seasons. If it weren’t for the few fans that actually attend their games, I would say disband the teams, cut your losses, and let baseball become a little more competitive.
Leave the leagues alone. Even if the Twins and Expos stay in existence, there’s no reason to mess with something that really isn’t broken. I would like to see the schedules more balanced towards the divisions, but as long as interleague seemingly brings in more attendance, that will not happen.
If the Expos and Twins do disappear, some minor realignment could be in order. First, the Brewers could return to the AL, probably in the Central taking the place of the Twins. The Pirates could then return to the NL East, giving them hopefully a little more revenue from the Braves and the Mets. That would leave fourteen teams per league and even things out a bit.
All this may be for naught. Selig is going to push forward with a plan for realignment that may or may not resemble the one I’ve shown you here regardless of whether the fans want it or not. Let’s hope, for once, baseball thinks with their hearts and not their wallets.