Sunday, June 12, 2011
A little while ago, Dave and I touched on the rumors of Major League Baseball expanding the playoffs starting next year. Little did we know that's only part of what's being discussed between the MLB and the Players Association. Buster Olney of ESPN has discovered the following:
A simple form of realignment being seriously considered has been raised in the labor talks between Major League Baseball and the players' association, according to four sources: two leagues of 15 teams, rather than the current structure of 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League.I mentioned on Twitter that at first glance, I can't say that I'm opposed to this. Perhaps it's because of my slight obsessive compulsive tendencies, but having one league of 16 teams, and the other with only 14 has always seemed odd (not to mention there are divisions with either 4, 5, or 6 teams). I know there are good reasons why that's the way it is, but it still seems off.
The main argument against this move would be scheduling ("and of course baseball purity!" - Bob Costas). With an odd number of teams in each league, there would have to be at least one interleague series going on at all times. I don't mind that at all. Interleague play has already lost just about all of it's luster. Having it year round, instead of only the couple weeks in May and June which aren't celebrated anymore is more than okay. As Rob Neyer succinctly puts it:
Baseball won't be any less entertaining if the Astros switch to the American League. Baseball won't be any less entertaining if there's an interleague game every day of the season. Baseball won't be any less entertaining if the divisions are eliminated, with the top five teams in each league qualifying for the postseason tournament.The last sentence brings us to the next point supposedly being discussed. Rather than balancing out the leagues and divisions (15 teams per league, 5 divisions of 3 teams each), they would do away with divisions altogether and just have a 15 team league (I'd assume with a close-to, if not completely balanced schedule).
I'm actually wildly in favor of this, although realize that it's highly unlikely of coming to fruition. The divisions as they are now are pretty lopsided. Everyone knows the winner of the NL Central usually isn't great. Everyone knows the East has the AL's best two, sometimes three teams. You could argue it's cyclical but that's just making an excuse. A more balanced schedule would help, but you could never guarantee that the four or five best teams from each league will make the playoffs.
The main argument against this realignment that will be probably cited most is that the elimination of divisions hurts some of the great rivalries (Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals, Dodgers-Giants). I disagree. The rivalries have been around much longer than divisions and would survive fine without them. With the wild card and expanded playoffs, winning your division has become less important. Regular season Yankees-Red Sox matchups have little significance now because they'll probably both be in the playoffs. Plus, if they played only 10-12 times per year, instead of the current 18, it just may make those games more intriguing. Rivalries aren't truly formed in the regular season anyway. All great rivalry moments come from the postseason or with the postseason on the line.
Alas, all these suggestions I'd still say are a long shot to occur, mainly because getting a team to switch leagues is a tough proposition. There's also still an amazingly huge population of baseball purists that think anything like this will ruin the game. I suspect for now, it will have to remain an intriguing idea.