Is Common Sense Coming to Major League Baseball?

The report this week that Major League Baseball is considering realignment is music to my ears, and signals a possibility of the National Pastime returning to common sense.

It's always been my contention that divisions and even conferences create unfair situations for teams that are more successful than others and reward the mediocre ones just because they happen to play in a weak division. Take my beloved Seattle Seahawks, for example. Granted, I loved the fact that they made the NFL playoffs last year, but the stark reality of them becoming the first team with a losing record to play in the postseason was more of a chuckle factor than the hard evidence one needs to justify a team playing for a championship.

In the case of MLB, they're kicking around the idea of rebalancing the leagues and scrapping the division system. This, I say, could be the best news about baseball I've heard since they announced the Seattle Mariners as an expansion franchise for 1977. But, as with any change of this magnitude, there are a number of factors that pose a roadblock in the return to common sense.

First and foremost is the question of which National League team will switch to the American League. I've read that Houston is the most logical choice, primarily in that it would create a natural rivalry with the Texas Rangers.

While that would be nice, I tend to stand on the side of tradition. In my opinion, the team to go to the AL should be Milwaukee. Since the franchise moved from Seattle before the 1970 season, it has been an AL team — that is, until its move to the NL in 1998. For us old-timers, the old Brewers of the American League put together some great teams that had nearly a decade of glory. The "Brew Crew" days of Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper, and the rest were a great tribute to a franchise rising from the ashes of the Pilots' debacle. In fact, for me, it's a little weird to see them wear their throwback uniforms and be playing against a NL opponent.

Another important question is that of interleague play. I, for one, am not a staunch proponent of the notion, but neither am I vehemently opposed to it. I merely tolerate it because it does create some intriguing matchups. But because interleague play was "saved" with the Brewers' move to the NL in '98 to create unbalanced leagues, it might be in jeopardy with the creation of balanced leagues. Or the schedule might need to incorporate interleague play throughout the season rather than the couple weeks it occupies currently. My hope is that interleague play goes away if the divisions go away.

I suppose the final question this potential realignment poses is what it will do to the competitive balance of the leagues. Since the wild card was introduced to the postseason chase in 1995, 10 times has a division winner supplanted another team with a better record from making the playoffs. Of course, the fans of those teams are glad that their team made the playoffs (as alluded to above with my Seahawks reference), and the fans of the others are steamed that their "better" team didn't get a shot at the title. With the elimination of divisions, those teams more deserving (as some would argue) of a postseason berth would get it. I supposed that a viable compromise would be to keep the leagues as-is, but go back to the two-division alignment. However, I'd personally favor leagues sans divisions.

The bottom line, though, is that I am pleased that MLB is even considering the idea. It's a common sense approach from an organization that has made few decisions based on common sense in recent years. I'd love to see every major sports league consider this approach (I've always thought the NFL should scrap the conferences), although I doubt it will ever happen. But at least baseball could be an example of what the structure of a league should look like — and how to reward the teams that truly deserve a shot at the next level.

Comments and Conversation

June 13, 2011

Dan Berman:

Common sense? I thin two, 15-team leagues is nonsensical. Interleague play has destroyed the rivalry that was once the heartbeat of the All-Star Game and the World Series. Now we’ll see it very day. I vote no.

June 14, 2011

Anthony Brancato:

First, Adam: Interleague play cannot go away if there are two 15-team leagues (whether the divisions also go away or not), because of the odd number of teams in each league, unless you’re OK with each team having “byes,” probably four times a year (in some cases three teams in the same league might need to be idle at a particular time); I suppose you could have the season concomitantly revert to its traditional 154 games, but even then you’re looking at the season having to start at least two weeks earlier - and having every team wear shamrocks on their uniforms on Opening Day because it’s St. Patrick’s Day holds little appeal, for me at least.

On the positive side, the schedule would be simple because every team simply plays its 14 league rivals 11 times each under such a plan (as 14 X 11 = 154); but that means a drastic increase in the number of non-three-game series and even the possible return of regularly-scheduled doubleheaders - and try selling that to MLB’s powerful players’ union, who will need to sign on to it.

And now, Dan: The number of interleague games would not increase with two 15-team leagues - and depending on how the admittedly thorny issue of who plays who how many times is handled (do some same-league teams play each other 12 times and others 9 times to keep the vast majority of series at three games?), it may actually drop - and in the last 2-3 weeks of the season two “bad” teams from the previous season in each league can always be made to play each other in the one obligatory interleague series, so the effect on the pennant races (if one can even plausibly continue to use that term, should divisional play be in in fact abolished) would be infinitesimal.

June 14, 2011

Andrew Jones:

I agree on the fact that if a team has to be moved from NL to AL it should certainly be the Brewers. I think this should happen even with the current division system, allowing Milwaukee to join the AL Central and shipping Kansas City off to the West.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site