Will realignment save baseball?

The other day, I read an interesting article on Baseball America. It was a proposal for a realignment of Major League Baseball, possibly caused by the expansion with two teams.

The article opted a realignment by geographical divisions. This may be a shocker for the baseball purists among us. The proposed realignment would dissolve the American League and the National League.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Major League Baseball

East: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington.

North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, both New York franchises and Toronto.

Midwest: Both Chicago franchises, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas.

West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

Even though Cincinnati would be a better fit in the North division, the proposed realignment would make sense. According to the article, the given divisions would save the clubs a lot of money on travel costs. And as for the rivalries, the Boston-New York and the St. Louis-Chicago rivalries would stay intact and so would the Los Angeles-San Francisco rivalry. With the addition of a Montreal franchise, a nice Canadian rivalry could grow. Those who claim Montreal could not support an MLB club are wrong. Before the 1994 player strike, the team drew pretty well. After the strike, the fans stayed away and even more after Jeffrey Loria took over as an owner. He traded his best players away so he would field crappy teams to scare the fans away as proof that he needed a new ballpark.

But with the Tampa Bay Rays stadium issue not solved yet (if it ever will), expansion is out of the question according to commissioner Rob Manfred. And don’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay franchise will move to Montreal if its search for a new ballpark will take too long.

There is another odd thing in this proposed realignment. The West division has a Portland franchise in it. Why Portland? Through the decades, the city was home to four AAA teams. Three times the teams left the city because they did not draw too well. The last time the team left the city was because the owner wanted to field a soccer team in the ballpark and could not use a baseball team next to it. But also in 2010, the last season of the Beavers in Portland, the team drew the least fans of the Pacific Coast League with 294,332 while other teams drew well above 300,000. So if a city could not support an AAA team four times, how will it ever support an MLB team?

Las Vegas will be a better option instead of Portland in my opinion. Since 2005 the local club, the 51s, has been drawing a steady plus 300,000 fans per season. MLB used to be wary about landing a team in Las Vegas because of the gambling, but with the NHL having a team there already and the NFL will have a team in Las Vegas with the Raiders soon, gambling should no longer be an excuse. There may be one bump in the road here.
The 51s will head to a new stadium in nearby Summerlin in 2019. This facility will cost a sloppy $60 million. If MLB decides to move to Las Vegas, this will be a terrible waste of money. But…. As long as nobody applies for a Las Vegas MLB franchise, Las Vegas will stay an AAA city.

But there is more to this realignment proposal. Also, the number of games will be adapted in favor of the playoffs.

  • A 156-game schedule would include 24 total games against the eight teams in each of the three other divisions—three games against each opponent.
  • The schedule would include 12 games—six home and six road—against each of the seven divisional opponents.
  •  The format would provide for an off day every week (such as every Monday or Thursday) and would fit into the same footprint for beginning and ending as the 2018 schedule. The season could start on a weekend, which would offset only one three-game series played the week of the All-Star Game.
  • The 156-game schedule would reduce each team’s slate by six games, but revenue could be made up by a major reduction in travel costs.
  • Fan interest could be maintained by allowing for the four first-place teams in each division to advance to the postseason and having play-in games against the eight remaining teams with the best records.
  • The winners of the four wild-card games would advance to the Division Series, which would feature a wild card team against each division champion.
  • Those four winners would advance to the Championship Series, and the winners of that round would meet in the World Series.
  • That would add a postseason product to the broadcast packages and provide postseason hope for 12 of the 32 franchises, which could boost attendance in September, again offsetting any impact from the season being six games shorter.
  • With a day off every week, there would be a regular rest routine, much like prior to expansion when teams would often play Sunday doubleheaders and Monday would be off. It could be used for travel so teams did not have to make long flights, arriving in cities at 3 a.m. or later.
  • And the schedule would drastically reduce travel, while keeping teams in their time zones, except for the Rockies and Twins. They, however, would be playing teams in a time zone an hour earlier, which is less demanding than an hour later and also provides increased TV ratings because of prime time viewing. The other intra-division teams would have to travel to Colorado or Minnesota just six games per year.
  • All teams would open the season with an inter-division series, and all out-of-division road trips would be two-city trips.

The proposed schedule would solve the sometimes brutal traveling schedules.

With four extra teams clinching a wild card, playoffs can be extended which is more exciting in my humble opinion. And going from a 162 game schedule to a 156 game schedule will not be the end of the world for the owners. It will cost them revenue of only three home games.

But the only way money will be saved is with the number of games played vs divisional rivals. The number of games vs teams from other divisions will not change.

The game itself will be affected by the proposed realignment as well. With American League teams and National League teams put together in one division, the designated hitter rule will be widely accepted, something the National League is still mulling on. So no more interleague games in NL stadiums with NL rules. There will be less bunting and for sure there will be less tactical managing like NL managers used to do with the use of their pitchers in the lineup.

Will this proposal save Major League Baseball? I doubt it, even though I think it is interesting. I am not too fond of abolishing the AL and NL but if that is what it takes to save our beautiful game, so be it. But with generations that have less patience to watch a game and with MLB losing ground to other sports which are played by the clock, something needs to be done regarding the length of the games too. Perhaps a combination of the proposal and time measures may save baseball from losing ground.

But with this proposal not being made by some MLB official, it is very unlikely it will ever take off. On the other hand, a league that takes itself seriously should look at proposals from outside as well.

 

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