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May 16, 2007
The Big Picture
The previous column on rearranging the majors into five six-team divisions elicited many favorable comments and a number of questions and suggestions. The main questions concerned how to arrange the divisions and how to schedule the season. This article addresses those issues.
How do we arrange the thirty current teams into five divisions? In my opinion, the divisions should accomplish two things:
One line from the previous column was meant more as a funny aside, but a number of people commented on it:
If six games a season between the Yankees and Mets are good, eighteen should be great!
I'm not sure that's true. Playing each other less often might lead to more demand, so even if the two teams are performing poorly in a season, the two stadiums will probably sell out. Let's start out west however, where fewer choices exist:
Willie Mays Division
These teams get 126 games in their native time zone! I'm not crazy about the LA and Bay Area rivalries in the same division, but if you substitute Colorado and Arizona for Oakland and LAnaheim, you make another division travel long distances. All six West Coast teams in one division appears to be the best solution.
George Brett Division
This is the one division that needs to travel a lot, but whatever teams play Arizona and Colorado are going to fly long distances. St. Louis might be a better choice than Minnesota for distance, but keeping the Cubs and Cardinals together trumps travel in this case.
Bob Gibson Division
Again, I'm not sure I really like the Cubs and White Sox in the same division, but there's not much travel time here at all. Detroit-Toronto is a perfect local rivalry as well.
Babe Ruth Division
Ruth ties in with four of the teams, having played in Baltimore, Boston, and New York. The last multi-homer game of his career took place in Pittsburgh. The teams in this division form two nice triangles as well, one east, one west.
Hank Aaron Division
This division keeps the NL East intact and adds Tampa Bay.
Now, these divisional alignments aren't set in stone. For example, you could swap the three western teams from the Ruth into the Aaron, and the three northern teams from the Aaron into the Ruth, and that works well also. Or you could trade the White Sox and Tigers to the Ruth for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to break up the Chicago teams.
This five-division structure does raise the question of how to pick an All-Star team. With interleague play, though, the All-Star game has already lost much of its luster. So, in alternate years divide the teams either north-south or east-west and pick teams that way. We can also rid ourselves of the All-Star game conferring home field advantage--instead, seed the teams according to winning percentage, with the three wild cards getting the lowest three seeds. Then re-seed after every round.
The schedule proved to be a bit of a challenge. One reader pointed out that with five divisions, two divisions would always need to be involved in inter-division play. Not so--each division will play two other divisions during the season, so we split the teams so half are playing one division and half are battling the other. Let's call the teams in a division 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Division X is playing divisions Y and Z in a particular season. So during the inter-division session, X1, X2, and X3 would play Y1, Y2, and Y3 first; X4, X5, and X6 plays Z1, Z2, and Z3. Then X1, X2, and X3 play Y4, Y5, and Y6, while X4, X5, and X6 play the corresponding Z teams. For the second half of the inter-league period, the matchups are switched, with X1, X2 and X3 playing the Z teams, and X4, X5, and X6 playing the Y teams. This allows the alternating schedule that goes intra-inter-intra-inter-intra.
Fitting this into the current schedule parameters proves tougher. It requires 162 games take place in twenty six weeks, or one hundred eighty two days. Teams must get a scheduled day off every two weeks, there should be a three-day All-Star break in the middle of the season, and finally, you don't break up weekend series. That is, a four-game weekend series should start on Thursday, and a three-game weekend series should start on Friday.
It can be done. Click here to download an excel spreadsheet with an example schedule. There are a few two-game series, but only intra-division. And, with baseball now starting the World Series on Wednesday, it can afford to extend the regular season two or three days, which would make scheduling even easier.
Five six-team divisions offer a number of advantages. Reduced travel saves the clubs money and saves energy as well. Intra-division play brings every team to a park two out of every four seasons. Teams spread out their intra-division competition evenly over the season, unlike now when you might play one division opponent three series in the first two months and not see another until June. All intra-division opponents play each other exclusively over the last month of the season, adding to the division race excitement. Finally, this alignment fits nicely into the current scheduling parameters.
I like it, but as always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.