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May 23, 2007
The Big Picture
Over the last two weeks we discussed the advantages of switching to five six-team divisions. Other options exist to accomplish our goals of less travel, meaningful division races, and interleague play. I'll present two this week.
The first requires the addition of two teams. I'd like to leave a discussion of the pros and cons of expansion to another time, and just deal with the divisions and the schedule. Since San Antonio and Las Vegas desire teams, for the purposes of this proposal the majors expand to those two cities. That puts the number of major league teams at thirty-two, which divides very nicely into four eight-team leagues. Let's call them the National, American, Federal, and Union Leagues, giving a nod to tradition and two defunct leagues. Each of these leagues gets further divided into two divisions (which can be named after players). The division winners in each league play against each other in the first round, then the four league winners are seeded by winning percentage for the second round and the World Series.
This arrangement lends itself to an easy schedule. The teams from the same division play each other twenty-two times, for a total of sixty-six games. They play the other division in their league twelve times each, forty eight games. They then play six games (a home and home) interleague, with the opposing league changing each year. That means fans will get to see every team at least once every three years.
This alignment results in eight division winners, an advantage over the current wild card system in my mind. One of the things I miss from the pre-1994 alignment is the tragedy of two great teams going head to head, with one of them losing out on the playoffs. We remember 1978 and 1993 and others races as much for the disappointment of the losing team as the joy of the winners. I'd like to bring that back. Also, every time a wild card team wins a World Series, someone whines about the first round being unfair to division champions. This eliminates the need to fix that problem.
As for dividing up the teams, my first instinct would be to put the sixteen original teams in the AL and the NL, but that does nothing to minimize travel. The only west coast team from the original American league is Oakland, for example. Still in the east at least AL and NL teams can stick together:
One of the criticisms of the alignment in the previous column concerned the placement of Minnesota and St. Louis. Readers wanted Minnesota and Milwaukee paired, and St. Louis and Kansas City in the same division. They were not concerned with the Cubs and Cardinals keeping their rivalry intact. The above divisions reflect that concern. Las Vegas and San Antonio use the DH, so that DH and non-DH teams balance out evenly. So every team in the AL uses the DH and none of the NL teams do. The FL has two DH and two non-DH teams in each division, making it somewhat more challenging. The UL splits the DH teams by division. So it would be possible to hold an all-DH or an all-pitchers-hit World Series.
The schedule looks something like this:
Now let's take this one more step and combine the six team division idea with the expansion idea. This idea calls for an additional four teams to bring the major league total to thirty six. For the sake of demonstrating the concept, I'll put teams in Indianapolis, Nashville, Charlotte and Brooklyn.
Willie Mays Division
Roger Clemens Division
Bob Gibson Division
Hank Greenberg Division
Babe Ruth Division
Hank Aaron Division
I decided to go with Indianapolis instead of Portland, Oregon. A seventh west coast team caused one team to travel a long way in two divisions, so this keeps travel down. (Something to think about in future expansions is how much the teams added impact travel.) Six division champions make the playoffs along with two wild cards, just like the current system.
Scheduling would work just like in the five-six team divisions, except that every team in a division can play all teams in another division at the same time. So, in a year in which the Ruth division played the Mays and Arron divisions, the season would play out:
The current division alignment and the resulting schedule result in a number of inequities. Major League Baseball can fix that with a radical change, abandoning the league structure and realigning into six-team divisions. When baseball decides to expand again, eight small divisions might also work quite well, and as they expand further, six-team divisions work again. The trick is not to be wedded to the current AL-NL structure. Now that all clubs are really under the auspices of Major League Baseball directly, realignments could provide a new dynamic to the game, which could also bring in more fans.