by Scott Silversten
No sport is slower to embrace change than baseball, mostly because the “purists” that surround the game shout loudly from rooftops whenever a new idea is even mentioned for discussion. The designated hitter, artificial turf, three divisions, the wild card...all were labeled as a step towards the end of civilization.
However, with the exception of artificial turf, most of the changes throughout baseball’s history have only made the game more interesting.
Thus, over a decade after the three-division format was going to mark the end of the "pennant race," it’s time for another major shakeup that will surely rock the sport’s foundation.
There are two inherent problems it the structure of Major League Baseball in 2006. The first is the large disparity between big- and small-market teams. Honestly, unless something changes, will the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ever have a chance to play in October?
The second problem is the wild card format. In itself, the wild card has been a tremendous addition to baseball. Its one flaw is that the schedules of teams competing for that fourth playoff spot in each league vary immensely. An unbalanced schedule ensures a lot of clashes between big-time rivals, but it also means that at the end of each season, there will always be wild card contenders that had favorable or unfavorable schedules.
So without further adieu, I present a format that MLB should quickly embrace. But unless you are David Blaine, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
In order to make this format work, baseball needs to expand by two teams to reach a total of 32. Yes, we’ve all heard the complaints that there is not enough pitching already. Truthfully, adding 20 pitchers to major league rosters is a negligible change. Even trained eyes won’t be able to notice the difference.
The obviously candidate cities for expansion include San Antonio, Indianapolis, Columbus, San Jose and Charlotte. Let’s eliminate San Jose (it’s too close to Oakland and San Francisco) and also delete Charlotte (there are enough east coast teams already). So let’s award the expansion teams to San Antonio and Indianapolis.
Three factors must be considered under the realignment plan.
1. Keeping rivals together. The Yankees and Red Sox must stay within the same division. The same goes for teams such as the Cardinals and Cubs, and the Dodgers and Giants.
2. Few teams as possible should be forced to switch leagues, although it will be necessary in some cases.
3. Big market vs. small market. Let’s give teams such as the Devil Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals a chance by grouping them with teams whose payroll isn’t $150 million higher than their own.
Below is a breakdown of a new eight-division format …
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
San Antonio (Expansion)
Los Angeles Angels
New York Mets
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
As you will notice, only the Devil Rays, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks were forced to switch leagues. Texas switches in order to compete in a division with in-state rival Houston, while the choice to move to the American League came down to Arizona over Colorado simply because fans would grow old watching AL games at Coors Field.
This new format does two things. First, it eliminates the need for a wild card. Secondly, it gives many more teams a chance to compete. Take a look … the divisions are quite balanced. In any given season, it’s easy to imagine any team finishing first.
Now it is time for the schedule. Each team would play 14 games against its three division rivals for a total of 42. Each team would play six games against the other 12 teams in its league for a total of 72. And each team would play three games against the 16 teams in the other league for a total of 48.
Total = 162
As for the postseason, matchups and home-field advantage would be determined on a rotating basis. While it is true that a team wrapping up a division early would have little to play for throughout the remainder of the regular season, it’s going to prove quite difficult for teams to run away from their competitors in this format because of the balance of each division.
It’s long been said about baseball that the postseason is a crapshoot and in a short series, any team has a chance. That would be the beauty of this new format. In addition, the postseason would often produce "David vs. Goliath" encounters.
Small markets would always be represented in the postseason, with spots reserved for champions of the NL Central and AL Midwest divisions. Not only would interest be heightened in the respective cities, but the champions of those divisions would likely become the "Cinderella" of the postseason, similar to the way small schools are embraced nationally during basketball’s NCAA Tournament.
There is only one thing better than this plan, and that is listening to baseball traditionalists explain why we cannot mess with the wild card!Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday