Monday, May 26, 2008

Fixing baseball

If I were commissioner for a day, and by "commissioner" I mean the position in these hypothetical questions that has absolute power and can write decrees that will take effect permanently even after I leave office (because really, if that weren't the case, then how dumb does the question become?), this is what I would do.

I would fix scheduling.

Yes, scheduling. Ignore the DH for now, skip the idiocy that is homefield advantage in the World Series (novel idea: do what every other sport does and decide it by the record of the competing teams), and focus on baseball's main problems.

That's right, problems. I can kill two large birds with one well-placed stone.

The first problem is unfair scheduling. Most franchises realize it and very few columnists seem to understand it (Google "unfair baseball schedule" and see what happens). The idiots who figured that three-division teams would be a good idea didn't bother to consider the problems with an uneven number of teams, either within or between divisions. (If it's a 24- or 36-team organization, you're fine. You need the same number of teams in each division for fairness and an even number of teams in each league for scheduling.) We know wild-card competitors won't play the same schedules, but when division rivals don't play similar schedules, there's a problem. (Look back at the 28-team NFL, when a fifth-place team would make a run at a division title the next season, and you'll see what I mean.)

The second problem is unbalanced leagues. Of course, with 30 teams, you have to have unbalanced leagues. 15 and 15 means interleague play all season long, and no one's dumb enough to buy into that. No, really, not even Bud.

So here's how to fix it.

Expand to 32 teams. I know, I'm not really a proponent of expansion, but we need to divide by 4 (you see where this is going?) and if you think you are going to contract by 2, good luck with that.

Besides, there are population areas that could probably sustain major-league teams no worse than, say, Miami does. The two largest MSAs without teams are Portland (2.1 million) and San Antonio (just under 2 million). Both already support major-league teams in other sports and do so rather well (except when the Blazers' owners are total morons).

Note that the greater Montreal area has 3.6 million people and the Vancouver area has 2.25 million people. From a population perspective, these would naturally be the expansion markets you'd want; as a bonus, you'd have three Canadian teams in the American League (ha ha, joke's on us) and Seattle would finally have a local rival. (Well, they'd have that with Portland as well, but anyway ...) Montreal did sustain a baseball team, just not one run by a guy who has no idea how to do it. Funny how the same thing's happening in Miami. Think MLB realizes Loria's a franchise-wrecking jackass? Nope, me either.

Anyway, we'll look at both concepts.

Realign into four eight-team divisions. Yep, we're getting rid of the Central divisions. It doesn't work now and it gets into the stupid wild-card thing.

How do we do this? Well, we go back to the old-school alignment from 1993, but keep teams in the leagues where they are now, and add the two expansion teams to the AL. We will have to shuffle teams around, of course, to get to eight per division ...

(Sorry, but I'm linking to my Google doc. Hand-typing HTML tables isn't my thing.)

So take a look at my solutions and then follow along.

Option A: US expansion.
  1. The two new teams are Western teams, so they go to the AL West.
  2. The easternmost team in the West, Chicago, moves to the East.
  3. As in the real-life three-division alignment, Chicago and St. Louis move out of the East and Atlanta and Cincinnati move into the East.

The AL was pretty much set anyway, and Chicago could play in either division (and will, as you'll see below). In the NL, we keep geography in mind, moving the Reds and Braves where they belong. (St. Louis has to play in the West, and it will be easier to convince them if the Cubs move as well.)

Option B: Canadian expansion.
  1. The two new teams are on opposite sides of Canada, so they fit perfectly into the existing seven-team divisions.
  2. Again, the NL realigns by switching Chicago and St. Louis with Atlanta and Cincinnati.

One benefit of this option is that Montreal and Toronto are now divisional rivals, and if you're a hockey fan, you now have five of the Original Six cities represented in the AL East. (Chicago really does belong in the West here.) Vancouver fits geographically with Seattle, and the NL realignment keeps teams separately fairly well between east and west.

Now, the final touch:
End interleague play. It's a joke anyway. Sure, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago fans love it, but really, aside from those rivalries, nothing else really has the same ring to it, and we don't need any more Detroit-Arizona games.

Simple, regular scheduling. Fourteen games against each divisional opponent, eight games against each opponent in the other division. Divisional play dominates the schedule again, and everyone in the division has the same schedule.

You really should take just the division winners in this scenario. I suppose you could take the two next-best records if you wanted, but that's up to you.

Will it ever happen? Only if you're playing Out Of The Park. In the real world, no chance in hell. MLB doesn't do intelligent things. Not any more.

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