Paul Sullivan of the Tribune posted a column Tuesday in which he longed to see days that are long past:
Memories of Ron Santo, Gil Hodges and the black cat are rekindled, along with the names of obscure players such as Don Young, Jimmy Qualls and Al Weis.
Well, not really, Paul. I’m of that “certain age” and I don’t want to remember those times. They’re long past, dead and buried, especially after the Cubs won the World Series. And in reality, the rivalry with the Mets ended after 1993, when the leagues split up into three divisions and the Cubs and Mets were placed in different divisions.
Sullivan further laments the loss of more intraleague games in exchange for the interleague schedule. Part of the reason more interleague games are scheduled now are the 15-team leagues, which necessitate year-round interleague play and cause weird schedule moments, such as the Cubs’ goofy homestand in early July that was originally a two-game set against the Rays and a three-game series with the Pirates (now that homestand is six games with a rainout makeup vs. the Brewers). Or the schedule this month, which has them going from Chicago to New York to Pittsburgh to Chicago to Miami to Washington in a 16-day span.
Teams now play 76 games within their own divisions and 20 interleague games. That leaves 66 games to be split among their other 10 league rivals, which doesn’t split up evenly. Thus teams will play some of those clubs seven times and others six times a year. In either case that means only one trip to each league city outside the team’s own division.
This is fine with me. I don’t need 18 games every year against the Mets anymore, or heaven forbid, that many against the White Sox, which we nearly got after 1997 according to Sullivan:
Commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study realignment, following a heated battle over whether the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks would play in the National or American League.
"It's time to take a very serious look about realignment and make the adjustments necessary," Selig said.
The Cubs and White Sox in the same division?
It was heresy to traditionalists but progressive thinking to others.
"Off the top of my head, I don't like it," then-Cubs President Andy MacPhail said. "I'm too much of a traditionalist to be in favor of a massive overhaul."
Across town, Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had a differing viewpoint, saying he preferred the Cubs and Sox in the same league.
"I'd love to play the Cubs all year long," he said.
I remember that “radical realignment” idea well. It was a bad one then — would you really want the Cubs and Sox in the same division? — and it would be a bad idea now. Even the four games the Cubs and Sox play every year (and that’s six games every third year) is too many, in my view. I think many in Chicago are tired of the Cubs/Sox thing and would just as soon have one three-game series a year, alternating between the two parks. Sullivan goes on:
But that’s really not the tradeoff, is it? You might get Cubs/Yankees or Cubs/Red Sox (as we have had this year) instead of Cubs/Mets, and that’s certainly more appealing. And Sox/Padres isn’t necessarily the tradeoff for Sox/Yankees; you might get Sox/Dodgers or Sox/Cardinals, which could draw extra fans.
The schedule is a kludge because of the odd number of teams in leagues, which forces at least one team to start and/or finish against a team in the other league. The Cubs did that last year when they opened in Anaheim against the Angels. In fact, many Cubs fans thought that was interesting enough to make the trip to southern California to see a team the Cubs play in their park only once every six years.
One day, once the stadium situations in Tampa and Oakland are resolved, MLB is likely going to expand to 16 teams in each league. (Note, I don’t intend for this to get bogged down in a long discussion about expansion, just that it very well could happen.) Presuming that does happen, you’d wind up with four divisions of four in each league and scheduling suddenly becomes much easier.
But even then, I’d prefer to see teams play most of their games within their own division. That creates better rivalries. Here’s one way you could create a 162-game schedule with 16-team leagues with four divisions of four:
18 games vs. everyone in your division = 54
8 games vs. half the other teams in your league = 48
6 games vs. the other half of teams in your league = 36
One three-game series vs. eight teams in the other league = 24
This would also have the advantage of having every team play 23 of the other 31 teams every year, something that doesn’t happen now. (Maximum number of teams any single team faces with the current schedule: 20 of 29.)
But the rivalry with the Mets? For the regular season, done and gone, decades ago.
The Cubs still owe them one in the postseason for that 2015 sweep, though.