Last week, Jayson Stark of The Athletic posted an article in which he laid out several concepts or changes he expects to happen in Major League Baseball within the next decade. (Thanks, Jayson, for giving me at least a week’s worth of topics to write about!)
My feelings? Some of the things Stark wrote about will happen. Others? Maybe not so much. I’ve already written one article here on something Stark noted, the universal designated hitter. I thought I’d try to tackle some of the other things in Stark’s article, and I’ll begin today with MLB expansion and realignment, always a touchy subject. Expansion isn’t the touchy part — pretty much everyone figures MLB will eventually have 32 teams — but it’s the realignment that gets people all hot and bothered.
Here’s how Stark lays things out:
Suppose we were to find ourselves living in a world in which the Yankees and Mets actually played in the same division and the same league.
That could really happen, you know. In fact, this column is predicting that it’s going to happen in the next 10 years – as part of this seismic shift in the baseball universe:
Expansion to 32 teams.
Eight divisions of four teams each.
Two 16-team leagues.
Blurring the traditional lines between the American League and National League, or eliminating those leagues completely.
Stark notes that none of this is likely to happen until the situation with the Tampa Bay Rays is settled — whether they get a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, split their time with Montreal (a colossally dumb idea, in my view) or move full-time to Montreal or elsewhere. That can’t happen until 2028, because the Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field runs through 2027 and would cost a tremendous amount of money to break. So we’re likely not going to have any expansion for at least eight more years.
I’m actually on board with the first four things Stark mentions: expansion, eight divisions fo four, two 16-team leagues and geographical realignment.
It’s the “blurring” or “eliminating” or the American League and National League as they currently exist that I’m dead-set against.
Let me be clear. I am absolutely not against change, if change is good. Baseball is a constantly-changing game. Rules and strategies change all the time in the game we love. If a baseball fan from 1920 were suddenly to materialize at a ballgame in 2020, he or she would definitely recognize the game being played on the field — nine fielders, nine hitters, three outs per inning, four balls for a walk, three strikes for an out, etc., but would also note many differences.
But doing something like Stark mentions — the Mets and Yankees in the same division — not only tosses out 120+ years of history, but forces something that most people really don’t want. I can’t speak for fans in the other two-team markets (New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area), but I think I speak for most people in Chicago when I say that absolutely no one here wants to see (about) 18 Cubs/White Sox games a year.
I understand the reasoning behind the “let’s put the Mets/Yankees or Cubs/White Sox or Dodgers/Angels or Giants/Athletics in the same division” theory. It’s primarily to help cut down on travel costs. This is a reasonable thing to want to do; it not only cuts costs but would help player rest. Still, I’ll repeat that I believe no one wants more than 10 percent of the schedule played against an in-city rival.
For the purposes of my realignment scheme, I am going to assume that the Rays stay put in Tampa and that Montreal and Portland are the two expansion cities. There could be different expansion locations, but I would further assume that MLB would try to put one in the east and one in the west.
Here’s a good realignment which keeps geography close, preserves traditional rivalries and keeps most of the current N.L. and A.L. intact. This is a bit different than the ideas I put forth in the previous articles in this series, but I think this one gets the geography better:
N.L. East: Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates
N.L. Central: Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds
N.L. South: Braves, Marlins, Orioles, Rays
N.L. West: Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Padres
A.L. East: Blue Jays, Montreal, Red Sox, Yankees
A.L. Central: Indians, Tigers, Twins, White Sox
A.L. South: Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Royals
A.L. West: Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Portland
There would be a fair amount of league-swapping in this setup to help make the alignment geographically compact. The Rays and Orioles would become N.L. teams and the Rockies would switch to the A.L. Two of those three are expansion teams, though, with shorter histories in their current league, and the benefit here is that none of these divisions would have more than one hour’s difference between any of the cities, and five of the eight would be within a single time zone. (And yes, I know the “A.L. South” here only has two truly “southern” teams — the terminology is simply to be consistent with the N.L. alignment I’m proposing.)
Still, 14 of the current 15 N.L. teams would stay put in this scheme, and 13 of the current 15 A.L. clubs would remain in the “new” American League.
Both expansion teams — Montreal and Portland — would become A.L. teams. This would help create a new Canadian rivalry, Toronto vs. Montreal. Another in-state rivalry — Rays vs. Marlins — might help attendance in both places, and yet another old in-state rivalry (Phillies vs. Pirates) — would be renewed. Lastly, this alignment would preserve the following divisional rivalries: Cubs/Cardinals, Dodgers/Giants, Yankees/Red Sox. Those sorts of rivalries, as well as other current divisional rivalries such as White Sox/Twins, Dodgers/Padres, Nationals/Phillies, Cardinals/Brewers, Cubs/Brewers and Rangers/Astros, have meaning to fans.
Scheduling divisions like this is another story, and I’ll get to that in a future part of this series.
If realignment meant 18 (or so) Cubs/White Sox games every year...
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