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Even more thoughts about MLB expansion and realignment

Would you really want the Cubs and White Sox in the same division?

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Al Yellon

You know, I wrote on this topic only a couple of weeks ago and usually I want to let some time go by before doing it again, but after reading this article by Jim Bowden of The Athletic, I thought it was time to weigh in again.

Notwithstanding the fact that Bowden had to resign in disgrace as general manager of the Nationals because of a federal investigation into skimming amateur bonus money (and no, I am not making that up, you can read about it here), many of his ideas since he branched out into baseball broadcasting and writing can generously be termed “weird.”

Bowden’s article about realignment in The Athletic, as do many similar articles, bleats about “geographic rivalries” in essentially blowing up the current league structure.

If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic, the publication helpfully tweeted out Bowden’s proposal here:

The thing is, we already have most of such a geographic alignment in place and could use the current structure and current rivalries to make a much better eight-division setup. You know, like the one I proposed in my article a couple of weeks ago:

AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles
AL South: Rays, Astros, Rangers, Royals
AL Central: White Sox, Tigers, Guardians, Twins
AL West: Mariners, A’s, Angels, Las Vegas

NL East: Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates
NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies
NL South: Braves, Marlins, Reds, Nashville
NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks

None of these divisions has more than two time zones (and four of them are in a single time zone) and only a couple of the divisional rivals would have more than about a two-hour flight to each other’s city (and most of the flights would be shorter).

The alignment above makes the following assumptions:

  • The stadium situations for the Rays and A’s are solved. In this case I am assuming the A’s are staying in Oakland and a Las Vegas team joins MLB as an expansion squad, but if the A’s can’t figure out a way to stay in Oakland and move to Vegas, a team in Portland, Oregon could be added as an expansion team and this geographic split would still be valid.
  • The other expansion team in this scenario is granted to Nashville. If, for example, Montreal would be the expansion team, it could be placed in the AL East and the Orioles could move to the NL South to keep the divisions geographically compact.

Apart from the possible move of the Orioles noted above, in my proposal no teams would switch leagues, you’d still have a lot of the current league structure maintained and also maintain several important existing rivalries (Cubs/Cardinals, Yankees/Red Sox, Dodgers/Giants). Bowden’s structure eliminates Cubs/Cardinals and Dodgers/Giants and I don’t understand that at all. Why? Just so the Cubs and White Sox can play in the same division? Don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate the idea of the Cubs and White Sox playing a dozen or more games a year. Four is more than enough.

Bowden claims:

Think about what MLB would gain. Leaning into geographic rivalries would likely increase attendance and excitement in the regions where each team is located.

I doubt this would happen. You can’t force rivalries like this; such things generally come about organically. Let me show you how with a bit of history.

In the early years of the 20th Century, the Cubs’ biggest rival was... the Giants. Yes, that’s right, largely because of the “largest city in the US” vs. “the second-largest city in the US.” A Cubs/Cardinals rivalry didn’t exist back then, primarily because the Cardinals were a pretty bad team until the mid-1920s. Meanwhile, in the first four decades or so of the World Series era, the Cubs and Giants combined for 22 NL pennants. They were generally considered to be the top teams of the league and bitter rivals.

That faded away after the Cubs’ decline following 1945 and then the Giants’ move to San Francisco in 1958.

In the 1960s, the Cubs and Cardinals began a rivalry that continues to this day, even though the teams have at times not been playoff contenders simultaneously. But playing in the same division has kept that rivalry going. Personally, I’m sad that the Cubs and Cardinals are playing only 13 times this year instead of 19.

The point here: You can’t force a rivalry on a team just by placing them in the same division. Playing more Cubs/White Sox games wouldn’t necessarily mean increased “attendance and excitement,” as Bowden claims. I’m not sure how people in New York would feel about the Mets and Yankees sharing a division, or if southern California folks would care about having a dozen or more Angels/Dodgers games every year, but you can count me as someone who absolutely, positively does not want more Cubs/White Sox games.

When MLB expands, yes, there will be some need for realignment of teams and divisions. It happened in 1969 when leagues split into two divisions for the first time. It happened again in 1994 when, after the NL added the Rockies and Marlins in 1993, it was decided that three divisions and a wild-card team would be the structure, and yet again in 2013 when MLB chose to change the then-16 team NL and 14-team AL into two 15-team leagues with three divisions of five clubs each with interleague play year-round. All of these changes met with some opposition at the time they happened, but all were eventually accepted.

The difference between those and Bowden’s proposal is that the existing league structures were essentially kept, with the exception of the Brewers moving from AL to NL (1998) and the Astros from NL to AL (2013). Those were minor changes that have also been pretty well accepted.

The divisions I’ve proposed above would be geographically compact and preserve important rivalries as well as (generally) keeping the AL and NL format. Why toss away 100+ years of history for... reasons?

Baseball has changed much over its history, and will undoubtedly change again. But blowing things up just because they can doesn’t make sense to me.

Poll

If the leagues realign, would you want the Cubs and White Sox in the same division playing a dozen or more times a year?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Yes
    (78 votes)
  • 75%
    No
    (538 votes)
  • 12%
    Don’t care
    (92 votes)
708 votes total Vote Now