Monday, June 20, 2011

Rieber Column on MLB realignment

Bud Selig's reign as baseball commissioner has brought us -- for better or worse -- interleague play, the wild card, the World Baseball Classic and instant replay.
Now it seems a near-certainty that a second wild card will be added in each league and that some sort of modest realignment will take place in time for the 2012 season.
Realignment, as first suggested, would seem to be as simple as moving the Houston Astros into the American League West.
While we appreciate most of Selig's innovations, we'd like to see baseball go deeper with realignment.
A lot deeper. Like a 500-foot home run.
It's time to say goodbye to the American and National Leagues. It's time to abandon a structure that was established in 1903 and serves no purpose today except to prop up memories and record books with a bunch of dusty, useless numbers.
What baseball needs to do is realign geographically. Learn the positive lessons of interleague play -- that fans like to see teams play against their neighbors from not just the same city, but also from just down the road.
It's not only the two-team cities (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) that would benefit. It's regions that have teams a short drive or quick flight apart and could develop rivalries that would grab hold of fans' attentions for generations to come.
Why should the Phillies, for example, face the Mets 18 times a year but face the Yankees only every so often during interleague play? Here's why: Because the American League came in as an upstart to the established National League in 1903 and the NL titans didn't want to play them during the season.
(Yes, that's the reason. Because we've always done it that way.)
Wouldn't Mets fans love the chance to try to score tickets for a Mets-Red Sox game at Fenway Park every year? Why don't Cincinnati and Cleveland or Kansas City and St. Louis get to fight each other for a division crown? Wouldn't the Giants and A's be able to stir up a nice, groovy Northern California rivalry if they were in the same division?
Wouldn't baseball make more money?
The first place we saw this idea during the current debate was on, where former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden posted a realignment scheme on his blog. We liked it so much that we copied it here with just some minor tweaks (see chart).
"I just wanted to put it out there: Has the time come where we look at the two leagues and interleague play?" Bowden, who also co-hosts the "Inside Pitch" show on Siruis/XM radio, said in a telephone interview.
"Really, we've eradicated the American and National Leagues," he said. "We're really just Major League Baseball right now. And the question comes: Is there a better way to move forward? If we're going to talk about one team moving from one league to another, is it time to take a deep breath and say, 'Would it make more sense at this point to geographically align and get less travel and a better schedule and have one rule instead of a DH and non-DH?' Is it the time?"
Selig would say it's not time because he knows it would be too much to do in one collective-bargaining season. But MLB's current thought of creating two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions by 2012 is going to have unintended consequences that we hope will lead to more radical changes down the road:
Under one plan MLB is considering for 2012, teams would play 72 games in their division, 60 games against the 10 other teams in their league and 30 interleague games. An interleague game would be required nearly every day because of the uneven number of clubs in each league.
The howling from AL clubs about losing their DH 15 times a season instead of the current nine will only get louder and could lead to both leagues finally adopting or abandoning the DH.
Once that happens, there will be no difference between the leagues. And no reason to keep them around.

Atlantic Division
Yankees, Mets,Blue Jays, Phillies, Red Sox

Southeast Division
Braves, Marlins, Nats, Orioles, Rays

Central Division
Indians, Pirates, Reds, Tigers, Twins

Midwest Div
Brewers, Cards, Cubs, Royals, White Sox

Western Div
Astros, D'Backs, Mariners, Rangers, Rockies

Pacific Div
Angles, A's, Giants, Dodgers, Padres

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