Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's Talk Baseball: A Bold Proposal

Back in November, I posted a piece about parity in sports entitled "Any Given Year, Any Given Team". I suggested the possibility of baseball adopting a European style promotion/relegation system. The advantage that I put forth is that baseball could drop all pretense of the smaller market teams posing a meaningful threat to the big boys. Through promotion/relegation, you could expand the narrative possibilities for the lesser teams by giving them something meaningful to play for late in the season.

Now, I do know this will never actually happen. The smaller market teams would have to agree to it and they have too much to lose. Beyond that, I know that it would mess with scheduling, farm systems, television contracts and numerous other issues. But for the sake of discussion, why not imagine that alternate universe and how it might change the way we follow the game?

We might as well get the painful part out of the way first. There are currently 30 major league baseball teams, most easily split into a 16-team First Division and a 14-team Second Division. The 16 best teams from 2009 regular season, regardless of league affiliation would be:

1. Yankees
2. Angels
3. Red Sox
4. Dodgers
5. Phillies
6. Rockies
7. Cardinals
8. Giants
9. Marlins
10. Rangers
11. Twins
12. Braves
13. Tigers
14. Mariners
15. Rays
16. Cubs

The bottom 14 would comprise the Second Division:

1. Brewers
2. White Sox
3. Reds
4. A's
5. Padres
6. Blue Jays
7. Astros
8. Diamondbacks
9. Mets
10. Indians
11. Royals
12. Orioles
13. Pirates
14. Nationals

Already, we see some advantages. Some regional rivalries are better facilitated by this arrangement: Angels/Dodgers, Marlins/Rays, Brewers/White Sox, Reds/Indians and Orioles/Nationals. Granted, a few are lost, namely Dodgers/Padres and Phillies/Pirates. (I'm not counting inter-league rivalries such as Yankees/Mets as the inter-league schedule presents its own host of problems)

This system would also allow for a more balanced schedule. Each First Division team could play each of the other teams an equal number of times. I think a 150-game season would make most sense: 10 games against each opponent, split evenly between home and away. The top 8 teams in the First Division would make the playoffs. The bottom 3 would be relegated to the Second Division the following year. The top 2 teams in the Second Divison would automatically be promoted to the First Division in 2011. The next 4 would have a playoff to determine the third promotion.

Of course, expanding to tiered leagues would also open the possibility of adding more teams. The top two divisions in English soccer, for instance, have 20 teams each. So, baseball's First Division could extend down to the A's and then new cities could fill out the Second Division. Portland, San Antonio, Las Vegas and San Juan, Puerto Rico would all be attractive candidates.

But let's leave the leagues as I have set above and see how they play out. I'll assume that each team's performance would more or less mirror its actual performance this year. I'll check in every few weeks or so to see how everything shapes up. My hypothesis is that this structure would improve the narrative for the mid-range teams. We shall find out. If one of my Second Division teams wins the World Series, I'll declare the experiment a failure but that seems highly unlikely.

Note: I was planning to post this later in the month but a Tom Verducci column on SI.com today suggested the possibility of floating realignment. I am not such a fan of that idea so I thought I would get in on the discussion.


  1. Hmmm....as a fan of a team that almost always ends up in the playoff picture, I think I can understand how this would allow some of you fans for "other" teams feel some of that excitement...I'll read the SI article. I look forward to seeing how this might unfold this year.

    PS Is there REALLY a Pirates/Phillies rivalry?!?! I'll check in with Schmid on that one...

  2. I would vote for "purifying" the leagues first. No interleague play. Restore a certain amount of National League/American League pride and rivalry.

    A realignment might help to foster divisions that actually reside in relative proximity. I can't think of an example except the inclusion of Tampa in the AL East division that resides completely in the northeastern part of the continent. It doesn't make sense to me.

    That's all I got for now.