A NEW (OLD) BALLGAME
Word through the pepper line says that Major League Baseball may be expanding. I’m a Senior Circuit, hit-and-run, steal home and don’t-step-on-the-foul-line baseball fan, so any change to our pastime makes me shudder. However, I understand that our game is losing fans, that the world has grown bigger since the last expansion and that a 32 team league would not only bring new fans to the game but also make things a bit more neat and tidy overall (and don’t you know, baseball fans like their numbers neat and tidy).
I saw a proposal where this new 32 team style of baseball would do away with the National and American leagues to make two designated hitting conferences with no divisions and it gave me a heart attack that subsequently killed me. Once I was buried I rolled over twice in my grave while cussing the DH, but luckily Doc Ellis was there underground carrying a gold little pouch with some bennies to revive me.
So, alive again and rooting for pitchers that hit and a seventh inning stretch where they play Take Me Out To The Ballgame, I came up with a solution. This solution was driven by the three factors listed below, in order of importance.
Keep the National and American Leagues separate and avoid swapping teams into new leagues.
Maintain traditional rivalries.
Create geographic divisions and reduce travel.
Can I get a tip of the cap from baseball traditionalists? Can I get a high five from the Player’s Union? How about a hand shake from the owners? Let’s find out.
A GLANCE OVER TO FIRST
I’d like to give more explanation on how these driving factors apply to the new divisions, but I also know you’re an internet reader that just wants to see the new alignment, so I’ll hit a sac fly and give you a peek.
That looks pretty great, doesn’t it? Not much has changed. There are four sets of four-team divisions in both the National and American leagues, and there are only two teams that swapped leagues — the Brewers and the Rays. And while a few modern division rivalries were broken up, the traditional rivalries are still there. This is the baseball we all know and love, just a modern version we can pass on to our backwards hat wearing kids. But before I get into how and why each division was created I’d like to address the two teams that switched leagues.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Moving to National League South
The Tampa Bay Rays should be in a southern division because, you know, they play baseball in one of the most southern cities in the United States. Let’s put that aside for one moment though.
There are times when the Rays can’t even sell more tickets than the surrounding minor league teams. Their stadium is an uninspiring hub run simply to make money for ownership. Tampa Bay Devil Rays, we truly love the rainbow colored place you have in baseball lore but there’s a good chance your team won’t be in town much longer. My guess is you’ll be in Charlotte or Nashville or San Juan soon enough. Geographically you’ll still fit in the NL South, and your punishment for being a pain in the ass to baseball is that you have to switch leagues. Tampa — if you really love your baseball team and want to keep them in town you should probably be attending their games instead of eating the dinner special at 3:30 and falling asleep on the couch in the 4th inning.
Moving to the American League North
I live in Portland, Oregon but I’m Wisconsin born, so my religion is Green Bay Packer and my favorite baseball team is the Milwaukee Brewers. I wholeheartedly believe we have the most entertaining radio announcer in baseball (Bob Uecker), some of the most devoted fans in the country (who save money year long just to travel across the state and tailgate once a season) and a mediocre stadium (it feels like a goddamn airport terminal on the outskirts of town, but the roof is great).
With that said, I want the Crew to stay in the National League just so I can root for bat-swinging pitchers and manufactured runs. But sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a little, and I’m willing to let my team go back to the (designated) dark side in order for baseball to have order. The Brew Crew switching leagues is nothing new. When realignment happened last time and they should have been pushed back, the Astros were bumped to the American League when all logic said it should have been the Brewers. Putting the Crew back in the American League rights that recent wrong and rekindles those Yount and Molitor era rivalries with the White Sox, Tigers and Twins. I don’t want to root for an American League team, but I think most baseball fans will agree that it’s the right thing to do.
THE EXPANSION TEAMS
If you’re a baseball fan and the number 74 doesn’t jog your memory let me slide you another number. 1994.
Montreal, fans around the world know you deserve a major league club and understand that your baseball team fell to the politics of owners and money. We still love you. If the new commissioner has any gumption or respect he’ll award your city a team, though it seems like he’s already looking in your direction.
Let’s get things out in the open. When it comes to expansion, Portland has the commissioner’s eye. Also, I live in Portland.
There’s already a movement to bring MLB to Portland and I would love nothing more than to live in a city where I can truly root for the home team. I’d buy season tickets and walk down to the stadium to watch 80 games a year. I’d bring friends, I’d buy hotdogs and root for the team even when they’re losing, and I’d even follow the minor leaguers until they got called up from the farm. I live within walking distance of where the Portland Timbers play their home games in a stadium that used to house baseball players and would much prefer that it still did (no slight to you Timbers Army).
However, I understand the Blazers and Timbers take up much of Portland (and Oregon’s) sports fans and the Portland area can barely sustain a short season minor league team in the suburbs. And I’m not sure how much you know about the northwest, but the city of Portland is a bit of a left wing haven made of up transplants who spend much of their money on food, beer and good times, so I do have concerns about the city financially sustaining three professional sports teams.
It’s also a hub for corporate sponsors. Nike, adidas North America and Under Armour’s footwear division all call the Portland area home. Like I mentioned, I’m an old school baseball fan. As much as I’d like to see a Portland baseball team I’d also prefer not have a corporate jockey own it and put out mediocre baseball simply to collect money. I don’t want to root for the Portland equivalent of the New York Red Bulls. I don’t want to root for a brand. I want to root for a team. So please bring baseball to Portland. Bring a team that the entire state of Oregon can root for. But please don’t bring the Portland UnderAdidaNikeArmours.
Oh, and about that rain. Portland has the sixth least amount of rainfall of any MLB city during the baseball season.
THE NEW DIVISIONS
Now that we’ve thrown our warmup pitches, let’s put our toe on the rubber and see how baseball would look after the addition of two teams.
American League East
Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays
We’ll start with the most storied rivalry in sports. The Yankees and Bosox have to be in the same division. Personally, I’d love to see the AL respect Babe Ruth and ditch the DH, but one thing at a time. This division also includes the O’s and Blue Jays who are geographically close and traditionally grouped together. I left out the Rays, who we just talked about.
American League North
Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Brewers
Despite having differences on the surface, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan are kindred spirits. They are states that push through bitter temperatures, play broomball with beer in hand and have a stone cold work ethic. This is a classic division alignment that may not get the media coverage of the AL East or contain the baseball history of the NL North, but let me (and every Great Lakes factory worker) tell you, this is the hardest working division in baseball. These fans and their rivalries extend beyond the diamond.
American League West
Athletics, Angels, Mariners, Portland Team
When I say Texas, do you think West Coast? No? Me neither. That’s why those Texas teams have found greener pastures in a more appropriate division. The Angels and Athletics obviously have a Northern/Southern California rivalry, but there’s also a real rivalry between California and the Pacific Northwest. Enter the (already in the AL West) Seattle Mariners and the (soon to be) Portland baseball team. Please note that I live in Portland, Oregon and that I’m placing my (soon to be) home team in the American League, so just to reiterate, my baseball pride is taking a few lumps here by placing my new home team in the AL.
American League Central
Royals, Cleveland, Astros, Rangers
Geographically this division is similar to the AL West in that the teams may have a bit of distance between them but also lie in nearly the same longitude, thus reducing travel time. I also consider this the youngster division, seeing that the Royals, Astros and Rangers have only been around since the 60’s. They’ve all featured memorable players and teams, but when push comes to shove they’re not exactly seasoned veterans in baseball lore. Except for Cleveland. They’ve been around a while but they continue to make money off their questionable name and logos, so maybe they could learn something from by being paired with the youngsters of a new generation. Damn Cleveland, you could have been a part of a historic division but your corrupt morals kept you out. I’ll make you an offer though. I’ll allow the DH in both leagues if you change your name and stop making money from your racist logos. Deal?
National League North
Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates
The most storied rivalry in sports may be the Yankees and Red Sox, but one of the oldest and most bitter is between the Cardinals and Cubs. There was no way the baseball gods would let these two split up. The Reds and Pirates have both been around for well over a hundred years, so, along with their National League rules I consider this the traditionalist’s division. Please note that my team is the Milwaukee Brewers and I kicked them out of the division (and sent them to the American League), so if you have any quips with my realignment first check to see if your team got the shaft worse than mine.
National League East
Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Montreal Team
I’ve never been sold on the NL East as a division. Though I grew up in Wisconsin I have family in Atlanta, which means I also grew up rooting for those stellar pitching rotations the Braves put out in the ’90s, but it never made sense to me that they were in an eastern division. I sent the Braves to the South, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The new NL East is the American Revolution division, housing Philadelphia, New York and DC. Can you name any cities more American than those three? That’s also why I put the new Montreal team there. Geographically they fit, and if we added one more true blue American team to this division we’d have to worry about flocks of bald eagles disrupting games. And if the Canadians decide they don’t want another team, Charlotte, Nashville and Northern Virginia are all east coast cities that would love to have a ballclub.
National League West
Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies
This division seemed like a no brainer. The Giants and Dodgers are one of baseball’s great rivalries housing some of the best players to play the game. They worked better in New York and are the reason for the Mets’ colors, but at least they’ve maintained their geographic proximity. The Padres are only a few miles away from the Dodgers, and the Rockies are based in Denver, another west coast team that hasn’t been around long but has won enough games to compete with the best. These cities love each other, hate each other, visit each other, hold a grudge and would make a great division.
National League South
Braves, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rays
Based on the divisions we know now, this is the misfit division. Based on geography and culture, this division makes sense. The Braves are one of the oldest teams in the league, and despite being a fan of their Milwaukee variety of baseball (thank you Henry Aaron, Bob Eucker and Eddie Mathews) I’ve placed them here with the newbies so that they can lead the way. All of these teams are in the southern part of the United States, with nearly all in the Southeast. I’m sorry Dbacks, you got the shaft in this scenario. But when you look at travel time, a flight from Phoenix to Atlanta is not that much further than Seattle to San Diego.
How does a 162 game schedule sound? This is the same amount of games as the current schedule that has been in place since 1962 but also longer than the one that came before it. I contemplated a 156 game schedule, which would have been a good middle ground between pre and post 1962 schedules (and make comparing stats to the golden age a bit more fun), but I decided to add six additional “rivalry” games to the schedule as a concession to MLB and the owners who can clearly make additional stadium and tv money through these variable matchups.
With four divisions of four teams in each league, we are able to break up the season in a pretty fair way while still retaining division and league play. Here’s the breakdown.
Each team will play 12 games against each division opponent. That means two home and two away three-game series against each of their division opponents.
Each team will play 6 games against league opponents. That means one three game home and one three game away series against each league opponent not in their division.
I’m not sure if you’ve been taking a tally, but that’s 108 games against each League’s opponents, which leaves 54 games against others. Like I mentioned, I’m an old school baseball fan and would prefer that the National and American league teams not play each other until the World Series, but that idea has been left in the past so I’ve configured the schedule accordingly.
Each team will play one 3 game series against every team in the opposite league every year, with each team hosting the series in opposite years. That’s a total of 48 games against the opposing league each year.
RIVALS AND SUCH
That leaves us with 6 additional games. Those are six games that MLB can use to match up teams however they like. Personally, I’d like to see them used as rivalry games. I’d like to see a few extra games between the Dodgers and Yankees and the Brewers and Cubs, but this is the wiggle room I’m leaving in the schedule.
With two leagues of four divisions we have some nice even numbers to work with. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the NFL’s playoff structure may be the best in professional American sports, and that’s how baseball’s new playoff system will work as well. Each division winner will make it in, and the two division winners with the best record in each league will secure a first round bye. There will be two wild card spots in each league for the two teams with the best records that did not win their divisions.
The first round of the playoffs will be a 5 game series with the division winner hosting 3 of the 5 games (2 home, 2 away, 1 home). The second round will be a 7 game series where the team with the bye hosts 4 of 7 (2 home, 3 away, 2 home). The league championships will be the same, with the team with the better record hosting more games. And the World Series, of course, will stay the same, with the team with the better regular season record hosting.
So there we have it, a 32 team version of Major League Baseball that’s a little bit different but very much the same. But before we sign the scorecard, here’s a few additional notes.
I haven’t the slightest clue or opinion on the best way to do this. Seems like it’s gone pretty smooth in the past though I’m sure there are ways it can be improved.
If I made any, or if you have any suggestions, comment below or feel free to reach out.
For real Cleveland, DH in both leagues if you change your name and stop cashing in on those logos. And you don’t even have to rename yourselves the Spiders.