It’s a new year, and the offseason is long. So while we eagerly await a new season of baseball, please join me in imagining a bright future for our national pastime.
Major League Baseball has a long history of expansion, contraction, relocation, and realignment. The most recent expansion was 1998 with the (nee Devil) Rays and Diamondbacks. Depending on how you count, the last contraction was either 1903 (goodbye Orioles and hello Highlanders) or 1900 (rest in peace Orioles, Spiders, Colonels, and Senators). The reigning World Series champion Nationals are the last team to relocate, leaving Montreal behind in 2005. The last realignment took place in 2013, with the Astros switching leagues and both circuits adopting five-team divisions with constant interleague play.
With recent news that MLB is a ten-billion dollar business and the need to grow a potentially dwindling fan base, it is time to explore a new round of structural change. In addition to the profit and popularity incentives, MLB should consider expansion to accommodate the growing global talent pool. With baseball thriving in North America, the Caribbean, and Asia, there are more competitive players than ever looking for a limited number of roster spots.
For now, let’s focus on expansion and
set aside relocation and contraction in the hopes that teams like Tampa Bay and
Oakland can make their homes permanent.
The most profitable and popular sports league, the NFL, offers a template for MLB: 32 teams. This even number allows for more creative divisional alignments and schedule opportunities. A modest expansion of just two teams allows for a greater likelihood for those clubs to be competitive as well.
Several cities could host an expansion franchise. Given recent failures at the major and minor league levels, Montreal and Portland will not make the cut. Besides, the Rays and Athletics have expressed interest in relocating to these towns. No offense intended toward any Dreamers out there, but Florida is too saturated to absorb a new team in Orlando. Las Vegas is an obvious candidate, but given baseball’s gambling problem and the imminent arrival of the Raiders, it is best to wait for now.
The two most exciting opportunities can
be found in Mexico City and Nashville.
Both have robust minor league teams and solid baseball histories. A few major points in favor of each:
- Largest metropolitan area population in North America: 21.6 million.
- Home to the Diablos Rojos del Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City Red Devils). The 80-year old club has won 16 Mexican League titles.
- The team just moved into a new stadium. While a little small for a major league club, the new digs have resulted in a doubling of attendance.
- An MLB team in the Mexican capital could cement the sport in the national landscape and foster generations of players.
- The so-called new capital of the South with a metropolitan area population of 2.1 million.
- Home to the Nashville Sounds of the Pacific Coast League.
- In the top tier of minor league baseball attendance.
- A century-plus long history of organized baseball with claims to 17 pennants and four Dixie Series titles.
- A strong local movement for MLB expansion complete with a partnership with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The likely team name of the Nashville Stars would honor the NLB legacy.
In this system, teams would play an unbalanced schedule. Each team would play each team in its division 12 times, each team in the other division in its league eight times, and eight interleague games per year. An astute reader will note that this adds up to 156 games – six fewer than the current season. This change would meet player demands for a slightly shorter schedule while acknowledging the increased length of the playoffs.
Each league would maintain its own separate playoff series. Six teams from each league would qualify for the playoffs. The four division winners would earn automatic placement in the Division Series. The four non-division winning teams with the best records in each league would qualify for one-game wild-card playoffs. Winners would advance to an expanded best-of-seven division series. The league championship series and World Series would remain best-of-seven affairs.
So with 32 teams, realignment is
necessary. Like the NFL, MLB should
continue to maintain its continental-wide, two-league structure instead of two
geographically oriented conferences like in the NBA and NHL.
In a departure from the NFL model, MLB ought to adopt eight-team divisions instead of four. For the vast majority of major league seasons, teams competed in eight-team leagues. For a quarter of a century, the leagues allowed for some geographic considerations and bifurcated into two divisions, East and West. This proven model would be a nice nod to baseball’s history while encouraging regional rivalries.
Here is how realignment could look:
|East Division||West Division|
|Atlanta Braves||Arizona Diamondbacks|
|Cincinnati Reds||Chicago Cubs|
|Miami Marlins||Colorado Rockies|
|Nashville Stars||Los Angeles Dodgers|
|New York Mets||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Philadelphia Phillies||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||San Diego Padres|
|Washington Nationals||San Francisco Giants|
|East Division||West Division|
|Baltimore Orioles||Houston Astros|
|Boston Red Sox||Kansas City Royals|
|Chicago White Sox||Los Angeles Angels|
|Cleveland Indians||Mexico City Red Devils|
|Detroit Tigers||Minnesota Twins|
|New York Yankees||Oakland Athletics|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Seattle Mariners|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Texas Rangers|
Here you have one fan’s modest proposal. Let this serve as a starting point for your own conversations on finding the right organizational structures for the national pastime.
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