David Pinto (formerly of Baseball Tonight, presently of the excellent Baseball Musings, and Baseball Prospectus) recently wrote one of the more interesting articles I’ve read in a long time. Pinto’s article, part of his The Big Picture series (subscription needed, I think), entitled Rescheduling, speaks to the difficulties of major league schedule making in the current day and age.
To paraphrase: Once upon a time, there were 16 teams, in two groups of eight. The teams in one group only played the seven other teams in their grouping, and that was that. Scheduling was easy–154 games, 8 teams. Each team played each other team 22 times–11 times at home, and 11 times on the road. Then the leagues expanded, and with them, the number of games played. 10 teams per league, coupled with a 162-game schedule meant that each team played each other team 18 times. Still, pretty easy.
Now, of course, there are 14 teams in the AL, and 16 in the NL. They’re divided into 3 divisions per league, with divisions of 5, 5, and 4 teams in the AL, and 5, 6 and 4 teams in the NL. Each team plays all the other teams in their LEAGUE, in seemingly random amounts (7 games against Team A, and 11 against Team B). In addition to the league games, every team plays a number of Interleague games. Every year, each team plays a number of other teams so few times that it’s immensely difficult for to make up postponed games.
Furthermore, rivalries are diminishing by either (A) a dearth of games played or (B) a lack of quality competition, and thus, interest. Baseball’s justification for playing as many varied games as they do is to give fans a chance to see the superstars of the other league when they come to visit. After all, the average fan can’t afford to fly out to California to see Vladimir Guerrero tomahawk neck-high fastballs.
After the break, Pinto’s idea, which I’m going to extend almost as far as I can.
(Image from Worth 1000)
Pinto’s idea is to abolish the National League and the American league. All the teams will be reorganized into 5 divisions of 6 teams each. The teams in each division will play their divisional rivals 18 times over the course of the season. In addition to their intradivision foes, the teams will play every team from two of the other four divisions, six times each, with their opposing divisions rotating on a yearly basis. So, for instance: This year, Division 1 teams would play each other, as well as Division 2 and Division 3 teams. Next year, the schedules rotate, and Division 1 plays 3 and 4. The year after that, 4 and 5. You get the idea.
The setup conveniently divides the 162 game season into 5 parts. The first 30 games of the year are played intra-division. The next 36 are played inter-division. The middle 30 games are intra-division, again. The 36 after that are played inter-division, again, with the final 30 games coming against your own division.
We Are the Champions!
The playoffs would be largely the same as they are now: the 5 division winners would gain automatic entry to the playoffs as the top 5 seeds (based on overall record). As for the three wildcards, either the best three non-division winning records would gain entry, or, perhaps, the best 3 records from 2nd place teams.
The New Deal
As for what teams would be in what division, Pinto doesn’t specify, though he comments, “And it can even be green–configuring the divisions to minimize travel can save money and energy. Configuring them to maximize rivalries might even raise attendance. If six games a season between the Yankeesand Mets are good, eighteen should be great!” I’m inclined to agree here. Divisions against the teams closest to you make for fantastic rivalries.
Baseball currently has 5 pairs of teams sharing a single metropolitan area (Chicago Cubs/Chicago White Sox; New York Mets/New York Yankees; Washington Nationals/Baltimore Orioles; Los Angeles Dodgers/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; San Francisco Giants/Oakland Athletics). Stupidly, in my opinion, Major League Baseball decided to separate all these teams, moving them into entirely different leagues so that the only time they may play is during the World Series, or, since 1997, during interleague play.
Here are the divisions as I propose them, with a couple of remarks on the arrangements after. Oh, and by the way, I realize they division names aren’t the best, but I’m not locked in here. You got a suggestion, let’s hear it.
San Francisco Giants
LA Angels of Anaheim
San Diego Padres
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Great Lakes Division
Chicago White Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
NE Corridor Division
Boston Red Sox
New York Mets
New York Yankees
This setup does a number of things that I like. First, it saves the Devil Rays from the currently brutal AL East. Tampa Bay is a small city (pop.: 335,000), and, even with their new, good owners, they need a lot of luck to be able to ever compete with Boston and New York, who have the budgets to be perennial powerhouses.
Speaking of Boston and New York, they’re no longer the only financial powers in their division. They’re joined by Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, and the New York Mets, all of whom have some financial muscle.
The divisions are largely made to group the teams by location, though, obviously, there are some screwy alignments. For instance, Cleveland, located in northern Ohio, near Lake Erie, is certainly much closer to Detroit and Toronto than it is to Atlanta or either Florida team. However, nobody’s too close to Miami (Marlins), St Petersburg (Devil Rays), or Atlanta (Braves), so someone’s going to have to stretch out.
Similarly, by driving distance, Seattle is way off by itself in the Pacific northwest. Colorado is 600 miles away from anyone else. Ideally, I’d love to group Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toronto, and another team nearby together; I’d also love to group Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Chicago, St. Louis, and, perhaps, Kansas City together. However, this arrangement leaves Florida, Tampa, Atlanta, Houston, and Texas far apart and without a division. Sprinkle in an extra six teams (in places like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Portland, West Virginia, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City), and it’s likely our 6 divisions (of 6 teams) will be significantly closer together.
Designated For Assignment
Now, there are a few obvious questions about this setup. Among them: What happens to the designated hitter? Pinto suggests that the teams who have it now, retain it while they’re home, as with interleague games. So, games played in Philadelphia, neither team gets a DH. Games played in Cleveland, both teams get a DH. This is fine by me, though I’d also consider just instituting the DH across the entire league. Plenty of baseball purists are vehemently anti-DH (no greater enemy does the DH have than one of our own writers, Paul). I am fairly ambivalent toward it, but I will say that it’s either everyone gets the DH, or the teams with it already shant lose it. The MLB Players Association wouldn’t want to get rid of it, anyway.
What about the All-Star Game? In discussing this idea with Brother Thursday, he came up with a wonderful idea, which we’re going to alter slightly. First, we’re going to abolish any meaning from the game. It’s back to being just a simple exhibition. The outcome of the game affects no one. Instead of having the AL Team and the NL Team, we propose throwback teams play each other. One year, we could have the Montreal Expos vs the Seattle Pilots. The next year, we could have the Homestead Grays vs. Cleveland Spiders. Obviously, the uniforms would be given a more modern cut (none of those pajama unis for us, thank you!) but, still, this would be your all-star squad.
Now, the All-Star game usually takes place in early July. The amateur draft has been done for a month, and the trading deadline isn’t for another 3 weeks. So, we propose the All-Star Game Draft. The two GMs from the World Series the year before (or, possibly even better, the two GMs from the top two teams to that point in the season) would conduct a fantasy draft to determine their squads. The fans vote for their favorite position players throughout the first half of the year, as they do now.
Now, instead of the highest vote-getters being elected to start for the all-star team, the top 5 at each position will be available for the all-star draft. In addition to these 40 players, the top 20 pitchers (either 15 starters and 5 relievers, or just the Top 20) will be made available. All sixty of these players will be all-stars, though they will not know what team they will play for. The first night of the all-star weekend, they are gathered into a theater of some kind, and over the course of an hour or two–with only two teams drafting, this should go quickly–the GMs would select their teams. 30 rounds of 2 picks can fly by in, what, an hour? Two hours, maximum? Would you watch it? I absolutely would. Plus, it provides the excellent, and unusual opportunity to see something like, last year’s batting champ (Joe Mauer) facing off against last year’s Cy Young winner (teammate Johan Santana).
Final Benefits, and Problems
These changes make scheduling a LOT easier. Three times a year, the team play within their division, and with 6 team divisions, this is a constant sort of thing. Really, it’s easy to arrange. Plus, with such simplicity of scheduling, any games lost to inclimate weather are easily rescheduled for later in the season.
Travel is lessened by grouping the teams geographically. The decrease in total miles, I imagine, is somewhat modest, (although any team within the NE Corridor division is certainly traveling less than they were as part of the AL or NL East). This means more and better rest for the players, and money saved by the owners as far as travel expenses are concerned.
The scheduling increases “natural” rivalries. Now, in addition to hating the Mets with every fiber of my being, I (and all my fellow Phillies fans) can hate the Red Sox and Yankees on more than just principal. We can hate the Orioles now, too, and we’d hate the Nationals already if there was anything worth hating to them.
It breaks up the powerhouses a bit. No longer do the Royals have to suffer under the crushing weight of Chicago and Detroit. Now they compete with Phoenix and Denver. Tampa is freed from the New York and Boston bankrolling.
The biggest problem I see with this system is future expansion. In order to keep things as they are, teams would have to be added to the league 6 at a time (though, theoretically, 4 8 team divisions, or 8 divisions of 4 teams would work, too). Plus, when all the teams are added, all the divisions need to be rearranged to keep the geography in order. I, in fact, have an idea to fix that, but it might be more suited for a follow-up article.