June 16, 2011
Dear Bud Selig, Baseball Commissioner:
This is a plan I propose that you follow around the recent stories that baseball is discussing possible realignment and thus changes in the way baseball does its playoffs. A friend stopped by my office yesterday and we chatted about it for a while and my own ideas began to crystallize a bit. Then last night I read this post by a friend, JHop, who writes the very funny and poignant sports blog “Chicks Dig the Fastball,” where she was furiously taking copious notes on the back of her work files for a post about the same issue, so I knew the time to address it had come. I had no idea what she was going to say about other than the clue she gave “rant about realignment”. She told me her thoughts in today's post - she doesn't like the idea. Meanwhile a friend in work, a Red Sox fan (so you know my thoughts about HIS opinion are guarded at best!) also came out against a realignment effort. So I figure it is time to admit it. I am a realignment advocate but ONLY IF you do it correctly. What follows is a well thought out, structured plea for MLB to do the right thing. Mr. Selig I offer it to you for free.
First off, I think the approach needs to be different then MLB has taken in the past. The way in the past has always been "the goal is to make as much money as possible and we will figure out the details later". The real way to approach this whole issue is to say “What do we baseball fans want”? What we want, really want, is exciting, meaningful baseball throughout the last month of the season. We want meaningful games in September, none of this playing out the string because you have made the playoffs. No, we are out of it in the third week of April so who cares. Get this right, and the fans and excitement will follow.
I also think that the idea of realignment, into 2 15 team leagues, makes lots of sense. Where it starts to breakdown is when you are talking about going back to one giant division for each league with 5 teams with best record making the playoffs. In this scenario, the 13-15th place teams loss interest in April with increasing numbers of teams fans losing interest as the season progresses. Plus how would explain how a team in first place in a division does nort make a playoff while 4 teams from another did. And you thought the tie in the All Star Game was a nightmare? No, stick with 3 divisions within the league and then two wild cards from the balance based on record, and unbalance the schedule to focus more games (not too many though) on playing the other 4 teams in your division. Now this also raises the specter of interleague games. With 15 teams in each league, there is the need to have an interleague series every series. My response to this is “So what?” The idea of interleague play is fun, but we do not need to set aside a special time of the season to play all those games. This was done originally to boost attendance (make more money) and is not necessary. It can be just as exciting to have two AL teams playing each other and then playing an NL club and then going back to a AL matchup. “See the ‘National League club” in its only appearance in “AL city” is just as an effective an advertizing tool as is “this week the AL club faces three different NL opponents’.
As for the schedule, unbalance it and don’t worry about it. This highlights the natural rivalries in the different divisions and adds more significance to the race to the division title. Play each team in your own division 15 times (60 games) each of the 5 teams in the other two same league divisions 6 times (60 games) and add 6 games with one division of the opposite league (30 games) adding up to a nice round 150 games. Then start the playoff run a week earlier. The interleague games should be in the same geographic area as the them is in. In other words the AL East plays the NL East, Central versus Central and West versus West. This will allow for less travel, easier to make up rainouts, keep this part of the schedule balanced as each club in the division will play the same five teams in the opposite league, and continue to foster the natural rivalries while not overly contaminating the World Series match up in October.
As for the playoffs, you MUST give significant advantage to the team that wins the division. None of this wildcard madness where they get the same benefit for finishing in second place as the team that wins. Plus, the Wild card Team could have the fifth best record overall. Why should it get any advantage? It made the playoff lottery, which is enough help. You accomplish this is two ways – when games are played and in rest time for teams. In my playoff system this is how it goes. When the season ends on Sunday, the three division winners get at least 5 days off, allowing them to set their playoff rotations, nurse injuries and prepare for and scout opponents. There are then two wild card teams, the two teams with the best records not to win the division. They play a best of 5 series. The Monday of the playoff run is saved for a tie resolution for a division and Tuesday is for the start of the Wild Card series. If there are no division ties, then the Wild card starts Monday. The Wild Card proceeds for 5 consecutive days, no days off, Monday – Friday or Tuesday – Saturday. Don’t like having to fly coast to coast? Then play well enough to win the division! The Wild Card winner then gets to play the winning division team with the best record. Same division? Doesn’t matter. Play the games! The other series between the division winners begins that Friday. This level of playoffs is 4/7 as is the Championship round, as is the World Series.
As for who moves where, the simplest would be for the Houston Astros to move from the NL Central (now six teams) to AL West (now 4 teams). This requires only one move. I guess you could move Houston from NL Central to NL West and Arizona from NL West to AL West but this requires 2 moves and I would rather keep it simpler rather than more complicated.
I like my plan, I think it serves several purposes. It keeps interest higher by allowing one more team into the playoff system preserves balances schedules and unbalanced schedules where important and promoting more rivalry games both in your own division and within the interleague structure. It rewards teams winning divisions with extra rest and opportunities to plan a playoff run, allows teams who do not win a division a chance to play in the post season and distinguishes rewards for division winners versus wild card candidates.
Mr. Selig I say this – You didn’t listen to me about what to do about the no hitter that was ruined by a bad umpire call. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Your legacy will be enhanced by a playoff system that is fun and exciting and offers the thrills of the hunt for fans across the nation. Don’t give into the greedy desires of a handful of owners. This is not hockey or basketball or football for that matter where way too many teams make the playoffs. You can keep it mean and lean and exciting all at the same time.