I first read this completely inane idea about “floating realignment” in Major League Baseball on Monday, and I thought if I just ignored it, it would go away. I tried the same thing with a credit card bill in the ’90s and that didn’t work, either.
Interim Commissioner for Life Bud Selig put together a crack team of 14 baseball “experts” to come up with all kinds of idea about how to save a sport that has problems, but doesn’t really need to be saved. Most of baseball’s problems will be solved by just having a commissioner not named Bud Selig at some point.
So 14 baseball guys who think they have big brains–guys like The Genius (of course he’s on it) and Joe Torre, John Schuerholz, Andy MacPhail, Frank Robinson, and for some unknown reason, George Will–sat around and came up with a bright idea.
Let’s realign the divisions in baseball!
The major motivation appears to be that because the Yankees and Red Sox make the playoffs every season, it’s not fair to be in their division.
So, because the Orioles, Rays and Blue Jays have it rough, baseball needs to move everybody else around, apparently.
Three teams won the AL East in the ’00s, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. Only two teams won the NL Central those years, the Cardinals and Cubs.
If they want to shuffle teams around, they can, and probably should. It doesn’t make any sense that there’s a division in the NL that has six teams, and one in the AL that only has four. You can blame the Diamondbacks, if you want, because the original plan when they were granted an expansion team was for them to play in the AL West. The Astros likely would have moved to the NL West, and the Rays would have been in the NL East. Of course that would have resulted in six teams in the NL East and four in the AL East. And the Rays picked their fate. Then owner Vince Naimoli wanted as many home games with the Yankees as possible. They literally picked the problem they now face.
The real problem was that the Rays and Diamondbacks probably should have never existed in the first place. Twenty-eight teams was a good number. Thirty-two would be OK. But 30 means you have to have one league with more teams than other, or if you went to two 15 team leagues that there would have to be an interleague series going on all year around.
It’s part of the reason Bud wanted to contract and get rid of Minnesota and Tampa or Florida few years ago. He could have had two 14 team leagues again. Let’s not even get into the folly of Bud moving the Brewers to the NL, while he still owned them, so they could gain home dates with the Cubs and Cardinals who bring fan bases with them unlike anything the Brewers would have seen if they were in the AL Central instead of the NL Central.
The really dumb part of “floating realignment” is the thought that divisions might shift every year. They might be based on payroll, or geography (apparently they’re expecting another Pangaea), or (this is almost too absurd to type) their “plans to contend or not.”
Get this, the committee thinks that if a team decides it wants to rebuild that they could just voluntarily move into a different division where they could lose in peace. The example SI’s Tom Verducci gives is that the Indians could get extra money by picking up more home dates with the Red Sox and Yankees by crawling into the basement of the AL East for a few years while going 55-107. Yeah, I’m sure if you tell your fans that you literally don’t want to win, that they’ll just flock to the games, no matter who you play.
No teams would be allowed to move to a time zone more than two away from they already are. This makes no sense. For example. Say the Yankees decide they want to play in the AL West for a while. Maybe they’re tired of all of those 8 p.m. game times and want to mix in a heavy dose of games that start at 11 p.m.? Bud would say “No! You can’t do that. The West is three time zones away from you!” And they’d just say, “Yeah, but Texas is in the Central time zone, and they’re in the West, and they are just ONE time zone from us, so we’re going.” And Bud would say, “Uh, OK.”
All of this is just nonsense.
The problem with the playoff system isn’t that some divisions are too top heavy, or that they don’t have the same number of teams. The problem is that divisions are unnecessary.
The only reason they exist is that in 1969 the NL expanded…again…and it was a way to create a second playoff team in each league. Instead of everybody in the NL playing for one playoff spot, they split the league in half (and the AL, too) and you didn’t win the pennant by finishing first, you won your division and played in the League Championship Series.
Then, in 1995 they went to three divisions and a wild card in each league.
Why not just do this? How about you just go back to the American League and the National League, and the teams with the four best records in each league make the playoffs. Then you just seed it 1 v. 4, and 2 v. 3 and have at it? There is no more wild card team. Just the four best teams playing in the playoffs.
It wouldn’t end “pennant” races, it would just shift them. You might have four teams fighting for the last one or two spots going into the final week of the season. Who cares what division they would have been in?
The last three years, the playoffs would have looked similar, but not the same. Last year, the Yankees (103-59), Angels (97-65) and Red Sox (95-67) would have made the AL playoffs, but the Rangers (87-75) would have edged the Twins and Tigers out by a game, eliminating the need for the play-in game. The NL would have had the same four playoff teams (Dodgers, Phillies, Rockies and Cardinals.)
In 2008 the AL playoff teams would have been the Angels (100-62), Rays (97-65), Red Sox (95-67), but the Yankees (89-73) would have gone instead of the White Sox who won the AL Central in a playoff with only 89 wins. The NL teams would have been different, too. The Cubs (97-64), Phillies (92-70) and Brewers would have made it, but the Mets would have been in, instead of the Dodgers. And knowing the Mets they would have started their slide a few days earlier to still miss the playoffs and let the Astros or Cardinals in. Both of those teams had 86 wins, two more than the Dodgers. The Dodgers had the eighth best record in the NL that year and made the playoffs. That makes perfect sense.
And, in 2007, the AL teams would have been the same (Red Sox, Indians, Angels and Yankees), but the Cubs would have missed it in the NL with the D’backs, Rockies, Padres (no play-in game with Matt Holiday never would have happened) and Yankees. The Cubs only had the sixth best record in the NL, they didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. And it showed.
So if the biggest complaint about the current system is that the Yankees and Red Sox make it impossible for a third team to get in from the AL East, and that they hog the wild card spot every year. This takes care of it.
It seems to be a much fairer exercise than creating a division of crappy teams on purpose so that one of them can stagger into the playoffs, steal a spot from a good team and get swept.
That’s the Cubs job.