Column: A better baseball model
After just over 24 hours of play into the 2013 season of Major League Baseball, one thing has already become abundantly clear: the league is at a tipping point.
With the Houston Astros making their American League debut Sunday against the Texas Rangers, the league officially embarked on its new format of three five-team divisions (the Astros left the six-team NL Central to help round out the four-team AL West).
For someone suffering from minor OCD such as myself, the move initially was one that made me really quite happy. Most importantly, teams are no longer at statistical advantages and disadvantages for winning their division just based on what divisions they play in. And more superficially, the divisions simply have the same number of teams.
Things looked neater and my organizational overreactions relaxed for a short while. But then reality reared it's ugly head pretty abruptly with Monday afternoon's Opening Day matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Angels.
Interleague play, once a fun marketing idea turned into a solid chunk of schedule, will now be so common with the new division format that even the novelty of a potential World Series matchup on Opening Day has already worn off pretty quickly.
The way I see it, Major League Baseball has two fully functional models to choose from. They could go the route of the identically stocked 30-team NBA, where inter-conference play is as common as any game and simply have the best six or eight teams make the playoffs essentially regardless of what division they make.
This has worked well for basketball, but for a league that claims to value it's traditions at sometimes unhealthy levels, Major League Baseball should look closer at the model of the thirty-two team NFL.
The National Football League's model is easily the most efficient, organized and, in my humble opinion, the most American format a sports league could adopt, and it still blows my mind that baseball has not followed suit in recent years.
With four four-team divisions in two leagues, the format of the NFL puts great emphasis still on the importance of winning your division as well as the tradition of rivalries among the fellow divisional teams (for the most part).
Baseball needs to stop acting like this format is a realistic option to keep for the league for years to come and start more seriously looking into options of expansion (just two more teams) and reorganization (for the fans who like things neat and in even numbers) if they want the league to flourish as well as the NFL does.
My model isn't perfect. Not by a long shot.
It still pains me to see Houston in the American League especially with the easy opportunity to move the Brewers back with their history in the AL.
And who can ever really know where the best place would be to put a new team? Is it Las Vegas? Portland? Oklahoma City?
It's all tough to judge, but it's an idea that needs at least some deliberation.
So, after much time, deliberation and many notes missed in my lecture hall classes, I give you my proposed new and improved Major League Baseball divisional format.
National League East: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York (Mets) and St. Louis.
All four teams have history with each other from previous formats of the National League east that disbanded in the early 1990s when the Florida Marlins came in the league. It would be a nice new catalyst for the St. Louis and New York rivalry (who went seven games against each other for a shot at the World Series in 2006), and it would put two teams in the same league and state in the same division.
National League North: Chicago (Cubs), Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Montreal.
It does not make sense to me to have only one team in the league be international. Granted, there were many problems and reasons behind the Expos leaving Montreal to become the Washington Nationals, but putting a new team back in Montreal would be big for tradition in the league and also sensible for a new NL North.
National League West: Arizona, Los Angeles (Dodgers), San Diego and San Francisco.
The toughest decision for this division was just about which team should be kicked out, and most likely moved to the American League. For me, and considering that Colorado is just the farthest removed from the Pacific Ocean, the Rockies just seem the most like an AL team (not to mention the damage they could do with a designated hitter in that atmosphere).
National League South: Atlanta, Charlotte and Miami and Washington.
Charlotte, N.C. would be a fantastic location for a new team Major League Baseball team. Though the NBA's Bobcats are still in their seemingly decade-long growing pains years, the support for that team is real, and it would easily translate to baseball. Also, geographically, these four teams fit nicely.
American League East: Baltimore, Boston, New York (Yankees) and Toronto.
This one is easy. There is no way you could split up the best rivalry in the game, and the Orioles and Blue Jays both have history in the division. Historically and geographically, kicking out the Rays just makes sense.
American League North: Chicago (White Sox), Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.
Again, the new AL North debate would center around which team to kick out and move to another division. My vote would be for the Royals, and something tells me that that would be the consensus among league organizers as well.
American League West: Colorado, Los Angeles (Angels), Oakland and Seattle.
The current AL West with the Rockies and without the Texas teams would keep Colorado playing most of it's away games in warmer weather and keeping the rest of the division out of the too-warmer weather of Texas consistently. A win-win in my book, unless you're from Texas.
American League South: Kansas City, Houston, Tampa Bay and Texas.
So, last and possibly least, this division would be a little weird. Not too much history between the four teams mostly grouped together by where they play their home games, this division could have some growing pains. But a divisional race between the Rays and the Rangers? Though weird at first, could be pretty cool to watch.
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