It is time for Major League Baseball to realign and expand. The antiquated notion of having separate American and National Leagues, with separate rules for each is no longer a quaint idiosyncrasy, but an annoying inconsistency. The League could clean up the evil that is the designated hitter, create better geographic rivalries, and expand its product all in one fell swoop. It would be a three-pronged plan: 1) Expand to 32 teams, 2) Create eight divisions of four with only the division winners advancing to the postseason, and 3) Eliminate the designated hitter rule.
With the resurgence of pitching (or decline of steroid use if you prefer), many have referred to the 2010 season as the year of the pitcher. This may signal the time to add more teams and still remain in competitive balance.
Adding two teams creates a more symmetrical grouping within divisions so you don’t have the imbalance that is seen today with six teams in one division and four in another. What’s more, just based on percentages alone, an American League team has a better chance of making it to the playoffs (28.6 percent of teams will play in the playoffs) than a National League team (25 percent).
I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing the right choice for cities to fill these two slots, but based on metropolitan population you could choose Portland, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas. There are certainly other viable options, but for discussion sake, I’ll use these two examples.
Thirty-two teams in the majors create the opportunity for four geographically aligned divisions in each league, although the league distinction would become no more important than the AFC or NFC in the NFL. The American League would essentially be the western-most teams, and the National League would be the eastern-most teams (or vice versa, it really wouldn’t matter).
Part of the rationalization would be to set-up geographic rivalries that would meet as often as possible. It also allows for fans to travel more easily to stadiums within the division of their favorite ball club. Here is my proposed divisional alignment (with current standings if they were in place today, just for fun):
American League, Northwest Division
- San Francisco Giants
- Oakland Athletics (7 GB)
- Seattle Mariners (20.5 GB)
- Portland Expansion team (N/A)
American League, Pacific Division
- San Diego Padres
- Los Angeles Dodgers (11 GB)
- Los Angeles Angels (14 GB)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (27 GB)
American League, Southwest Division
- Texas Rangers
- Colorado Rockies (5.5 GB)
- Houston Astros (14 GB)
- San Antonio Expansion Team (N/A)
American League, Central Division
- Chicago White Sox
- St. Louis Cardinals (1 GB)
- Chicago Cubs (15.5 GB)
- Kansas City Royals (18.5 GB)
National League, Northeast Division
- New York Yankees
- Boston Red Sox (5.5 GB)
- Philadelphia Phillies (8 GB)
- New York Mets (15 GB)
National League, North Division
- Minnesota Twins
- Toronto Blue Jays (6.5 GB)
- Detroit Tigers (9 GB)
- Milwaukee Brewers (13.5 GB)
National League, Mid-East Division
- Cincinnati Reds
- Cleveland Indians (22 GB)
- Baltimore Orioles (28.5 GB)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (30 GB)
National League, South Division
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Atlanta Braves (5 GB)
- Florida Marlins (13.5 GB)
- Washington Nationals (24.5 GB)
Schedules would remain focused on intra-division games above all else, with 38 games played against the three other teams in your division. Three, three-game series would be played each year with the remaining 12 teams in one’s league. The remaining 16 games would be played interleague style, but focused on one division, rotating each year, with one four-game series played against each team in the months of April, May, June, and July.
Elimination of the Designated Hitter Rule
With the addition of two teams, it provides the perfect leverage for MLB to negotiate with MLBPA to eliminate the designated hitter rule. There has long been an argument that the rule is good for the game because it allows for aging sluggers to remain in the game after they are unable to effectively play the field. I say, get a glove or get out of the league.
Current National League baseball is so much more interesting to watch from a tactical perspective, and for every Jim Thome, David Ortiz, or Vladimir Guerrero who may have to exit the game (or simply play defense), there will be other new rising stars to help take their place.
Paul Swaney is the Co-Founder of StadiumJourney.com