Realignment and the 5 Best Ideas To Ruin Major League Baseball
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about radically realigning Major League Baseball’s divisions, eliminating the American and National Leagues altogether and dramatically altering the format of the playoffs.
It’s being considered, allegedly, in an attempt to create more fan interest—and thereby revenue—by generating more rivalries, evening out the schedule and reducing travel by teams.
However, my suspicion is that these ideas are commissioner Bud Selig’s swan song, an attempt for remembrance.
Selig first gained notoriety as the game’s commissioner during the game's six-year strike in the 1990s (or did it only feel that long?). Afterwards, he led the charge toward the induction of the wild card into interleague play and then right into the steroid era. Oops, that wasn’t where he meant to go, was it?
Right now Bud Selig is known as the commissioner who “looked the other way” when performance-enhancing drugs became commonplace in the sport, spiking offensive numbers and creating popularity. However, when the bubble burst—thank you, Jose Canseco—Mr. Selig looked foolish and incompetent.
What better way to save his reputation, his legacy, than by dramatically altering baseball’s landscape just before leaving office for retirement?
It's got to be better to be known as the commissioner who was a forward thinker and tried to bring the game into the 21st century, rather than the stooge who stood idly by and saw human beings turn into Popeye by ingesting something other than spinach.
He was all over the place during McGwire and Sosa’s pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, but refused to show up when Bonds broke Aaron’s mark.
Anyone stunned by the fact that McGwire and Sosa didn’t come across those biceps naturally at the time were probably also surprised by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods weren’t completely faithful to their wives.
These potential moves are not about the good of the game, the future of the sport or anything like that. Baseball is as healthy as it’s ever been, as relevant as it’s ever been, and will only continue to grow.
Yes, some teams are down on attendance, but that has more to do with the economy and people being unable to afford to support their teams rather than a lack of interest.
These moves are designed to change Bud Selig’s image, to preserve his legacy and rewrite the final chapter of the book that was already written and trashed by reviewers.
Good job, Bud. But if we are going to rip up the foundation that has been Major League Baseball for over a hundred years, why stop at just realignment? Why not blow the entire thing up, drastically change every aspect of the sport and introduce it to the 21st century?
Here are the best ways Major League Baseball can change its image—and in the process, drastically destroy the integrity of the game.
1) A Better Solution to Realignment
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The idea behind realigning the divisions has been mostly about geography and creating rivalries between teams that play near each other, right? Putting the Phillies and Pirates back together to fight for a division title will recreate the 1970s, when they battled it out every year, I’m told.
Baseball’s economics were different in 1979 than they are today, and no matter what the Pirates do, they will never be on par with big-market teams like the Phillies.
So instead of realigning teams based on geography, why not separate them the way the rest of the country separates itself—by class? The haves verses the have-nots, so to speak.
Division 1 (The Haves)
- Red Sox
- White Sox
Division 2 (The Have-Nots)
- Blue Jays
The top five teams in each division make the playoffs and battle it out for the World Series crown.
Not only does this format give smaller market teams a better chance to make the postseason, but it also gives them that many more opportunities to be embarrassed on the national stage when a larger market team slams them every year in the postseason—save for those miracle-runs a team might put together.
The playoff system could be altered, too.
Instead of playing against each other, have the two fifth-place teams face off, the two fourth-place teams face off and so on. The winners of each series move up. The winner of the second-place series plays the winner of the third-place series, and the the winner of the fourth-place series plays the winner of the fifth-place series, while the winner of the first-place series gets a break in scheduling.
Could be dramatic...or extremely boring.
2) Eliminate the Umpires
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Come on now, how many times do we really have to watch human beings make mistakes that computers and video technology can get correct?
Armando Gallarraga would have his perfect game, Ryan Howard would not have had to question whether the last pitch he saw in 2010 was going to be called a strike based on the umpire’s sight-line and we’ll never again see a World Series decided on whether the umpire saw the baserunner step on Todd Worrell’s foot, which was already on the bag.
Computerize the game even more.
Place computer chips in the baseball, the players mitts, in their cleats and in the bases. Set up holographic zones for the strike-zone and the foul poles.
We won't need a human being to tell us whether a batter is safe or out, a pitch is a strike or a ball, or a ball is fair or foul. Computers can do it all for us instantaneously, so let's use them.
How funny would it be if instead of watching an umpire walk out to the mound to break up a conversation designed to stall the game, we watched the baseball in the pitcher's hand suddenly develop firecracker-like features, alerting everyone in the ballpark that they're taking too long? Or, seeing the bat in the batter's hands begin to vibrate violently when he steps out of the batter's box for too long?
Think about it. It could be so much fun. We could eliminate human error, end arguments between the umpires and the managers and the players and speed up the game.
Which brings me to my next idea...
3) End Extra-Inning Play
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How many of us have stayed up late to watch the final out of a game, only to see one of the teams tie it up in their last at-bat, and then spend the next several hours watching inning after inning of neither team being able to score?
Recently I watched a 19-inning game the Phillies played where utility man Wilson Valdez was pitching in the 19th inning after they ran out of pitchers. Now while it was fun at the time due to how unique of a situation it was, getting up the next morning and going to work was not.
So instead of playing extra innings, adopt a little of the NHL’s philosophy into the mix.
If the score is tied after nine innings, have a “Swing Off.”
Each team sends up their best home run hitter (or whoever they feel confident in at that particular time) and he gets 10 pitches from his own batting practice pitcher. The player who hits the most home runs wins the game for his club. In the event of a tie, the player who hits balls farthest, average-wise, wins.
No more six-hour games that last well into the middle of the night. Instead, fans get to see a home run derby at least once or twice a week.
4) Bring the DH to the National League
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The only thing that truly separates the AL from the NL is the use and non-use of an extra hitter. It is not a small difference, however, and has led to different styles of managing depending on the league.
When the DH was first adopted it was done partly because there was so little offense in the game. That is not the case today. (Even with the re-defined pitching brilliance we have seen over the past couple of seasons, offense is not where it was in 1968.)
But why do we need to see a pitcher hit? Or get hurt running the base-paths, only to ruin his career (a la Chien-Ming Wang)?
What we need is more offense, more guys who can hit home runs, more games that score in the double figures.
Bring the DH to the National League so that neither side learns how to play small-ball. And, in the ninth-inning of Game 7 when you’re trying to win a World Series and need to move a guy over, each side is equally as incompetent!
Plus, we get to extend the careers of players who no longer have the ability to truly play the game of baseball, but still want to earn a huge paycheck!
5) Level the Playing Field
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Following Bob Gibson’s freakish 1968 season—the same year Denny McClain won 31 games—MLB lowered the mound six inches, down to an even foot.
This helped hitters immensely, but I don’t understand why it stopped there.
Placing the pitcher on a higher playing field is unfair; he should be even with the batter. Lower the mound to ground-level, even out the sight-lines and maybe the game will become more fan-friendly with higher scoring games.
6) Standardized Ballparks
Every other major sport has identical dimensions in their stadiums and arenas.
A three-pointer is the same distance in Miami as it is in Oklahoma City.
The end-zone is the same size in Nashville as it is Dallas.
But baseball is different.
In Boston, you hit a fly-ball 330 feet to left field and it’s a home run, but in Queens it’s just an F-7 on the scorecard.
Standardize all the ballparks.
The bases and mound are equal distance apart, so why not the fences? Of course, things like the Green Monster, the baskets over the Ivy and Monument Park will have to go in order to create perfectly even, symmetrical home run distances (and the fences will have to be evened out as well).
But then, we also have the problem of the wind. In cities like Chicago and San Francisco (although it’s not as much of a problem since the Giants moved out of Candlestick and into the heart of SF), the wind currents can drastically change the game.
Large fans powerful enough to control the winds so that no matter what ballpark you play in, the wind is perfectly even.