Upcoming MLB Changes: For or Against?

Goodbye Astros, the NL hardly knew ya

When Major League Baseball and its players agree to a new five year collective bargaining agreement, it will mark the longest period of time (two decades) without a labor conflict since the MLB Players’ Association was created. It’s unprecedented to see that baseball, despite the grumbling of a few “fans,” baseball has recovered from the 1994-95 strike. Joyous as it may be, not all are pleased with baseball’s decision to realign and expand interleague play as a result of the new agreement. It’s a sore spot for many purists who wish to see the National League play the American League in only the All-Star game and the World Series.

I’m going to break this down into a few very specific sections. First we’ll discuss the move of the Astros into the American League and why this problems dates back to the 90s. Next I’ll discuss the pros and cons of interleague play throughout the season. Finally we come to the big cheese and that is a second wild card team in each league. Joyous day.

Read it all after the jump…

Houston’s On the Move

The sale of the Houston Astros to local businessman Jim Crane came with one big caveat–the team must move to the AL West. It was not a particularly shocking bit of news, the Astros were rumored to be heading to the American League for months as the sale of the team progressed. In a way, it makes sense. The National League has 16 teams, including an overwhelming  six team NL Central division. The AL West and 2013 home for the Astros by comparison only has four teams and became a natural destination for an NL team on the move. Many scoff at the move. The Astros are a National League team, plain and simple. What few fans seem to realize is that Bud Selig could’ve solved this crisis in the 90s, without a problem.There was a time my friends that the American League was home to more teams than the National League.

In 1992 the American League was the bigger boy on the street and featured two 7-team divisions. The National League, by comparison, was home to a paltry 12 teams (despite its smaller size, it remained the best of the two, always). Major League Baseball had figured it out for 1993. While the league wouldn’t expand to three divisions until 1994, it would add the incoming expansion Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins to the National League, thus evening out the leagues at fourteen teams a piece. Everything was hunky dory. MLB expanded to three divisons per league in 1994, and while there was some inequality, the leagues remained even. The AL and NL East and Central featured five teams while the AL and NL West would house four. Everything was great and then 1998 happened…

Major League Baseball expanded again in 1998, bringing the Arizona Diamondbacks into the National League and the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays into the AL East. To make room for Tampa in the East, Detroit bolted for the AL Central. Since the NL West only had four teams, the Diamondbacks became the fifth team. Now with six teams in the AL Central, Bud Selig saw an opportunity to move his baby, the Milwaukee Brewers, a city with strong National League ties, to the NL Central.

Rather than moving a team like the Royals, for example, to the AL West, and evening out the divisions at five teams a piece, Selig seemed destined to screw one of the leagues over and give the other two more teams. It didn’t make sense in 1998 and it doesn’t make sense now. It’s why all of these years later we find ourselves discussing the implications of the Houston Astros moving to the AL West. A move that didn’t have to happen (the Brewers can stay in the AL Central and move the damn Royals!) is happening in 2011, but to a team with no American League ties.

So a team with no ties to the American League will now have an intrastate and intradivision rival in the Texas Rangers. Yee-haw. If you’re upset about the move, blame it on Bud Selig’s obsession with getting National League baseball back to Milwaukee. However, with the new interleague plans, the Brewers could safely remain in the American League…

Interleague: Now All Year Long!

Interleague play was introduced in 1997, much to the chagrin of baseball fans. Owners loved it because it presented an opportunity to market teams that only visited during the World Series. It was a goldmine. Even now in 2011, interleague remains a strong part of a team’s ticket selling strategy. For example: “Don’t forget Braves fans that the New York Yankees are visiting in 2012, get your overpriced tickets today!” The new bargaining agreement, and the balancing of the leagues adds a new kink into the wrench. Interleague play, something that was relegated to a few short weeks, typically during May and June, will now occur throughout the season. Oh yes, it’s quite possible that you could head to Turner Field to watch the Braves take on the Kansas City Royals (I’m picking on them a lot tonight) in August. Awesome.

Many purists disapprove of interleague play altogether, claiming that it hurts the World Series. On this, I disagree. When the Royals play the Mets in a regular season game, it’s hardly spoiling a World Series that will likely not happen for generations. Yes, interleague isn’t great and is far from the days of old, but baseball needs an energy boost into its schedule. All other major sports leagues in the United States have interleague throughout the season. It’s quite possible that in the NFL an AFC team will open and close its season against an NFC opponent. Most don’t complain that it damages the integrity of the game or the Super Bowl (but let’s face it, most of the Super Bowls are awful games), it’s just part of the season. Ditto for the NBA (when they actually play) and the NHL. At this point, fans are used to it and rarely, if ever complain about it.

Baseball is different and interleague still remains a rather odd part of the season. Scheduling has a lot to do with that, and if we’re stuck with more interleague play, perhaps spreading it out will help. Randomly cramming in a ton of interleague games in May and June feels forced and awkward, especially for the two National League teams left out of the fun, forced to play each other, while other NL teams play the Junior Circuit and use the designated hitter. American League managers simply get frustrated by having to actually make roster moves during games, as a result of all nine players on the field subject to batting. Interleague is a little rough.

Before we jump to conclusions about this “expanded” interleague, let’s allow the scheduling gurus to find new ways to destroy the beautiful game. I, for one, can’t wait for the Braves to take on the Royals in an epic September match-up. Sadly, the Braves will surely lose this series, thus costing them a chance at making it to the playoffs. But wait, we have more wild card teams!

Two Teams is Wilder than One

When MLB expanded to three divisions in each league, there was a major change to the structure of the playoffs. It seems commonplace today, but when introduced, many baseball purists despised the Wild Card and Division Series. Despite having the smallest playoffs in American sports, there was something golden about seeing the two division winners from each league duke it out for a chance to play in the World Series. Three divisions presented a problem; three teams can’t play each other at once. Enter the wild card. To accomodate the wild card, a new playoff series was created, the division series. Sure, it doesn’t make much sense since one of the four teams didn’t win their division, but who cares, it meant more baseball!

Over the years, most have grown accustomed and even like the Division Series. In 2011, 19 out of a possible 20 LDS games were played between the four participating teams. Only Tampa Bay and Texas didn’t go the full five games. It’s safe to say that the Division Series earned its place in the MLB playoffs.

However, the addition of another Wild Card team in each league gets a bit…weird. Taking the 2011 season, for example, we’d have a very fascinating scenario. On the final day of the season, we saw the finality of the Braves’ and Red Sox’s epic collapse, capped off by a walk-off home run by Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria sending the Rays to the playoffs and the Red Sox into chaos. If the new playoff rules were in effect for last season, the incredible final day that saw the Braves and Red Sox stay home, while the Cardinals and the Rays take champagne showers, would be quite different.

Yes, Longoria’s home run would’ve still propelled the Rays into the playoffs and the Cardinals would go as well, but the Red Sox and Braves would join them. The new playoffs call for a 1-game playoff between the two wild card teams to determine who earns the right to enter the Division Series. MLB, in effect, would wipe out the epic final day of the 2011 regular season. What if the Braves managed to beat the Cardinals? If the Red Sox beat the Rays in their 1-game playoff and managed to beat the Rangers, would Terry Francona still be out of a job? Would Theo Epstein be living it large in the Windy City?

Oh, the questions!

Conclusions

Baseball fans will upset, perhaps even for years, because of the changes MLB is making to the regular season and playoffs. Change happens to the game. From Jackie Robinson, to divisional play, expansion teams and the Wild Card, baseball evolves and that’s okay. We might all hate what’s about to happen, but I know this, the game itself will not change. Teams will still play each other for 9 innings per game. Each team gets 3 outs per inning and if you’re tied after 27 outs, you keep going. It’s a beautiful game and the pastime of this great nation. Even with the Astros joining the American League in 2013, an extra Wild Card, or having to watch my beloved Braves play the Royals in August or September, I still love the game. The biggest benefit from the changes: baseball continues for another five years without labor strife. That’s something we can all agree on.

Advertisements

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Melissa on November 22, 2011 at 10:46 am

    I wonder if Interleague play throughout the season will help convince those on the Junior Circuit that playing real baseball is actually more fun and more exciting for the fans……

    Reply

    • One could only hope! I’m not convinced that it will happen anytime soon, but the DH might disappear at some point in the near future. Perhaps when the new collective bargaining agreement expires?

      Thanks for reading.

      -Joel

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: