I guess Bud Selig is ready to admit that something is broken in MLB. That something, of course, is the American League East.
Yesterday, Tom Verducci used his rather large platform to let the masses know that the league is looking at ways to save the Baltimores and Tampa Bays of the world from the New Yorks and Bostons. While Verducci doesn’t mention Toronto by name, I think it’s safe to assume the Blue Jays would benefit from any changes as well.
How is MLB going to give the “small or mid-market” contenders a chance? By scrambling the divisions like so many eggs. What? Take it away, Verducci:
One example of floating realignment, according to one insider, would work this way: Cleveland, which is rebuilding with a reduced payroll, could opt to leave the AL Central to play in the AL East. The Indians would benefit from an unbalanced schedule that would give them a total of 18 lucrative home dates against the Yankees and Red Sox instead of their current eight. A small or mid-market contender, such as Tampa Bay or Baltimore, could move to the AL Central to get a better crack at postseason play instead of continually fighting against the mega-payrolls of New York and Boston.
My initial reaction to this was relief — “The Jays might get back to the playoffs even sooner!!1 Stupid AL Central won’t know what them!” — but the more I thought about, the more I realized how ridiculous it is.
Say you’re on your way to a job interview and you get a paper cut on your finger. It’s a pretty bad one and it’s not going to stop bleeding any time soon. You’ve got time to stop and get some real band-aids or you can use the SpongeBob SquarePants band-aids you’ve got in your car for some reason. The SpongeBob band-aid is going to stop the bleeding, but people are going to seriously question your decision-making skills.
Floating realignment is Selig’s way of saying that using the SpongeBob band-aid might just a great idea.
In fairness though, it is a vast improvement for a guy who had been refusing to admit he was even bleeding.
Verducci does go to great lengths to ensure everyone knows that this idea is only a concept, so there’s a long way to go before changes take place (if any do at all).
Floating realignment is a bad idea because, under the proposal, choosing to play in the AL East would be tantamount to telling your fans “hey, we suck!” Sure, you might get decent crowds for the home games against Boston and New York, but what kind of support are you going to draw for the other games?
Beyond that, the proposal ignores the whole reason that people want to watch the Bostons and New Yorks of the world in the first place: Rivalry. No it’s not because of the “rivalry” between, say, the Jays and the Yankees, it’s because of the rivalry between Boston and New York. If people actually cared about good baseball, the Tampa Bay squad of 2008 would have been a huge draw. It wasn’t. Fans want to see the Yankees and the Red Sox because the games are so hyped, and they’re so hyped because of what happens when the Red Sox and the Yankees play each other.
Divisions are good at two things: 1) Guaranteeing that a team from each region makes the playoffs and 2) Building rivalries.
Turning divisions into a group of teams that fluctuates on a yearly basis will do nothing to build new rivalries and will further entrench the “we’ve got to the ballpark when New York/Boston are here and nobody else” attitude. If you’re going to have divisions at all, static divisions are the way to go, but set them up in such a way that new rivalries can be created or old ones can flourish.
Does anybody else miss the old AL East rivalry with the Tigers or am I all alone on that?
Personally, I think the best way to fix MLB from a competitive standpoint is to do away with divisions entirely, balance the schedule and just have the top 4 teams make the playoffs from each league. That likely won’t happen because of local TV and travel concerns, so why can’t we just go back to two divisions with the winner of each and the next two best teams (regardless of division) qualifying for the post-season?