Over at MASN.com last week, Ben Goessling had some interesting ideas about improving Major League Baseball's playofffs and bettering the game as a whole. You should definitely check out his thoughts and the comments to his post in conjunction with this column.
Ben's inspiration for his post was the fact that the cruddy Monday Night Football game between Tennessee and Jacksonville outdrew the Cliff Lee playoff masterpiece.
And yesterday, a radio host in San Diego threw out a little nugget about realignment in Major League Baseball. I haven't seen or heard this anywhere else, nor has anyone I've been able to talk to. But it's still interesting to think about.
Man, I love this debate.
I wrote my college senior thesis (remember, that was in 1989) for my sport and society class on expansion, relocation and the business of baseball. The two things I enjoy most in life are baseball and telling people how they should do things. It's the perfect combination.
So since the dialogue has been started, here are my ideas for improving baseball and restoring its prominence on America's sporting landscape.
Are all these ideas the best in the world? Maybe not. Too much of baseball is run by dollar signs and not common sense. The rest is run by traditionalists and close-minded thinkers. But it would be a much more fair place to watch baseball if these ideas were adopted.
1) Eliminate divisions and return to the two-league format. Divisions were created because of expensive travel costs and the need to gin up rivalries for commerce. Neither is a factor anymore.
There are time-honored traditional rivalries that will withstand the elimination of the division format, and if the rivals continue to play in the same league they'll still play those rivals -- only a few times less than they do now -- making those games that much more special.
We all know the unbalanced schedule is in place so that MLB can feature 19 Yankees-Red Sox games a season spread out over four networks all season long. Eliminating a couple of those series isn't going to do any damage. In fact, under my plan more teams will get a chance to play and host the two biggest revenue-drivers in the league.
Returning to the league format does a couple of beneficial things. First, it allows for balanced scheduling (which I'll address below). It's the only way of ensuring a regular season produces the best teams to go to the playoffs.
Also, we'll have to move an N.L. team (back) to the A.L. so that we have an equal number of teams in each league, which is necessary for playoff implications. It's not fair that a 14-team league gets the same number of playoff teams a 16 team league does.
Next, it mitigates the financial advantage that the teams with the largest payrolls have.
Right now, the Yankees and Red Sox get to play non-contenders Baltimore and Toronto 19 times a season; Philly gets to play the Nats that many times. By spreading the competition out and expanding the playoffs (see below), it gives the traditional cellar dwellars in divisions dominated by large-payroll teams more of an opportunity to compete, and allows us to find out if the Yankees and Red Sox (and Rays, for that matter) are really that good or are feasting on poorly run ballclubs unfairly based simply on geography.
In addition, teams in the N.L. Central have to fight it out with five other teams in their division, while the A.L. West only has three division competitors. It's just not set up fairly. Leveling the playing field, by creating more competition and lessening the impact of unbridaled spending, should be the primary goal in any discussion about bettering Major League Baseball.
2) Institute true balanced schedules. Now that we have an uneven number of teams in each league, we'll have to change the way interleague play is factored in. My idea: Play each team in your league (14 others) ten games for a total of 140 games. That leaves 22 games for interleague (Nats played 18 interleague games last season).
Play a three- and four-game series against a "Geographic Rival" (Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Nats-O's, etc.) for seven games, which leaves 15 games (five three-games series) to spread out among teams in the other league in an every-third-year cyclical, similar to how it is now.
With an uneven number of teams in each league, we'll have to have an interleague series going on at all times. Outrageous, you say? Eh, I'm numb to it by now.
The schedule-makers will all have ulcers, but that's why they invented computers.
3) Expand the number of playoff teams. Now that we have two 15-team leagues, we can send six teams in each league to the playoffs. That number is still right in line with the other sports without cheesing off the traditionalists.
Well, except Joe Morgan. His head will explode.
The teams that finish first and second in each league get a bye, teams three through six play a best of three at the higher seeds' park the Tuesday-Thursday immediately after the season. Then start the second round on Saturday, giving the top two teams five days off after the regular season, conveniently skipping each starter just once, and giving the survivor of the three-game series a day (or two) off as well.
Then compact the second and third rounds with one off day for each series. That's all you get in the regular season generally.
Reducing the off-days that much further forces teams, especially in the League Championship Series, to use their full rotation, one of my big pet peeves about the current playoff format. Let's make the playoffs about which teams are better, not who has the best three starters.
To take a week off the regular season because of the expanded playoffs, mandate Sunday double-headers once a month.
4) Start World Series games no later than 7:00 pm eastern time. Unless you want the league to die a slow, horrible death since no one under the age of 16 can stay up late enough to watch the end of a World Series game now. Sorry West Coasters.
5) Either eliminate or adopt the DH in both leagues. I don't really care which, but it's silly that in this day and age half of the teams in the Majors play with different rules than the other. It also adds to the competitive fairness come World Series time.
6) Base World Series home field advantage on regular season record. Even a dummy knows this is a good idea.