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.
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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.
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2 comments

  1. Seattle Steve // October 29, 2010 at 5:08 PM  

    Some decent ideas, but I hate the idea of expanded playoffs. Reaching the post season should be a big deal. The last thing we want to be is the NBA where even below-average teams routinely sneak into the playoffs. Yuck.

    I'd rather see the division series expanded to seven games than add a round with three game series. Even series as short as five are an unfair comparison of teams designed to win over a 162 game season.

    Double-headers? HELL YEAH!! Good way to shorten the season without cutting games.

    As for realignment the simplest solution is to move Houston to the AL West. The Rangers are already in West and would instantly be natural rivals. Travel for Houston would be somewhat worse, for the Rangers it would be better. And we'd have six even divisions. Right now if all else was equal AL West teams have a 25% chance of winning their division and NL Central teams only a 17% chance. That needs fixing.

    Optimally though I think baseball should expand the AL with two more teams. One in Portland, Oregon...now the largest TV market with only a single pro sports franchise. The other, in... (drum roll please) New York City.

    The NYC market is big enough for three teams, and has supported that many in the past (when the Yanks, Dodgers and Giants were all in NYC). The team should be located so that it primarily draws from the Yankees (and not the Mets) as the team with the biggest fanbase in the game right now. This, I know, will never happen. But it should.

    Then realignment would mean bumping the Royals to the AL West and the Blue Jays to the AL Central.

    Bang: baseball fixed.

    Oh, the DH should be the law of the land. Watching pitchers "hit" is sad and too often kills a rally.

  2. Chris // November 25, 2010 at 11:01 PM  

    Steve,

    I agree with you except I would move Milwaukee back to the AL Central and Kansas City to the AL West. I'd love to see doubleheaders once a month and cut the season short 1 week. Keep the playoffs as they are and make the first round a best-of-7. Let's finally have a DH in both leagues. Pitchers get hurt enough without having to risk getting injured running the bases especially with the money they make. I'd also expand the rosters to 27. Each team can add a pitcher and a hitter or however they would do it. My guess would be most teams would have 15 hitters - 8 regulars, a DH and 6 reserves - 2 infielders, 2 outfielders, a catcher and either a veteran pinch hitter or someone who is versatile and can play several positions. With 7 relievers, you wouldn't burn them out so quickly with all of the pitching changes that go on now. If we add 2 teams to the AL, then go to 4 divisions of 4 and no wildcard. Finally, lets have a salary cap which is long overdue. Somewhere between 100-125 million. That's what I'd like to see.