Commissioner Selig named a 14-person “special committee for on-field matters” in 2009. Call it a “study group,” “think tank” or a “ship of fools” the idea itself makes sense. What has come out of this committee has been preposterous. The purpose was to continually be in review of methods to improve the quality of the game of major league baseball. Some suggestions tabled included pacing of games, benefits of making the All-Star Game more meaningful, the reality of expansion to 32 teams (with revenue sharing), drug policy and enforcement, etc.
Cow Dung: There are no sacred cows” claimed Selig, “everything is in play.” While I applaud Selig’s intention to keep baseball in touch with changes that could benefit the game, the gate receipts and expanding the fan base, I laud a suggestion that actually made it out of committee (with strong committee support no less) – FLOATING REALIGNMENT! The theory is that teams would not be fixed to a division (currently based loosely on geography) and would be free to change divisions from year to year predicated upon their payroll and plans to contend. Insanity pure and simple – and really it is neither pure nor simple, merely chaotic and convaluded.
Monkeyball: The committee (monkeys with typewriters?) concluded that this strategy would permit teams to explore the competitive balance. Teams would be permitted to choose which division they want to play in based on salary structure, outlook and willingness to compete or not. For example… let’s say the Toronto Blue Jays want to play in a weaker division rather than contend with the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox. No problem. Let the Blue Jays just play in the AL Central (or the NL East if they like) next season!!! Likewise they would need a reciprocal sacrificial lamb to replace Toronto so let’s suppose that Cleveland doesn’t feel like being very competitive. The Indians would benefit from 18 games against the Yankees and Red Sox further benefitting their fans by more lucrative gate receipts and TV revenue. Please for the love of sanity, logic or whatever gods or sacred cows you believe in, tell me the committee was using illegal performance-detracting substances!!!!!!!
Columbus Method: The NFL amended its conference and divisional arrangement in 2002, subdividing into 4 divisions per conference. Moreover, the league transferred the Seattle Seahawks from the AFC West to NFC West AND took the Arizona Cardinals out of the NFC East and placed them correctly into the NFC West.
Contrived Mapping: Many times in sports history, conference and division lines have thrown caution to geography for the sake of unity. When the NHL expanded in 1967, all 6 expansion teams (including Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minnesota and the failed Oakland franchise) were gathered into the “Western Conference” while the Original Six morphed into the “East.” As leagues unfold and expand they do what they can and must to survive and grow. Eventually this was righted once the league expanded and offered competitive balance based on geography.
Railsplitters vs. Jet-Setters: There was a time when the American and National Leagues were largely confined from the Midwest (Chicago and St. Louis had 2 teams each, Detroit had one, Cleveland and Cincinnati each had one) to the Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia held 2 teams, New York boasted 3, Pittsburgh had one) and Northeast of the United States. Boston (2 franchises) was the farthest north, while Washington was the farthest south. Train travel was the primary mode of transportation and television was virtually unheard of in those days. Teams moved West and South spread across the country and its four time zones, using jet travel instead of merely trains. It is time now for the Major Leagues to finally align themselves in a way that makes 21st century geographic sense.
Manifest Destiny: American and National Leagues have remained relatively autonomous (nominally) through history. The American League had emerged in 1901 as a rival to the heralded “senior circuit” National League which had been firmly established since 1876. By 1903 the rival major leagues began playing an annual series of each league’s champion known by the inaccurate moniker “World’s Series” - which became the precursor to a mutually beneficial existence as the combined Major Leagues of Baseball. The name was contracted to “World Series” as the leagues developed a mutually beneficial co-existence. Today the major leagues of baseball exist as a more unified 30 team MLB entity and have profitted as a result.
Laws of Natural Geography: Take all the existing 30 MLB franchises, entrenching as many as possible in their current locations and divide them into geographic regions ignoring league allegiance. Next, determine if any teams in “weak markets” might be encouraged to relocate. If so, MLB does what it did with the Montreal Expos, purchasing the franchise, relocating it and allowing local ownership to gradually regain control of team operations. How would this be done?
First devise geographic regions. Six divisions, separating north from south and then into relevant time zones (West, Central, East).
Northeast, North Central, Northwest, Southeast, South Central, South West (one could argue”National League” and “American League” either way).
Now, group the teams into their natural geographic regions:
1. Southwest. Los Angeles Dodgers (LAD), Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (LAA), San Diego Padres (SDP), Arizona Diamondbacks (AZD)
2. Northwest. Seattle Mariners (SEA), San Francisco Giants (SFG), Oakland A’s (OAK), Colorado Rockies (COL) and… possibly KC Royals (KCR) if relocated to Portland or Vancouver to allow Minnesota to remain in Midwest region.
3. Southeast. Florida Marlins (FLA), Tampa Bay Rays (TBR), Atlanta Braves (ATL), Texas Rangers (TEX) and Houston Astros (HOU). Ideally keep one Florida team and relocate second to Charlotte or New Orleans or San Antonio.
4. North Central/Midwest. Milwaukee Brewers (MIL), Chicago Cubs (CHC), Chicago White Sox (CHW), St. Louis Cardinals (STL), Minnesota (MIN). This assumes Kansas City has been relocated to Pacific Northwest.
5. Central. Detroit Tigers (DET), Toronto Blue Jays (TOR), Cleveland Indians (CLE), Cincinnati Reds (CIN), Pittsburgh Pirates (PIT). This combines Ohio Valley with Michigan and Toronto, which makes the most sense.
6. Midatlantic. New York Yankees (NYY), New York Mets (NYM), Boston Red Sox (BOS), Baltimore Orioles (BAL), Washington Nationals (WAS) & Philadelphia Phillies (PHI). Maintains NYY-BOS rivalry, adds flavor of Mets-Phillies and creates BAL-WAS dynamic. Encourages regional rivalries.
Uhaul: So this places 30 teams in 6 divisions with most all of the natural geographic rivals intact. There are some question marks because Minnesota, Kansas City and the two Florida teams require help. If one of the two Florida teams relocates to Charlotte or New Orleans or even San Antonio (Memphis/OK City, etc.) it spreads out that
southeast division much better. Minnesota should be in Central with MIL, STL and the two Chicagos but that means KCR have to relocate to Vancouver or Portland to go in the Northwest with SFG, OAK, COL & SEA. This makes 15 teams per “league” allowing one six team division (NLE) and leaving the NLW with four teams. Having an unbalanced number of teams in the name of geographic sanity should be fine, but the pharmaceutically enhanced Committee can pan that out! Under this plan it would shake down as such:
|NL EAST||NL CENTRAL||NL WEST|
|AL EAST||AL CENTRAL||AL WEST|
Intra-league: Finally, this would allow for more regional play based on geography. We could do away with arbitrary interleague nonsense. Perhaps an unbalanced schedule so that teams play most games against their division, second-most against other division in time zone and least games with farthest teams. Maybe East teams take one road trip west per season and vice versa (one series home and away)? East plays Central two series at each home venue? Take this and use the NFL scheduling balance based on record and payroll so that we limit cross country travel across time zones, we allow higher payroll and lower payroll teams to play more games head to head and provide incentives for lowering payroll.
The only caveat would seem in the area of franchises relocating, which is an argument for another day! Pittsburgh has threatened for 25 years as have Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Oakland.
New Venues: Stadium deals dictate relocation threats more than anything -but population, fanbase and attendance are huge factors. Maybe encourage one of these toward Las Vegas, Vancouver or Albuquerque? New Orleans or San Antonio? Portland? Indianapolis? Charlotte? Nashville? Birmingham? Memphis? Oklahoma City? Hawaii? Mexico City? San Juan or Puerto Rico!! My guess is that Vancouver, Charlotte or San Antonio make the most sense for the local fan base. Portland or Indianapolis could prove interesting as could Las Vegas.
Charlotte, Portland and Indianapolis have supported minor league baseball in addition to other major sports (Indianapolis Colts in NFL, Portland Trail Blazers in NBA). Charlotte supports the NFL Panthers and have had two NBA expansion franchises (Hornets & Bobcats). Even the NHL explored the Carolinas with the Hurricanes and has been successful. The surrounding region supports minor league baseball (Durham Bulls, Charlotte Knights, etc.) and would make this a true four sport city.
I’d like to see some feedback and I’d REALLY like to see what the “special committee for on-field matters” would do with such a proposal.
Reshuffle: Either by expansion to 32 MLB teams or relocation, some form of realignment and reshuffling should happen. MLB considered contraction as recently as 2002-2003, forcing the Montreal Expos to “barnstorm” through Puerto Rico on their way to relocating in Washington, DC for the 2005 season.
The balance between relocation/stadium building/maintaining fan base/arranging local media coverage is a delicate one, but it does make sense to place franchises in the best fan markets (both for attendance and media coverage). Pittsburgh was a premier major American city in 1900 but would that beautiful new stadium be filled if located in Portland OR Indianapolis, IN?
Las Vegas: Mayor Oscar Goodman has made the acquisition of a major league franchise a top priority, even bringing a group of showgirls to baseball’s winter meetings. The reality lags behind the aggressive marketing, however. Some have a perception that Las Vegas is America’s boomtown, but it’s hardly Phoenix. Sin City is 31st in size of metro areas and 48th among television markets. None of the four major sports leagues have been willing to court scandal by moving into a city built on the back of gambling, and it doesn’t seem likely baseball will be the first. Having a largely transient population has never worked for baseball fanbases – one need look to Florida for evidence thereof.
San Antonio: The Marlins seriously explored their options in the central Texas city last year, but city officials were turned down when they forced owner Jeffrey Loria to make a quick decision about a stadium offer. This was a major relief to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, who weren’t excited about a third franchise in their state. Mayor Phil Hardberger correctly points to the size of the San Antonio TV market (37th) as a major drawback for bringing a second big-league franchise to a city that is home to the NBA’s Spurs. Now that the Miami Marlins have a new stadium, perhaps Tampa is the best option for relocation.
Charlotte: Like Portland, Charlotte is on its way up. Its TV market ranks 27th, gaining a place in the latest rankings, and it is home to nine Fortune 500 companies. The Minnesota Twins flirted with a move to Charlotte in 1998. But saturation provides the same problem here as in Indianapolis, as the NFL and the NBA beat MLB to the market. A structure remains in place to build a 40,000 seat baseball stadium, but it could be a long time until one is needed.
Northern New Jersey: A third team in the New York/New Jersey market is an intriguing idea, and might be the best way for other franchises to slow the two powerful New York teams. Historically this move has not worked for NBA or NHL and only the NFL has been successful in this realm. Yankees and Mets owners would oppose any move to bring a team here – at least as adamantly as Orioles owner Peter Angelos did the Expos’ relocation to Washington, D.C.. No one has stepped forward to challenge the Yankees and Mets but market saturation will always be a problem – as it used to be when the Giants, Dodgers and Yankees shared the metro market. Minor league baseball on Staten Island, Coney Island, Long Island and the Hudson Valley has encountered moderate success due to logistical problems, lack of support and of course media coverage.
Orlando: In a dream world, you’d bulldoze football behemoth Dolphin Stadium and “worst mall of America” hellhole Tropicana Field and merge Florida’s two weak franchises into one, based in the middle of the state. Orlando’s TV market is 20th, larger even than Portland, and Disney-based tourism (plus Champions Stadium @ Wide World of Sports) would give an Orlando team some natural advantages. The “Devil Rays” (now streamlined to just the
“Rays”) are playing a regular-season series at Disney World, but it’s hard to see how MLB unravels its Florida mess to land in the Magic Kingdom. Neither Miami nor Tampa seems willing or interested in filling a stadium. In fact, Tampa had to GIVE AWAY 20,000 FREE TICKETS in late September while the former Rainbow Brite Devil Rays were in postseason contention (reprehensibly embarassing)!
Barons vs. Peasants: All baseball fans should take note of this imbalance of power. Despite revenue sharing, despite worldwide merchandising, despite RBI, Beyond Baseball, the World Baseball Classic and the MLB Network, the chasm between baseball’s Titan and Lilliputian franchises has continued to widen at an alarming rate. By Day Two, when the Opening Day bunting is still fresh, approximately 20 teams will admit they have no chance to make the playoffs. Most hope for a winning season and a breakeven between expenses and income. Due to revenue sharing, lesser teams tend to hoard their league-garnered income rather than investing it back into their organizational talent pool.
Top 10 MLB Revenues ($MIL):
264 New York Yankees
201 Boston Red Sox
180 New York Mets
173 Seattle Mariners
170 Chicago Cubs
167 Philadelphia Phillies
166 Los Angeles Dodgers
162 Atlanta Braves
159 San Francisco Giants
155 Houston Astros
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org