Tuesday rob Manfred was asked about the spike in home runs. He essentially stated that it is not the ball and it is not due to players cheating the testing system for PED use. The numbers indicate he is probably right, that the spike is based on how today’s game is played and it may not be suited for quality baseball.
It is no secret that strikeouts are up significantly in recent years. Home run rates though were close to the record pace of 1999 and 2000 and the 2016 season broke a record with 111 players hitting 20 or more homers, the old record of 103 was set in 1999.
Using the Play Index at http://www.baseball-reference.com, I ran some quick comparisons of the 103 1999 batters who were in the 20+ homer club against the 111 from 2016. Note Carlos Beltran is the one player who made the list both seasons.
The numbers are rather striking in some particular areas. IN 1999, several players were well into the 40+ range with 2 going over 60, no 2016 player hit more than 47. The 103 players in 1999 averaged 29.75 homers, the 2016 figure was 27.5. The average age of the combined players was just a half year difference, nearly 29 in 1999 and 28.5 in 2016. The 1999 players averaged 13 more plate appearances, nearly 609.5 to 596.3, but the average number of official at bats was nearly identical, 531.5 in 1999 and 531.9 this season. The 1999 batters on average had nearly 12 more hits than the 2016 hitters, 155.1 to 143.4. The difference was similar for walks, 66.1 for the 1999 group to 53.8 this season. Where did the fewer hits and walks go since the number of at bats was similar and the total plate appearances was only 13 higher in ’99, you guessed it, strikeouts. This group of players averaged 101 in 1999, nearly 125 this season. While not the exact and proper figure, one can also get some insight by adding and dividing some numbers that don’t usually get examined in this way. By adding up all the batting averages and dividing them by 103 players, the figure for the 1999 hitters is a batting average of 0.291. doing real AVG combining all hits and dividing by all at bats creates a figure that is about a hundredth of a point higher. This figure as you can expect was way down for the 2016 hitters at just .268. Using a similar method for other hitting stats, the 1999 hitters lead in on base percentage .372 to .339 and in slugging .527 to .487. Among other stats, numbers were not too different for the two groups, more than 2 doubles, a .2 lead in triples, nearly double the rate of sac flies 0.9 to 0.5, a 0.3 lead in GIDP, a 9.5-6.5 lead in stolen bases and a 4.0-2.6 lead in caught stealing was all found with the 1999 group. What the 2016 group had more of besides strikeouts, a nearly 0.2 lead in hit by pitches. So clearly when looking deeper at the numbers, yes 2016 had a home run spike, but it does not mean we have a better game or a more entertaining game. I for one would rather have a 5-4 game with action on the bases and fielding plays, as opposed to home run derby with a 10-8 score, 8 combined homers and 20 plus combined strikeouts.
The 2016 MLB attendance headline is a bit misleading. When you see that attendance was down a bit over 1% from 2015, it makes you wonder at first glance, what is wrong with baseball. Let me assure you folks, baseball is going to be OK.
The article on ESPN referenced how 2007 was the record setting year before the downturn from the recession and this is a very true statement. But one must dig a bit deeper into the numbers to understand some other factors at play which I am going to look at in great detail.
First, let’s examine the numbers from that 2007 record breaking year and compare them to what we just completed with the 2016 season. When you compare those two seasons side by side, you get some very noteworthy data. First, while a majority of teams drew smaller crowds when using an average per game figure, the great drop in attendance that is the drain on the sport occurred in four of the largest markets, Philadelphia, both New York teams and with the Chicago White Sox. For all the bad press Miami fans get when you compare 2007 to 2016, the Marlins have the fifth best overall change with an increase of almost 4,500 more fans per game. The only teams that did better, the Blue Jays and Royals which both have had recent post season success after decades of nothing to show the fans, while Pittsburgh had a similar story with improved play on the field and Washington as a new market has taken more of an interest in its team. But consider all of the following points.
IN 2007, the Mets and Yankees were expected to be very good teams and contend, which they both did. Both were closing their stadiums after 2008 and many fans outside New York would come into the city so they could check off the former Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium on the ballparks visited list, count me among those in 2008 who did just that. The Mets while coming off a 2015 World Series have had a relatively down stretch since moving into Citifield in 2009 and 2016 represented a significant jump from prior years for the Mets. The Yankees have been in a general corporate support decline as the team following a 2009 championship had gotten old and had not lived up to the expected excellence of Yankee teams for the previous 15 years. The team in the Bronx has not won a division title since 2012 and the only playoff appearance as a 2015 wild Card resulted in a home shutout loss against a young and surprising Astros team. So it should not be a shock that these two teams are among those with the largest negative differences from 2007 to 2016. It should also be mentioned that the two newer stadiums have fewer seats and those fewer seats are for regular fans, not in the corporate suites which made news for their emptiness in the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have the largest drop when comparing 2016 to 2007, the Mets are third. Between them are the Phillies, where the story is a bit more typical. Philadelphia had moved into a new ballpark in 2004 and was aggressively trying to put a winning team on the field. From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies were among baseball’s best franchises and by 2011, a ticket was a hard get as all games were sold out and average attendance was around 45,000. IN 2016, that average was under 24,000 as Phillies attendance dipped sharply following the 2013 season, it was already clearly in decline in 2013 as fans new the same was true for an aging team with huge and hard to move contracts. The Rangers and Rockies, two teams that have always been listed among those with very nice ballparks have experienced success at the gate. The Rangers low would come in 2008 and zoomed to over 42,000 in 2012 following a pair of World Series trips. A bad 2014 pulled the numbers down but the team still averaged over 3,500 more fans in 2016 than it did in 2007 and with another trip to post season, one would expect another increase in 2017. The Rockies hit rock bottom in 2005 and 2006 with a bit over 23,000 a game in 2005. But in 2007 Colorado made an improbable run to the playoffs and right on into the World Series. Attendance got more of a boost with a 2009 trip to the playoffs and while the team had a downturn starting in 2011, the gate did not suffer as Denver is clearly a football and baseball kind of town. Colorado was better than some expected in 2016 and there is hope that this could be a team on the move toward contention in the next couple seasons. With some young talent that has proven to be exciting on the field of play, expect things to maintain a Rocky Mountain high.
It is also worth noting that some of the teams that had high figures in 2007 which have dropped off in 2016 were in newer ballparks back then and as we always see, that newness does lose the charm after a while unless the team is winning. Several of the teams on the negative side went through a very deep dip in on field performance and are now recovering, Houston is a prime example, while others are in a down period now as they were then but saw a peak of successful performance such as Cincinnati. Others on this list had reasonable success early on in new ballparks and have stumbled in recent years, San Diego as an example, and still others were in a honeymoon with the fan base due to prior success leading into 2007 coupled with a contending team that season, Seattle for instance, with a decline that followed. After 2007, the Mets, Yankees, Twins and Marlins moved into new ballparks. Miami’s best attendance was 2012 during this period, Minnesota’s 2010, the first year of the new ballparks. For the two teams in New York, 2008 was the high water mark in the final season of the older and significantly larger ballparks in terms of human capacity.
The Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics mean time are examples of teams that perhaps need their own home markets. Oakland has never topped 30,000 in attendance since 1992, 2014 was the best season for Oakland during this period and the team is at one of its low points at the gate since the middle 1980’s. The white Sox saw a spike in attendance to over 36,000 in 2006 following the 2005 championship, by 2012, attendance was well under 25,000 and has not recovered. A bad team on the field in recent years and a management plan that seems to be missing a Rutter has not helped. The white Sox had the fourth worst drop when comparing 2016 to 2007 numbers. I dare say that if the Sox were in Montreal, they would have more support and yes Chicago fans, there were many years when the Expos did draw better than the team on the south side.
Finally, let’s talk about the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta goes into a new ballpark next year, a new ballpark that many including myself saw as unnecessary. The Braves attendance was dropping, but it was largely due to a bad team on the field and Atlanta fans like those in New York were spoiled and felt entitled. The Braves had two peaks in attendance, over 47,000 in 1993 following two trips to the world Series and a massive jump from just a bit over 12,000 in 1990. Following a dip due to the strike, attendance recovered with a championship and another World Series appearance in 1996, with 42,000+ at the new Turner Field in 2007. Attendance there would not fall under 40K until 2000 and even in 2007, the team still drew over 33,000 a game. The real drop came in recent years when the team management first did not make a serious effort to improve the team, then decided to move into a new ballpark and tear down the franchise at the same time. The loyal fans who showed up at a rate of nearly 25,000 a night in 2016 are to be given credit, those are the real fans and that figure is not far below what the team drew in 1991 when the Braves burst on to the seen as one of the great developing dynasties in modern baseball history.
The below chart list each MLB franchise, followed by its 2007 attendance per game, the 2016 figure and the difference. The chart is sorted from the largest positive difference or increase in the 2016 value to the most negative value or the largest drop based on the 2016 figure in relation to ’07.
TOR 29143 41880 12737
KC 19961 31576 11615
WSH 24217 30641 6424
PIT 22141 28112 5971
MIA 16919 21405 4486
TEX 29795 33461 3666
COL 28978 32129 3151
SFG 39792 41546 1754
BOS 36679 36486 -193
BAL 27060 26819 -241
CHC 40153 39906 -247
TB 17130 15878 -1252
STL 43854 42524 -1330
LAD 47617 45719 -1898
CIN 25414 23383 -2031
ARI 28708 25138 -3570
MIN 28349 24245 -4104
LAA 41551 37236 -4315
OAK 23726 18784 -4942
SEA 32993 27999 -4994
SD 34445 29029 -5416
DET 37619 31173 -6446
MIL 35421 28575 -6846
CLE 28448 19650 -8798
HOU 37288 28476 -8812
ATL 33891 24949 -8942
CWS 33140 21828 -11312
NYM 47579 34870 -12709
PHI 38374 23643 -14731
NYY 52729 37819 -14910
Two Weeks Left, What past Seasons Tell Us About giving Chase, What Second wildcards Look Like if Available 1995-2011
Major League Baseball began using the single wild card in 1995, expanding two a second wild card starting in 2012. IN addition, playoffs were held for wild card births that would have been the equal of today’s one game playoff prior to 2012, though these counted at that time as tie break 163rd games in the regular season. Those games were all in the National League, Giants at Cubs in 1998, and Mets at Reds in 1999 and the unforgettable Padres at Rockies game in 2007. While the NL had three playoffs to settle wildcard ties from 1995-2007, the American League tie breaker games were all to decide divisions with the losers missing out on the wildcard. Those games, all memorable were Angels at Mariners for the western division in 1995, and a pair of games to settle the central crown, Twins at White Sox in 2008 and Tigers at Twins in 2009. Here, let’s look at two items, what happens if the second wild card existed from the beginning of the new system in 1995, while looking at what odds teams have for postseason play who were on the outside looking in going into the final two weeks of the regular season.
It is worth noting that had the two wild card system been in place starting in 1995, some additional games would have been played that would have changed baseball history as we know it, while surely creating more history. That memorable 1995 Angels Mariners game would have decided the division, but the loser would have played the Yankees in a wild card game and we might not have even had Yankees and mariners that gave us the first and most memorable ALDS in history to this point, Astros at Rockies would have been the NL wildcard game. The 1996 season would have been very memorable with a second wildcard, Montreal would have played the Dodgers in Los Angeles, while the American League would have been potential craziness. Baltimore won the wildcard and would have hosted a playoff against a second team, which is where things would have gone off the rails. The Red sox and white Sox were both 85-77 and a half game behind the 85-76 Mariners. Seattle would have had to play a makeup game on Monday September 30, if they had won they would go to Baltimore. Had they lost, two more playoffs would have had to be played to eliminate two of the three teams, with the survivor living to play a third elimination game at the Orioles. In 1997, all five AL teams with winning records would have gone to postseason, the 84-78 Angels would have gone to face the 96-66 Yankees for the wildcard, with a NL playoff between the Dodgers and Mets to decide who would have then played the wildcard game against the Marlins. While the Cubs and Giants did have a true playoff for the NL wildcard in 1998, the Mets were this close to creating a three-way tie missing out by a single game. In the AL Boston would have hosted Toronto for the wildcard. IN addition to the 1999 NL playoff for the wildcard between the Mets and Reds, the AL would have featured Boston at home again for the wildcard against an up and coming Oakland Athletics squad that would become well known the next five years.
IN 2000, we had the final week stretch drive where Cleveland almost caught the mariners, missing out by one game from having a playoff for the wildcard, which would have taken place under the new system. Yes, the Indians still likely would have had that very odd doubleheader on Monday September 25, hosting the White Sox for a makeup game at noon, before the regularly scheduled game that night at 7:05 against the Twins. The Dodgers would have played at the Mets in the NL, edging both the Reds and Diamondbacks by a game for that second wildcard. The final days of 2001 were so unreal in so many ways, baseball finishing on October 7 after the rescheduling due to the tragic events of 9-11, bonds shattering a three year old homer record, the Mariners trying to be the best regular season team of all time, winning two more games than that great Yankee team from three years earlier. The Astros and Cardinals tied for the division, Houston got the crown on regular season tie breaks of head to head results. That second wild card that would have opened at St. Louis would have belonged to the Giants and Barry bonds. Minnesota which had its first winning season since 1992 would have played at Oakland for the wildcard, a matchup of teams that won 85 and 102 games respectably. Oakland in fact as a wild card had the second most wins in all of baseball that season. In 2002, Minnesota would have hosted the winner of a playoff between Boston and Seattle, while the Giants would have hosted the Dodgers for the two wildcard games. In 2003, Mariners at Red Sox and Astros at Marlins would have been your wildcard games, Houston edging the Phillies by a game for that second position that didn’t exist. In 2004 before the Red Sox could have made their historic run against the Yankees coming from 3-0 down, they would have had to first win a wildcard game against Oakland at Fenway, while the Astros who came back from the dead the season’s final eight weeks would have hosted the Giants. IN 2005, the Padres won the NL west with just an 82-80 record. And they would have faced the Braves who were the eastern winners, while the best team in baseball, St. Louis would have hosted a stronger team out of the Astros and Phillies wildcard game at Minute maid Park.
The 2006 season produced a great AL Central race, three teams winning 90 or more. The white Sox would have gone to Detroit for the wildcard, Chicago finishing a game ahead of the Angels. The NL west was a tie between the Padres and Dodgers, with San Diego getting the division title on head to head matchups. The Dodgers reward would have been a home wildcard game against the Phillies and 58 homer hitting Ryan Howard.
The 2007 season is forever remembered for that Padres Rockies wild card playoff game. Under the new system, the drama of that seasons close would have been less because with two days left, the Rockies had no margin for error. They had to win twice and have the Padres lose twice just to get to that playoff game. That meant they needed five games to all come up aces, like rolling a Yahtzee on your final throw of the game. We know how that ended up. The Mets would have created so much drama though had they won that final Sunday. Under the new system, two NL East teams would have been 89-73, Mets and Phillies, the same mark held by the Rockies and Padres. So we almost had an NL East playoff, after which the loser would have had to join those teams from out west to play a second playoff before we even had our wild card game. If that was not enough, the modern system would have produced an AL playoff between Seattle and Detroit to decide who would then travel to the Yankees for that wildcard. Oh what could have been? The 2008 season would have been almost as memorable. The Mets had another collapse that took them from the division lead to missing the playoffs all together, under the new system they would have played as the visiting team against the Brewers for the wildcard. But New York would have had double the excitement, because the Yankees would have also been on the road at Boston in the AL wildcard playoff. All of that alongside the Twins and white Sox playing for the AL Central, as the loser would have not qualified for the wildcard and remember too, the White Sox had to win a home makeup game with the Tigers on Monday the 29th of September to force that playoff with the Twins. IN 2009, the same situation played out in the AL Central, but in this case, the Twins came from the dead to beat the Tigers, force a playoff between the two and win that game in extra innings. While that was going on, the wildcard would have featured Texas at Boston. IN the NL, the Rockies did not need a playoff game to advance to the NLDS, under the new system they would have hosted the Giants for the wildcard game, San Francisco edging the Marlins by a game in the 2009 standings.
IN 2010, the Padres appeared to be in route to the NL West flag, then came a 10 game losing streak. When it was over, the Padres missed out on both the division and the wildcard. Under today’s system, they would have played that wildcard game in Atlanta against the Braves, while in the AL, Red sox at Yankees would have decided the wildcard, Boston would have earned that second slot by a game over the White Sox. As for 2011, that is the example of why the new system would have not meant as much, because everything came down to the final day of that season, four games, four teams, two leagues. Tampa was all but done before pulling a victory out of a hat, while at the same time, Boston took what was a certain victory and transformed it into defeat. IN 15 minutes, it went from looking like Boston would hold on for the wildcard, to looking like a tie, to an ultimate Ray’s victory. Yes home field could have mattered psychologically to these two, but would the playoff game on Thursday have had as much impact as what went down that Wednesday night? The same was true in the NL for the Braves and Cardinals, St. Louis had an easy victory but the Braves let one get away, lost in 13 innings and missed out on a wildcard playoff with the Cardinals. In 2012, the Braves with the new system hosted the Cardinals and we all know how that turned out. The Rangers and Orioles were tied and would have had a playoff even without the extra wildcard. In 2013, the extra wildcard created its only playoff for that second birth to this point, Texas lost at home to Tampa Bay, which then went on the road and beat Cleveland for the wild card entry to the ALDS. The Pirates had a memorable NL wildcard victory over Cincinnati, the Reds don’t make it to that game without the second wildcard berth. In 2014, the Royals hosted Oakland in a game as memorable as the Rockies playoff win in 2007. If not for the new system, that game never is played, as KC would have moved strait to the ALDS. Pittsburgh and San Francisco would have had a playoff no matter the system, as they were tied in the standings, the Giants of course would win that game and go on to a World Series championship. In 2015, the Cubs won 97 games and under the old system, they would have sat at home while two other division winners with lesser win totals would have advanced to the NLDS. With the new system, the Cubs came a year ahead of schedule beating Pittsburgh in the wildcard game. Houston received similar benefit in the AL as they went into New York and handed the Yankees a shutout loss.
Now with two weeks left in the 2016 season, we have two teams in the catbird seat for the AL wildcards, the Blue Jays and Orioles, with the Mets and Giants in similar positions in the NL. The Astros, tigers and mariners in the AL are all still within 3 games as we hit the final two weeks of the regular season. The divisions are basically claimed by the Rangers, Nationals, and Indians, the Cubs have clinched, and the Red Sox and Dodgers control their own destiny. Again, let’s look at this in the wildcard era.
IN 1995, the Mariners were streaking and within 3 of the Angels, they would end in a tie and win the divisional playoff. The Rockies lead the Dodgers by 1 in the NL West, Dodgers win by 1 and Colorado takes the Wild Card. AS for the wildcards, the Yankees were a game behind the mariners with 2 weeks left, the Yankees would pass them and the Angels to take the wildcard berth. Houston was in trouble due to an 11 game late August losing streak. They were 1 behind the Dodgers in the wild card race and finished a game behind Colorado. IN 1996, Cleveland was well on the way to the AL Central title, the Yankees held off Baltimore in the East while Texas survived a four game sweep in Seattle and held off the Mariners. The Cardinals had a 2.5 game lead on Houston, the Braves lead the Expos by 5 and the Dodgers and Padres were separated by a half game. The Cardinals and Braves won, the padres and Dodgers ended up tied and San Diego got the division on tie breaks. Baltimore which held a 2.5 game lead on the White Sox for the wildcard would keep that position in the AL and Montreal, 1.5 behind the Padres finished 1 out in the NL wildcard race.
IN 1997, the dodgers and giants were tied for the NL West with two weeks to go, San Francisco wins the division with two more victories over the period and the Dodgers were left at home. IN 1998, the Rangers overcame the 1 game lead the Angels had in the AL West, all other teams did not lose their postseason berth, though the Cubs had to hold off the Mets and Giants. The Giants came from 3.5 back to force a playoff that they would lose and the Mets finished in the same position where they were with 14 days left in the season, a single game out.
IN 1999, The Reds were four behind the Mets and caught them for the NL wildcard, even passing Houston briefly for the division lead after being 3.5 back. All others would be unchallenged the rest of the way. In 2000, the AL West saw Oakland 2.5 behind Seattle take the division with the Mariners settling for the wildcard. Cleveland was 2 games but 4 wins behind Seattle with lots of games to makeup due to weather earlier in the season. The Indians would in theory have to win all 4 to pull into a tie, they fell a game short.
The conclusion of play on Sunday September 23, 2001 would mark two weeks left on the revised 2001 schedule following 9-11. The Braves had a half game lead on the Phillies and 4.5 on the Mets, Houston lead the Cardinals by 4.5, while the Diamondbacks had a lead of 2 on the Giants, 4 on the Dodgers for the NL divisions, the Cardinals were up 3 on the Giants for the wildcard. Everything in the AL was long since settled. The Braves would pull away from the Phillies and win by 2, Houston would be caught and passed by the Cardinals, with Houston forcing a tie on the season’s final day and getting the division with a better record straight up against the Cardinals. The Giants could not make up ground in the wildcard race. In 2002, the Angels lead Oakland by a game, the teams would flip positions between division winner and wildcard, Oakland went 10-3, the Angels 5-8. NL standings would not change, Giants held off the Dodgers for the wildcard.
IN 2003, the Twins and white Sox were tied, 3.5 ahead of the Royals. Minnesota which had been on a hot streak would continue to play well going 10-3 and taking the AL Central. Seattle 3.5 behind Oakland would finish 2 back in the AL West. Houston would blow its NL Central lead, the Cubs 2 back would win the division by a game.
One of the more dramatic changes was in 2004. Oakland lead the Angels by 3 and the Rangers by 5. Texas would sweep three from Oakland to create a wild race to the finish and when it was done, the angels won the division by a game. But the NL also saw a bitter end. The Cubs who had been expected to be a contender went cold down the stretch. They went into the final weeks a half game behind the Giants and a half game ahead of the Astros. Down the stretch, Houston went 9-3 to take the wildcard, the Giants were 7-5 and the Cubs 7-8, 3.5 games behind the Astros winning pace.
IN 2005, Boston was 1.5 ahead of the Yankees, they finished in a tie. The White Sox 3.5 ahead of Cleveland saw the Indians move to within 1, but the Sox would win the division and Cleveland would miss the wildcard as well. The Angels were 2 ahead of Oakland and held on for that division. The NL divisions would maintain their leadership to the end. The Astros would hold off the Phillies and the marlins would fade, giving Houston the wildcard.
In 2006, Detroit lead Minnesota by a game, it would flip with Minnesota winning the division by a game. The story was in the NL, where Houston 8.5 back and in third made a strong charge the final two weeks, falling just a bit short by 1.5 games, cutting 7 off the Cardinals lead. If Houston had won the final day of the season, they would have forced the Cardinals into a makeup game Monday and if they had lost it, the Astros would have had a divisional playoff.
In 2007, the Rockies would do what the Astros almost did the prior year. The Red Sox and Indians would hold off the Yankees and Tigers, the Angels were cruising to a division flag. But then there were the Mets, 3.5 ahead of the Phillies and it had been a larger lead than that days earlier. When it was over, the Phillies had come all the way back. The Cubs who were a game ahead of the Brewers would hold on to win the central. The Diamondbacks were 2 ahead of San Diego, the padres finished 1 back and were a wild card. The dodgers were 4.5 back, they did not make it. But then there were the Rockies, 6.5 back at 77-72. They would finish 1 back and tied with the Padres for the wildcard.
, making up 4.5 games on the Padres and winning that playoff game. Usually for a team to make up 4.5, they play well and have another team slump, like 2001 when the Cardinals caught the Astros. But in this case, the Rockies played out of their mind, going 12-1 over the final 13 games, the Padres were 8-6 and that does not count that game #163 played in Denver between the two clubs.
IN 2008, the White Sox were 1.5 ahead of the Twins, they were a half game back and had to win a makeup game and a playoff game to avoid a difficult finish to their season. Tampa Bay would pull away from Boston and win going away in the AL East. IN the NL East, the Mets repeated the script from 2007, still up a game they would finish a game out to the Phillies and again miss the playoffs. Milwaukee held off a charge from the Astros to take the wild card, also holding off the sliding Mets.
IN 2009, as mentioned before, Detroit let it get away and lost to the Twins. Detroit was up 3 with 14 days to go, that lead would go to as much as 4.5 before it got away. The only scare in terms of other races was in the NL West, the Rockies 5 behind the Dodgers pulled away to take the wildcard and nearly caught the Dodgers, finishing 3 back.
In 2010, the Yankees were a half-game ahead of the Rays, Tampa Bay won the division by a game and the Yankees settled for the wildcard. The Giants were a half-game ahead of the Padres and won the NL West by 2, the Braves would see a 2.5 wild card lead end up at 1 over San Diego. The 2007 season is remembered for the great rally by the Rockies, 2011 is remembered for the comebacks of the Rays and Cardinals that were in part aided by the collapse of the Red Sox and Braves respectably. The final 14 days, the Rays went 9-5, Boston was 4-10 and Tampa Bay 4 games back took the wildcard. IN the NL race, the Cardinals went 9-4, the Braves were just 3-9 and Atlanta blew a 4.5 game lead with 14 days to go. The only team to blow a lead of at least 4 in the wildcard era and do so over the 14 final days playing over .500 are those ’07 Padres.
In 2012, the Rangers blew a lead of 4, finishing a game behind Oakland and settling for a wildcard berth. The white Sox were 2 ahead of Detroit, they missed the playoffs all together finishing 3 back in the central, while the Yankees pulled away from the Orioles to win that division by 2 games. IN 2013, the NL Central was the division up for grabs, Pittsburgh and the Cardinals were tied, 3.5 ahead of Cincinnati. In the AL wildcard race, the Rays, Rangers, and Indians were at the top of the heap, Cleveland would get the top spot and Texas would play Tampa Bay for a playoff to decide the second one. The Orioles 2, Yankees 2.5 and Royals 3 back would all come up short. In 2014, the Royals were at the heels of the Detroit Tigers but could not catch them, settling for a wildcard. The Royals would catch and pass Oakland for the home field, both holding off Seattle which was a game behind KC and finished a game behind Oakland. Pittsburgh which lead the Brewers by 1.5 for the NL second wildcard would pull away with help from the Brewers. Pittsburgh would finish 9-4, Milwaukee just 4-8. Then in 2015, Toronto and the royals would pull away, while Texas held off Houston in the AL West. The Rangers 1.5 ahead won the division by 2. Houston and the Yankees would keep their spots in the wildcard standings, the Astros held off the Twins down the stretch, with Houston finishing 3 ahead of the Twins and 1 ahead of the Angels, Minnesota and the Angels trailed by 2.5 going into the penultimate week of the season.
What this shows is the majority of the time, teams with even a 1 or 2 game lead end up the division or wildcard winner and if teams do blow a lead, it is usually not more than 3 games. NO team has made up more than 4.5 games in the standings to catch the team they were chasing the final 14 days, 2001 Cardinals, 2007 Rockies, 2011 Cardinals and in those situations, no team stood between the Cardinals and the teams they were chasing, one team the Dodgers, was between Colorado and San Diego in the 2007 standings. While the Giants did come from 5 back with a week to go to catch the Cubs, they did not pass them and lost the playoff game at Wrigley.
So enjoy the races these last two weeks everyone, but know that the Orioles and blue Jays are in a significant position of strength even as the AL East teams do beat up on each other these last two weeks. The Cardinals who are 1 behind the Giants and 2 behind the Mets for the NL wildcard positions are also history says in the worst position. It doesn’t help that the Cardinals have a more difficult schedule.
With exactly four weeks remaining, or 28 days in the 2016 MLB regular season, many teams still have hope for a bid to baseball’s post season tournament. For many, that hope will come down to an opening NCAA tournament style one game scenario, survive and advance. The team that gets through that wild card game then will feel a huge weight lifted off its collective shoulders and anything can happen. The 1978 Yankees won the 1-game playoff and won the World Series. The 1980 Astros and 1995 Mariners would win one-game playoffs and have memorable postseasons, Houston a bitter loss in a decisive NLCS game five, Seattle losing the ALCS in six is more remembered for the amazing come back in the ALDS capped off by the “double”. While the 1998 Cubs, 2008 white Sox and 2009 Twins won one-game playoffs and then went quietly afterward, the 2012 Orioles and 2013 Pirates went the distance in the division series, the 2012 Cardinals and 2014 Cubs went to the NLCS, the 2014 Royals and 2007 Rockies would sweep to World Series appearances and the 2014 Giants would win it all. So the moral of the story, whoever comes out of the crazy scramble for the wild cards and is living to play on starting October 6, will be a pair of teams that should never be taken lightly.
With that said, let’s take a look at the remaining series on the MLB schedule that have the potential to be filled with drama that helps to unwind the coming story lines that establish who the winners and losers are or put another way, who is dancing into the tournament and who is left waiting outside the ballroom door. Based on standings going into Monday morning, I am not mentioning matchups between teams who are out of contention or matchups between teams who are out of it and teams who have huge divisional leads, which covers the Rangers, Cubs and Nationals.
Monday September 5-Wednesday September 7.
The Mets try to continue gaining on the Cardinals for the second NL wild card with three games at the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates will try to right their sinking ship and keep captain Hook from walking off the plank as they host the Cardinals for three critical games. Pittsburgh wants help from Cincinnati as well. The Marlins are very much still in the mix and they are rooting for the Pirates and Reds while hoping for success at home against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rockies who are on the outside of this race can still make a move, as they have two series with the Giants and a later home set against the Cardinals. The Rockies will host San Francisco for three games during this stretch. The dodgers will also be rooting for Colorado, while they try to expand their division lead with three home games against the Diamondbacks. Over in the wild AL race, the Astros currently trail the Tigers and Orioles by 2. Houston plays four at Cleveland as that series will extend to Thursday September 8 in Cleveland. The Orioles play three at Tampa bay and while the Rays are out of it, they have been one of the best pitching teams since the break. Meanwhile, Toronto in a tight race with Boston at the top of the AL East visits the Yankees for three while Boston stays out west and plays an interleague set of three against the Padres. The Yankees and royals, Astros and Mariners are all hoping for a big helping hand from both the Rays and the white Sox, Chicago host the Detroit Tigers for three games. Meanwhile, Kansas city is at Minnesota for three and the Mariners are home for four against Texas, as that series extends through Thursday.
Friday September 9-Sunday September 11.
Pittsburgh will be home against the Reds, this is a four game set that opens on Thursday the 8th. The same is true for the Cardinals who are hosting the Brewers. The Marlins play a weekend home set of three against the Dodgers, while the Mets are at the Braves for three. The Giants are at the Diamondbacks for three, the Rockies at the Padres for four starting on Thursday. Over in the American League, the Yankees open on Thursday with four at home against Tampa Bay, while Toronto plays its first of two series with Boston, a four game set starting Thursday in Toronto. The Orioles and Tigers will play a massive three game series in Detroit and if they beat up on each other, it opens the door for Houston which has a huge home interleague series of three with the Cubs. Chicago may have all but won its NL Central crown by then, so they may rest a few guys before tuning up near the end of the regular season. The AL Central leading Indians are at Minnesota for three, the Royals are at the White Sox for three and the Mariners do the same visiting Oakland.
Monday September 12-Wednesday September 14
Everyone opens new series on the 12th, nearly all are matchups that could impact postseason play. Toronto is home to Tampa Bay three games, the Yankees host the Dodgers for three in interleague play, while the same is true for Baltimore at Boston, Texas at Houston, the Mets at Washington, San Diego at San Francisco, Miami at Atlanta and the Cubs at St. Louis. . Several series go four games into Thursday the 15th, Cleveland at Chicago White Sox, Minnesota at Detroit, Oakland at Kansas City and Pittsburgh at Philadelphia.
Friday September 16-Sunday September 18
A couple of series start the Thursday prior and are big four game tilts, Tampa Bay at Baltimore, the Yankees at Boston, the dodgers at Arizona, Toronto at the angels, and a huge showdown between the Cardinals and Giants in San Francisco. NL wild card hopefuls probably will root for whoever is leading to lose enough games to create a tie in the standings, or if the Cards and Giants are tied or separated by just a single game, the horses on the outside will be praying for a split. The Friday-Sunday matchups will include Miami at Philadelphia, Detroit at Cleveland, Minnesota at the Mets, Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, San Diego at Colorado, and Houston at Seattle. the white Sox at Kansas City will play a four game series that concludes Monday afternoon September 19.
Monday September 19-Thursday September 22
If the Rockies are still contending, this is their last best chance to make noise and propel themselves into the discussion for the remaining days of the season. They host the Cardinals for three huge games Monday through Wednesday. Other critical Monday-Wednesday matchups are Atlanta at the Mets (Note New York is home for consecutive matchups against baseball’s worst two teams), while Washington is at Miami and Houston is at Oakland. Other huge series to stay up late for, Toronto at Seattle and the first of two series between the Giants and dodgers, this one in Los Angeles. Three game series that are Tuesday-Thursday worth watching, Kansas City at Cleveland, Yankees at Tampa bay, Detroit at Minnesota and Pittsburgh at Milwaukee. What about Boston and Baltimore you ask, four huge Monday-Thursday games to be played between those two at Camden yards.
The penultimate weekend of the 2016 season will surely not be as important to a couple of the teams featured in this list. But knowing with 28 days left in the season that they all still have a chance to be playing meaningful baseball the weekend of Friday September 23-Sunday September 25, we must include these games. A few of these series open as four game events the prior Thursday, so the four game matchups will be Atlanta at Miami, Philadelphia at the Mets, Angels at Astros, Rockies at Dodgers and Giants at Padres. The three game sets opening Friday are St. Louis at the Cubs, Arizona at Baltimore in interleague play, Washington at Pittsburgh, Boston at Tampa Bay, The White Sox at Cleveland, Kansas city at Detroit and Seattle at Minnesota. The Yankees and Toronto will play four in Toronto Friday through Monday the 26th. Note that 13 of the 15 weekend series could still potentially have impact on the post season races.
Entering the season’s final week, some important series could be in play that open Monday September 26-Thursday September 29. The Monday-Thursday series of four games are cubs at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati at St. Louis. and Cleveland at Detroit for their second September matchup. Three game series Monday-Wednesday include a pair of potentially huge series between the Mets and marlins in Miami and Seattle at Houston. The Tuesday-Thursday series feature a rematch between the Yankees and Red Sox in the Bronx, Baltimore at Toronto, Minnesota at Kansas City, the Dodgers at San Diego and if the Rockies are still alive, they open a series in San Francisco.
The final weekend of the season is almost all three game series Friday September 30-Sunday October 2. One series that could have implications does start on Thursday, Oakland will be at Seattle. The Friday-Sunday matchups to watch are: Baltimore at the Yankees, Toronto at Boston, Detroit at Atlanta in interleague play, Cleveland at Kansas city in their second series of the final month and Houston at the Angels for impacts in the American League. As for important National League series if things break a certain way, Pittsburgh at St. Louis for their second series, Miami at Washington, Mets at Philadelphia, Milwaukee at Colorado and the second matchup between the giants and Dodgers in San Francisco.
In 2014 and going into 2015, all the talk in baseball world was pace of play and length of games. Yet this season for various factors, games are taking a good bit longer to play. One of my theories is that strikeouts are way up in the modern game and fewer outs are recorded as a result from double plays and runners caught trying to advance on either a stolen base or stretching a hit an extra 90 feet. With the high focus now also on on-base percentage, walks are as valued as hitting safely, so batters are walking more and striking out more than ever. This is reinforced by the focus on power pitching, which goes all out for the wif and seems to put less value on the art of changing speeds and pitch locations, sacrificing overall control.
Obviously some games that go 4, 5 and beyond 6 hours are the legendary extra inning contests. So this focus will be taking a look at games that were just 9 innings in length and 4 hours or longer in total playing time.
Using baseball reference, I compiled a list of games that fit this dataset, which covers everything from 1913 through Wednesday May 18, 2016, the night prior to the writing of this post.
How rare were such games at one time? Only three took place prior to the 1961 expansion, one each in 1916, 1925 and 1926. The fourth game was on June 22, 1962, an 11-9 Braves win over the Giants. The giants and Dodgers played a similar game on October 2, 1962, a loss to the Dodgers. It would be 21 more years until July 10, 1983 when the Brewers took a 12-9 victory against the White Sox in 4:11. Such games became a tad more frequent starting with #7, a June 8, 1986 Yankees Orioles contest. The 1986-1989 seasons each saw one such game, and all the games starting with that 1983 contest to this point were AL games using the DH. After 1990 was free of such games, a then record four were played in 1991, again all in the AL: White Sox v Red Sox May 15, Tigers v White Sox august 14, White Sox V Rangers on September 6 and Red Sox v Mariners on September 7. Three such games were played in 1992, four in 1993, four in 1994 and three in 1995, the ladder two shortened seasons. Still, all these games were in the AL. the record jumped to six such games in 1996, including a pair in the NL, Dodgers v Rockies June 30, Marlins v Padres July 27. That record of six would again be tied in 1999, 2 AL, 2 NL, and 2 interleague games.
From 1916 to 1999, 47 such games were played, with 37 of those between 1991 and 1999.
But then came 2000 and 13 such games alone that season, more than double the prior record. It returned to more normal values of three and four games the next two seasons, jumped to five in 2003 and then shockingly none in 2004, the first such season since 1990. The 2005-2007 seasons produced four, two and eight such games, with a drop to five in 2008. The 2009-2011 seasons produced totals of four, six and three such games. Since then, a spike, ten in 2012, eight in 2013, a record 16 in 2014, then a drop to six in 2015, yet 2016 has already had six such games and the season is not quite a quarter of the way to its conclusion, a record breaking pace. When we realize that strikeouts and walks are making up a combined 30% of all MLB plate appearance conclusions, it makes for a game that drags and is not as active. If strikeouts were reduced to 17% and walks to 6% of all play outcomes, that reduces the number of such plate appearance conclusions by over 25%, meaning 25% of those plate appearances would turn into action resulting in hits or defensive plays and thus faster and more crisp games. If MLB is serious about dealing with this issue, then perhaps it will accidently address another one, arm injuries.
I am not a doctor, but I believe we are pushing vilosity at the expense of career length when it comes to pitchers, now that everyone brought into a big league game seems to throw 90 or more. If we went back to valuing pitchers for their ability as a pitching artist, rather than just looking at who can send the radar gun to triple digits, we would have a crop of pitchers who were more durable. It would mean more balls in play, but it would allow for a faster game and yes, a game that could then maximize the defensive value that now is rightfully being placed on players. If strikeouts dip, those defensive positioning and shifts are going to be all the more important and it would also encourage teams to employ speed guys who could bunt against the defensive shift in place.
These are just my views of course, but I wonder who agrees with me on this theory?
During the Thursday press conference when Rob Manfred said it was much easier to work with division of 4’s than divisions of 5’s, that signals what MLB likely would look like under a 32 team structure, eight divisions of four teams each.
When the radicle realignment was met with great anger in 1997, it was quickly shelved, a proposal that would have aligned the leagues geographically into a 16 team circuit with eight teams each in the western and central part of the continent, with two divisions of seven in the east. The Brewers would become the first team in history to switch leagues later that year, but it was a natural fit as Milwaukee was originally a NL market when the Braves moved in back in 1953. The reaction was more positive among Brewer fans who had identified with the NL style during the golden day’s of Milwaukee baseball. A polar opposite reaction occurred in Houston when the leagues were finally evened out at 15 each starting in 2013, as the Astros fan base did not take kindly to the switch from NL to AL, this blogger among them.
But now we see an ever evolving game with regular interleague play and some day many believe, the DH in both leagues, which will effectively bring an end to the difference in league identity that has marked the game my entire life time, as I was born just weeks before the first DH games in 1973.
Knowing that such changes are likely on the horizon, it is easier to imagine what some new alignments might look like under a divisional system with eight groupings of four teams each. Assuming as I have before that the new expansion teams would be in Montreal and San Antonio, and also assuming that the Athletics and Rays do not relocate, here are some possible scenarios. For team names, I will use the historic Missions name that San Antonio has been known for during much of its minor league history, and we all know that Montreal will gladly welcome back the Expos name and colors. Note that because of geography, right now five of the eight teams in the western US are in one division while three are in the other, someone, either the Rockies, Diamondbacks, or Padres will have to make a switch.
Astros and Diamondbacks switch leagues, Missions to NL, Expos to AL.
AL West: Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Diamondbacks.
AL Central: Rangers, Royals, twins, White Sox.
AL East: Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox.
Al North: Expos, Blue Jays, Tigers, Indians.
NL West: Rockies, Padres, Dodgers, Giants.
NL Central: Missions, Astros, Braves, Marlins.
NL East: Nationals, Pirates, Phillies, Mets.
NL North: Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Reds.
More radicle realignment, focusing more on geographic rivals though same city teams would not share divisions.
Missions to AL, Expos to NL, Braves and Diamondbacks move to AL, Blue Jays and Rays move to NL.
AL West: same as before, Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Diamondbacks.
AL Central: Missions, Astros, Rangers, Royals.
AL East: Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves.
AL North: Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Indians.
NL West: Same as before, Giants, Dodgers, padres, Rockies.
NL Central: Using the NL North from scenario 1, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Reds.
NL East, Marlins, Rays, Pirates, Phillies.
NL North: Nationals, Mets, Expos, blue Jays.
Four leagues with two divisions each. Interleague play would still exist with the other three leagues. The union would never go for this option, but think about how historic this would be based on the below layout.
East: Braves, Phillies, Pirates, Reds.
West: Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants.
West: Athletics, Twins, white Sox, Tigers.
East: Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Indians.
Continental League, the 1960’s expansion teams.
West: Angels, Padres, Rangers, Astros.
East: Brewers, Royals, Nationals, Mets.
Federal League, most recent expansion teams.
West: Mariners, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Missions.
East: marlins, Rays, Expos, Blue Jays.
MLB expansion, Montreal must be considered favorite: San Antonio and Vancouver could battle for second prize or relocation
Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said that while baseball needs to first resolve the stadium issues that confront the Rays and Athletics, expansion is in the long term view of the sport. He also said that it is important to keep those clubs in their current markets, which means MLB unlike the other major sports leagues truly wants to try and maintain those two ball clubs in their current markets. Clearly any market that could offer relocation to the Rays or Athletics would first also be required to have a place for the team to play temporarily and only a small number of cities can make such a claim. Those same cities will of course be on the short list for expansion to 32 teams as well.
I have read some columns in recent days that talk about how baseball doesn’t have enough markets that would be a good fit for the sport, and yet we have to remind ourselves that baseball has five duel markets, by far the most of any of the five major sports leagues. The NHL has two teams in greater Los Angeles and Anaheim, three in greater New York with teams in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Newark. The NFL has three such markets, Baltimore and Washington have successfully coexisted for over 60 years, minus the 12 year period from 1984-1995 that the Baltimore team was high jacked to Indianapolis, only to have Baltimore obtain its replacement in a similar manner from Cleveland. The Giants and Jets have shared the same stadium for the last 32 years and have played in the same New York market together since 1960. The Raiders have always shared a market too, with the 49ers during their time in Oakland, and with the Rams during their time in Los Angeles. The Raiders might be a year from joining the Rams back in L.A., after both left in 1995. The NBA has the same pair of duel markets, New York and Los Angeles, though the Warriors and Kings are 80 miles apart in Oakland and Sacramento and MLS will have the same arrangement within another year or two. MLB has all four of those dual markets in greater Los Angeles, the bay area, New York and Baltimore-DC, plus a fifth dual market that has the longest shared history, the Cubs and White Sox have both been in Chicago together for the last 116 seasons.
If you look at existing NFL cities that don’t have an MLB team, the list of landing spots for relocation and expansion are Charlotte, New Orleans, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Nashville. Ironically, none of them have a viable MLB stadium option. The NFL stadiums in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and buffalo are not able to be configured for baseball. Buffalo does have the largest minor league baseball facility that could potentially be expanded to serve as an MLB venue and do note that all of these cities accept Jacksonville are AAA markets, Jacksonville is in the AA Southern League. New Orleans could at one time configure the Superdome for baseball, though it had been updated to a locked in football configuration and it would cost a good chunk of change to redesign the dome for baseball. MLB surely would prefer that a new stadium just be built. Indianapolis has the very multipurpose oriented Lucas Oil Stadium, though to my knowledge this venue could not be configured for baseball, though perhaps it could serve as a temporary home if a team were to arrive, waiting for the baseball facility to be built. The same locked configuration would eliminate Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, which did host a three game set in 1997 though even now, a Honolulu franchise presents a unique timezone travel problem.
The two cities that have large stadiums that could host baseball ironically don’t have NFL teams, though one, Montreal is in the CFL. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is by far the best temporary venue as it was at least built with baseball in mind and that configuration still is in full operation. San Antonio is the other city which found a way to take the Alamodome that had never been built with baseball in mind, shoe horning a diamond into a football structure as was done in the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Dodgers until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
Looking at other NHL and NBA cities that could host MLB, the candidates would be IN addition to the afore mentioned Montreal and San Antonio, a group that includes Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Orlando, Ottawa, Columbus, Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Of these, Vancouver is the only one with a large stadium that could host baseball, though the ability to configure the stadium to baseball there was as I understand it also taken away with restructuring following the Olympics.
When we look at the last three expansions in MLB< the stadium plans tell a big story about how the teams would do long term. IN 1977, the Mariners moved into a massive dome stadium, planned for them and the football Seahawks who arrived the prior fall. King Dome was never a good baseball facility and bad management the first 14 years of the franchise didn’t help matters. Toronto played in what was best described as an outdated multisport facility, but a well-run franchise and great fan interest helped the team survive, as the now rogers Center begun to be planned in 1983. The teams that got it right as far as stadium work was concerned also happened to be more successful at the gate. The Rockies came in knowing that they would play two seasons at Mile High, a football venue that could also capably host baseball, moving into Coors Field in 1995. The diamondbacks had no stadium to call home when they were awarded to Phoenix in 1995, but plans were already on the board to build the retractable Chase Field and it opened on time in 1998. The marlins thought they had a viable plan moving into a stadium that was intentionally built for them and for the football Dolphins. It became apparent within a few years though that it was not as ideal of a facility for baseball given the Florida climate. Climate was not the issue when the already built Tropicana Field finally earned its right to host a team, when the then Devil Rays arrived in 1998, but its location is sited as a reason for lackluster attendance ever since the first season of the Rays franchise. IN fact, the Rays only averaged 30,000 in their first year, the Marlins were over 32,000 in their second year, a large drop followed aided in part by the 1994-95 strike. The Diamondbacks would average over 30,000 for several seasons until 2005, the Rockies would do the same for the first 10 years they existed and Denver and the Colorado franchise by far has been the most successful in terms of attendance.
Now, let’s look at every city on this list of possible expansion and relocation sites, and I will give my reasons for yes or no.
First the no column and a brief comment on each.
Portland, lost AAA baseball twice and has no real effort to build a baseball worthy facility on the board at even the minor league level. Sacramento, too close to a pair of existing teams, would only get team as relocation option if Athletics move from Oakland. Salt Lake City, with a caveat, has no facility that could be expanded to MLB capacity, though given support for NBA Jazz for last 30 years, market the size of Kansas City would clearly support a winner and market is more comfortable western option for MLB than Vegas for obvious reasons, so it could rise like Phoenix into a franchise and local fan base is not full of snow bird transplants like Florida . Oklahoma City, concern over market size and interest in the fall would be more about the two local college football teams and the coming Thunder NBA season. Memphis, a nice geographic fit between Dallas, St. Louis and Atlanta, but support for NBA team has always been among bottom third of the league and baseball has twice as many tickets to sell for each game and twice as many home dates. Orlando, see Miami and Tampa bay, too much else to do, too many transplants who would come to root, root, root for the road team. Ottawa, not a viable option as the market is too small and Montreal has what the capitol of the Great White North does not have, a history with the game. Columbus, growing market but fans there are loyal to Reds and Indians, plus Ohio State athletics. Raleigh, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, all hockey markets that have or are now facing the possible loss of a team. Winnipeg would geographically work the best as it is not far from the US border and would be an easy road trip when joined to Minnesota, but the Gold eyes won’t be in MLB. Charlotte and Nashville, both candidates with a similar case that could be made along the lines of Salt Lake City. Fans are very enthusiastic about their local pro teams, but unlike SLC, college sports is a more dominant force in these markets and Charlotte has a lot of sunbelt transplants that could create a situation similar to Florida or at least to Atlanta which has never been known as a baseball attendance hot bed. New Orleans, was on the radar of relocation for the Athletics around 1980, but issues with local economy and recovery still after hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, the market does not seem to be ready for an MLB team. Jacksonville, market too small, has been rumored at times to be possibly losing Jaguars, though location would fit nicely within existing MLB alignment, but JAX has never been mentioned on any list of expansion consideration. Buffalo, at one time a city that really was on the short list for MLB expansion, but downturns in the local economy mean that if the city did get a team, it could be a replay of what we see now in Cleveland with lower attendance and weather problems would force this team to get a stadium that could at least be covered like Safeco, but it would need a very strong structure to hold the weight of the heavy lake effect snow. Indianapolis, has a large stadium that could be retrofitted for baseball perhaps, though here too, the story would likely be more like what is mentioned for Salt Lake City, building a stadium from the ground up if a team is awarded.
This leaves three candidates, Montreal and San Antonio plus Vancouver. Mexico City would be on the list as well, but the question here is how does baseball deal with an exchange rate and a perception income that is a third that of the US and Canadian markets. For me, the yes column clearly is Montreal if they agree to build a stadium, with San Antonio and Vancouver in a battle for the second franchise. Mexico City will get a lot of talk as a candidate, but its odds are too long in my estimation.
If If the stadium mess is not resolved for the Rays or Athletics, the loser out of the Vancouver and San Antonio contest could be the future home of the green and gold.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about the future stadium issues that would be likely haunting baseball fans as many ballpark leases signed in the 1990’s would start coming due. Well the Diamondbacks have started making threats of leaving and the lease they signed with Phoenix and the county still has 9 guaranteed seasons of Diamondbacks baseball to be played at Chase Field.
When this news broke with dueling press conferences on Thursday held by the team and by the officials with the stadium district, it only made me cringe. ON one hand, the baseball team says that the county has not paid for what they claim are $187 million in payments needed to maintain the ballpark. This in terms of contract obligation if true would seem to leave the locals on the hook for said repairs, but the Diamondbacks are likely to get a cold reception by the tax paying community in Arizona, since they just saw the team hand out a $203 million contract over the next 7 years for one of the league’s elite pitchers.
Beyond this though, where will the team go if it did leave. NO major city worth its money in gold will ever build a stadium for a team that it does not already have or will gain through expansion or relocation. St. Petersburg built a stadium before it had a team and by the time an actual team did exist, the facility was nearly a decade outdated, no one will make that mistake again. That leaves two choices, Montreal which still has its Olympic Stadium that was home to the Expos through 2004, and another city which built a stadium, San Antonio. The Alamo dome was home to the NBA Spurs for 10 years until they got a new arena and the NFL team San Antonio thought it could get with the dome when it opened in 1993, that team still does not exist. At best, Montreal’s big O would be a temporary venue until a new baseball specific stadium opened in 2-3 seasons. MLB won’t let a team go their until that deal is signed, sealed and delivered on the desk of Rob Manfred. As for San Antonio, the Alamo dome is at best a temporary venue along the same lines, as a baseball diamond would be shoehorned into the facility the way that it was done in the Los Angeles Coliseum for four years while Dodger Stadium was built. The only difference, right field rather than left would be the cheap side of the park for homers that would be outs anywhere else in the big leagues.
The other reason the Diamondbacks stated as the need for upgrades though is at the same time petty and childish sounding. The reason, Chase Field will be the third oldest facility in the National League behind Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field. Give me a damn break, the place is eighteen years old. Ballparks used to be built as long tern construction projects that would last many generations, yet the Diamondbacks like the Braves are copping an attitude that says, we must be in the newest, greatest, most modern facility to compete. So with that argument, folks in Houston, Cleveland, Arlington, Denver, Baltimore, the south side of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Seattle all must plan to fork over a billion dollars apiece or lose their teams in the next 5-15 years? If this is where MLB is headed, it will forever lose its credibility as a sports organization and what was once a growth touted by Mr. Manfred will be a great contraction. Cities and states are not going to be held hostage by these henchman asking for corporate Welfare and let’s get one thing strait, what the Diamondbacks are asking for, what the Braves received is pure and unadulterated corporate welfare.
The same goes for the fleecing of Florida and Arizona tax payers for spring training sites. A storm washed out the final Astros game in Kissimmee on Saturday night, and how fitting that must have been. The building of new spring training sites for team after team by these two states has proven to be a money loser, as facilities stand vacated that were built within the life time of today’s college grads. Fort Myers has two teams in a pair of facilities, a third stands empty, City of Palms which opened in 1993 when Bill Clinton was a new President. What was once known as Tucson Electric Park opened in 1998 and it along with historic Hi Corbett Field do not have a spring tenant, though the latter now is home to the University of Arizona baseball team. The Champion Stadium facility built at Disney opened in 1998 and it likely will be vacated after 2017 by the Braves with all teams from Central Florida having headed south. Space Coast Stadium in Vierra Florida opened in 1994, it will be vacant for spring training by the middle of the coming week.
We treat today’s baseball stadiums as if they are temporary palaces to be built and torn down within 30, 40 years, not as treasures of great engineering and baseball history. This madness must stop and the fans must demand that it be stopped. People joke about the cost of the proposed wall Donald Trump wants to build, 11 billion or more. That won’t and should not happen. But guess what else should not happen, an equally amount of wasted money on new stadiums for teams that are crying poor because they don’t have the newest house to play ball in. If we as a nation spend another 15 billion dollars on new ballparks, we should demand that the leases are much longer, say 70 years in length, 30 years was clearly a mistake. That money should instead go to what really needs to be done, major infrastructure repair. If teams want new stadiums, come up with the money from your private funds, through the huge TV deals you signed with your cable and satellite TV providers. Ask now, before they too are crying poor because their business model has died like an outdated piece of computing technology.
IN closing, nice move Arizona. You get fans excited about your team by signing a major free agent and making big trades, then say that if you don’t get what you want, you will leave. Good luck finding a better place to play than the ballpark you currently call home.
Forgive me for writing something that will seem obvious to those who live in Texas and what will seem like a Lone Star slanted point of view to those elsewhere. While this blog does dedicate most of its baseball writings to things concerning the big leagues, I want to take a departure and look at college athletics, especially within the state of Texas.
Many of the major universities in larger states even today after a dizzying array of conference realignment are in one or two major college conferences. A third smaller conference is home to the remaining schools at the division I level in big states like Florida, New York and California. When I first truly began paying attention to all sports in 1985, to include college athletics, the state of Texas at college athletics largest level was basically part of just two conferences, the Southwest and Southland. The Southwest was home to 8 Texas schools, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, SMU, TCU, Texas Tech, Rice and the University of Houston, along with Arkansas. The Southland was for the smaller Division I programs that actually did have a true playoff even in those days, the old I-AA was for those smaller football programs, while division I schools that did not have a football program were listed as I-AAA. IN those days, the Southland was home to a few out of state schools, Northwestern State, Louisiana Tech and Northeast Louisiana, plus McNeese State were all part of that league, while Texas programs included UT Arlington, Lamar, and what was then called North Texas State, now the University of North Texas. Arkansas State was also part of that Southland league.
Over time membership changed in the southland and the Southwest died in 1996. Schools that were not even Division I-A in 1985 like UT Arlington and Texas State in San Marcos, as well as North Texas are now playing in various conferences at that level. UT San Antonio did not even field football until 2011, now it too is at that top level of classification, while the smaller schools like Lamar, SFA, and Sam Houston are now joined by other similar schools around the region, Incarnate Word, Abilene Christian, Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and Houston Baptist among them. While the Southland does still have a degree of rivalry between many of the smaller programs, though some old division II rivals were split up when Incarnate word stopped facing St. Mary’s and Abilene Christian stopped facing Angelo State, there is at least a degree of Texas identity in that league. To follow sports is still enjoyable and this baseball fan does keep up with who the players are to watch from those different teams. The historic Southwestern Athletic conference has never lost its identity, Texas Southern and Prairie view A&M have been part of that league as long as I can remember and while they are small Historically black Universities, they deserve their due here too.
With the larger schools though, it is almost impossible. UT El Paso, which is so far west it naturally fit in the old WAC way back when, now is in the same league (Conference USA) as Rice, UT San Antonio and North Texas. Texas State and UT Arlington play in a second league, the Sunbelt which has teams spread over a huge geographic footprint. The largest of the old Southwest conference membership lingers in the Big 12, Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and Texas. Houston and SMU call the wide spread American Conference home, while Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern conference and renewed ties with Arkansas after 20 years apart. Who is in the old WAC, the newly renamed UT Rio Grande Valley, which was forever known as Texas Pan American.
One successful baseball only program should get mentioned here, Dallas Baptist University, which plays in the Missouri Valley as a baseball school, rather than with some of their local competition.
Given how large some of the once smaller universities have become, while not all play football, I firmly believe it is in the best interest of these programs to come back to their roots as Texas rivals and face one another in leagues that draw from among the best athletic talent in the nation. Texas is still one of the leading producers of football and baseball prospects, and we are better now in basketball as well. So my message is simple, realign into something that creates true rivalries that can bring students together even if it means leaving larger money on the table.
My proposed alignment would look like this. The old southwest Conference comes back with its eight original Texas schools, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU and Texas Tech. It adds North Texas, UT Arlington, Texas State, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso and UT Rio Grande Valley as full members and Dallas Baptist is a baseball only school. Note that UT Arlington and UT Rio Grande Valley do not field football, so your league would divide into a pair of 6 team divisions for football, Texas Tech, TCU, North Texas, SMU, UT El Paso and Baylor would be the western division, Texas State, Texas, Texas A&M, Rice, Houston, and UT San Antonio would be the eastern division. In football divisional teams would play every year, four of the six teams in the opposite division would play on a rotating schedule. In basketball, you would have a 14 team league, divisional placements would add UT Arlington to the West and UT Rio Grande Valley to the east, playing 2 games against each divisional and 1 against each opposite divisional member each season for 18 conference games. The top 12 would make the postseason tournament.
IN baseball, SMU, UT El Paso and North Texas do not field teams, though North Texas has been rumored to be looking at renewing the sport since a five year experiment from 1984-88. If that happened, Dallas Baptist as a baseball only member would play in what would be a western division of six teams. The east would maintain its basketball look. If North Texas fails to get baseball, an eastern team would rotate from those seven schools into the west each season to create a balanced 12 team baseball league. It should be noted that SMU has no baseball plans since it dropped the sport for good following the 1980 campaign. The baseball tournament could be an 8 team double elimination event and played at some of the largest ballparks in the state. The league would be a mix of Texas’s top universities, Dallas Baptist would give the league a 5th private school for baseball, while all of the large public universities would field teams in the major revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.
Could this happen and is it easy to draw up on paper, sure it is. Will such a reality of school spirit and local rivalry bring back together old conference partnerships, not for quite a long time I am afraid. The fractures created have their roots in the politics of money and big college athletics and as we see today in modern politics, no one really cares how much damage is done to what was once a great Texas, a great American institution.