Opinion: Baseball Makes Right Move with 15-15 Alignment, Wrong Move With Alignment Structure
In March of 1995, while baseball was mired in what seemed like a never ending labor dispute that brought us replacement players, no Orioles team, and the prospect of Blue Jays games played at a 6000 seat stadium on the Florida gulf coast, MLB announced that in 1998 a pair of new teams would join the circuit. We learned of the future teams that would be called the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays and immediately there was talk of which leagues the teams might play in. While the Devil was taken out of the Rays following the 2007 season, the devil in the details of realignment was seemingly dealt with in October of 1997, when the Brewers were moved from the American League to the National League. Some thought this was the best move that could be made, others though felt baseball took the easy way out, baseball was afraid to make any big and bold changes some said. Changes like having interleague games on the schedule every day of the season. Interleague play after all was a brand new experience for the fans, 1997 was the first year of such games and we were lead to believe that no fan in his or her right mind could accept the fact that the Yankees might play a series against the Pirates on the season’s final weekend, because that somehow would ruin the purity of the pennant race, it would somehow create some artificial form of unfairness to the other AL East teams. Of course anyone who truly followed baseball, realized that argument held water like a civ, because it would have been no different than the Yankees playing any team from the AL Central and given the alignment at that time, at least one Eastern team had to play a Central team every day on the schedule that the four Western teams faced one another.
The result from this silly idea was that the two leagues would not have the same number of teams, of course baseball justified that by reminding us that from 1977-92, we had two extra teams in the AL. The argument against 15-15 also was this odd idea that the AL West would have to take a second team from the Central Time Zone, or move the Rockies or Diamondbacks to that division and slide a Central Time zone team from the NL Central to the NL West, likely the Astros. Hmmm, so it was good enough for the Rangers to be in a western division but no one else? The arguments were to some including me, filled with a lot of hot air that was fouled by the aroma of arguments that failed a simple smell test.
IN 1995 while attending Texas A&M, I personally wrote the then “Acting Commissioner of Baseball” and I did receive a reply from Mr. Selig. My proposal was a detailed realignment that featured interleague games starting with the 1998 season. My alignment was simple, Kansas City would move to the American League’s Western division joining Texas, Oakland, Seattle, and the then California, now Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels. Detroit which at the time was in the AL East would move to the Central and Tampa Bay would go into the East. Baseball instead opted to leave Kansas City in the AL Central and shove Milwaukee over to the NL Central, an idea I thought was silly. Arizona of course went to the NL West as I proposed and no other changes took place in the senior circuit. The main difference from my proposal was what happened to the Royals and Brewers. To me, sure Milwaukee was an NL city for 13 years with the Braves, but for 28 years with the Brewers, they were an AL city and the AL was where the Brewers belonged.
Now all these years later, baseball finally figures out that 15-15 is not so bad, yet the thought of simply moving the Brewers back to the AL and sliding KC to the Western Division was not even thought of, at least that is the view that I hold. Nor was any consideration given of moving Colorado or Arizona to the AL, teams which did not have the long history of being in the NL like say, the Houston Astros. No, instead baseball’s reaction is to move Houston, which had been an NL team for nearly half a century over to the AL, focusing on the now in-state rivalry with the Texas Rangers.
I have three points to make as it relates to this argument for moving the Astros to the American League, again seeing how baseball officials want to underscore it seems the ability of fans to see through their collective smoke screen. For starters, this rivals argument is again a leaking civ. The Phillies and Pirates have always been NL rivals and in the same state, the only situation that was like this until Houston joins Texas in the AL next season. How important was the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rivalry? It was so important that the Pirates were put in a different division from the Phillies with the move from two to three divisions in 1994. Following the advent of the new schedule that was more focused on divisional games starting in 2001, the NL Pirates and NL Phillies sometimes played each other no more frequently than the Yankees and Mets, or Cubs and White Sox, or Angels and Dodgers in interleague games during the same season. So the evidence clearly shows that the supporting arguments for the mythical intrastate rivalry, fails the smell test badly and if this were a legal case, lawyers making such arguments would have been run out of court faster than a mouse that was chased out by a hungry Siamese cat for producing such easily refuted statements.
Second, if the rivals argument is the source of how to align, insisting to align based on geography and this state rivalry notion, then the following argument must be made and followed through on by baseball executives. Pittsburgh must move back to the Eastern Division of the National League and Atlanta is thus moved to the Central Division. A good map or GPS system is all it takes to realize that Pittsburgh is a good bit further east than Atlanta, Pittsburgh is just east of the 80 degree meridian of longitude and almost due north of Miami, where as Atlanta is past the 84 degree meridian and nearly due south of Cincinnati. To make the rivalry argument, then this approach to realignment is a slam dunk to borrow a phrase from another sport as geography clearly shows that Atlanta should be with Cincinnati, the Cubs, Milwaukee, and St. Louis, while Pittsburgh joins the Mets, Washington, Philadelphia, and Miami.
Lastly, the new alignment will have completely removed a large part of the southern US from National League exposure, as fans in Texas will now have to go to St. Louis, Denver, or Atlanta to see National League games on a regular basis. Growing up in Texas, one of the great things about having a team in each league, was the ability to at any point in the season, go to Houston or Arlington and know that every other team in baseball would be making an appearance in one of those cities. Now given how baseball does interleague games, it is a safe bet that the same teams would be put on the Astros and Rangers home schedule and allow for less exposure to the other half of major league teams during the season. Texas fans we must not forget are not like Pennsylvania fans, where Philadelphia fans are an hour 20 minute train ride from Yankee games or just under two hours to Orioles games. Similarly, Pittsburgh fans are roughly a three-hour drive from Cleveland games, thus giving them much easier access to see teams from the other league if they so desire. Texas fans now will have to drive more than half a day to get to an NL city with the move of Houston to the AL in the 2013 season.
In conclusion, baseball gets it right by going to 15-15, this should have and could have been done prior to 1998 when the Rays and D’Backs came into existence. Baseball’s ultimate solution though came up way short, because what could and should have been done was never considered and now the fans of the south central US and Texas in particular, find themselves left out in the cold, not to mention fans of other NL teams who through 2012, knew they could go to Houston and see their home town team roll in for a game in the Space City.
Baseball needs to get it right and consider leaving Houston in the NL and moving Milwaukee back to the AL where the Brewers called home for their first 28 years in baseball, following their 1970 flight from Seattle.