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.
Happy Valentine’s Baseball lovers. Tonight is the second half of the current season of “The Walking Dead” and while it is far from my type of entertainment, I’m personally all too familiar with the storylines because my wife like so many American’s finds it more interesting than politics, the news, or other more pressing subjects. So much of what is presented at least in the view of this writer is an overhyped and overblown focus on a postapocalyptical world where everything has been destroyed by some horrible event, be it man made or nature’s doing or some out of world alien/zombie created circumstance and the few survivors fight for what is left in a tribal like society.
What I present may seem a tad apocalyptical but based on past baseball history and current trends, it could become a stark reality that dramatically alters the sports and baseball landscape over the next 20-40 years. God willing, I’ll still be alive at age 82 in 2056 with spring training upon us, but will baseball look anything like it does today, will any major sports league? Below, I present some of the potential pitfalls that await MLB and its pro sports partners in the NFL, NBA and NHL, and the question is, what will they do to prepare for the end of the sports world as they know it?
Walkers are coming from all around to eat up the sports landscape. From the west, a group of walkers is carrying signs that state in very harsh language that government funding is dead, sports leagues must make it on their own. The owners are running in circles with no idea how to resolve this conflict. They don’t want to admit that society finally grew tired of their endless begging for corporate welfare, which asked for public money to build new stadiums and arenas to replace the ones that were built just 15-30 years ago. The last round of the sports building boom, everyone was told that to compete and field a winning team, the club had to have the latest, greatest state of the art facility. Build it, we win championships and contend every year for the opportunity to win more. Don’t build it, we leave. NO one stopped and realized, there are 30 teams in MLB, so if every team won just one single championship, it would take 30 years for every team to get its title, meaning it was nearly a stone cold lock that several MLB teams would not see a championship and might not even make it to the World Series during the same 30 year or shorter term for said stadium lease. The White Sox, Giants, Astros, Padres, Marlins, Rays, Athletics, Twins, Pirates, Mariners, all made the I’m leaving threat in baseball and the Expos eventually did leave. IN the NFL, the Rams have made good on the threat twice, the chargers and Raiders both could potentially join the Rams on that have done it twice list, while the Saints, Jaguars, Colts, Bills, Vikings, Seahawks, and buccaneers, have had or are currently making the same threat to government officials, while the Colts and Cardinals, and old Houston Oilers made good on the threat. IN the NBA, the Kings and Bucks are the latest teams to make the threat and get a new building, those two had brand new arenas in 1988, while the Hornets, Heat, and Magic which all got new buildings at the same time as new expansion teams all have since moved into new buildings that replaced those original new homes. The Grizzlies had a new home in 1995 and moved six years later, getting a second new building in 2004, while the Supersonics moved and became the Thunder in 2008. Similar arena threats were put out by the Rockets, Spurs, and pacers that got new buildings put up between 1999 and 2003, while other multiple sports cities, Dallas, Denver, and Chicago opened new facilities between 1994 and 2001. IN the case of Dallas, the new arena was replacing a building just 21 years of age that now no longer exists, Reunion Arena. Miami may be the most gross case here, because the new Miami arena that opened in 1988 was used to get both the expansion Heat in the NBA that year and the Panthers NHL team in 1993. It was built specifically for both sports. Yet by 1996 both teams were asking for new buildings, they each got one that they call home, the Panthers in 1998, the Heat a year later. The original Miami Arena was used sparingly until it was brought down less than 20 years before its first NBA game. Meanwhile, in the NHL, the Senators want a new arena, the current facility this 1992 Ottawa expansion franchise called home opened in 1996. The Red wings are getting a new building of their own, largely paid for by local public dollars in a city and state that is bleeding red ink, even though the owner could easily spend enough of his money to build the whole thing and still have billions left over. Talk about welfare, but of course when it is the owner of Little Caesar’s Pizza, the Tigers and Red Wings, that is somehow OK, but it is horrible when we give well fare to a 19 year old pregnant girl who is on her own with no family to turn too? Every arena used by NBA and NHL teams today not named Madison Square Garden and Oracle Arena is younger than Jennifer Hudson, younger than Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. Remember the Warriors are getting a new building unless things fall apart in San Francisco, scheduled to open by 2018. Only six MLB stadiums are older, Wrigley which is getting remodeled, Fenway which has had upgrades, Kaufman which received a new round of upgrades on the public tab in 2006, Dodger Stadium and yes, that ballpark urrrr stadium in Oakland; Angel Stadium went through a pair of major upgrades, one to add football in 1979 and one to undo that change and update the baseball only feel in 1997. IN the NFL, the only older venues that predate Jennifer and Mark are Lambeau Field and Soldier Field (both which had a major makeover and upgrade in 2002-03), Arrowhead Stadium, Rich Stadium, that stadium again in Oakland, the temporary home the Rams are moving to at Los Angeles Coliseum which had no NFL team since the Raiders left in 1995, QUALCOMM Stadium in San Diego and the new Orleans Super Dome which has had its share of upgrades and repairs. The Falcons like several NBA teams got a new facility that opened the year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in office, only to have it torn down potentially in the first year of another Clinton administration 25 years later in 2017. The Dolphins again as we point fingers at greater Miami moved to a facility built in 1987 for them and to get what would become the marlins. Almost immediately, the Marlins wanted out when it rained too much before baseball games to keep fans coming, hey Miami has always been that way, and now the Dolphins want upgrades or a new facility.
How do owners then fund new palaces to play in you ask? Well that depends on where else they can reach out with buckets in hand begging for private money to build the new stadiums. The public money is all gone, being used to build much more needed and much more outdated public works items such as electrical grids, water and sewer lines, replacing old gas pipes that keep exploding, and upgrading the telecommunications utilities. But there is another problem, walkers coming from the east, with signs featuring more stark language. Your cable TV money is gone, never to return. Here, we see another problem that takes us back in time while also developing on the horizon like a hurricane 1000 miles out in the Atlantic. We know damage could be done, we don’t know where or to what extent, but we know it is coming. IN this case, let’s think back to 1988 and the announcement that CBS had paid massive media rights fees to MLB. Teams were spending money on players left and right with this new found wealth of TV dollars. Yet in 1994, that CBS deal was gone and the new package was not nearly as lush with free greenbacks. Since MLB is not the treasury, it could not issue its own money and had to cut back. Baseball’s best season was ruined by a player strike, but the owners had just as much to do with it. Instead of using some of that TV money to build and update stadiums, owners bid against themselves and overpaid players, then begged for a salary cap to keep their fellow owners from spending too much on player contracts. We all know how that ended. But now fast forward to 2016, many teams have recently entered into or are just now starting new TV contracts with massive payouts from regional sports networks that are operated by and owned by divisions of the major cable and satellite TV companies. ESPN, Fox and TBS also are in the middle of huge contracts that pay very high rights fees to MLB through the 2021 season. But by 2021, it could be painfully apparent that baseball will need to come up with new revenue sources. The problem is simple, many people especially younger folks are ditching cable and satellite TV for on demand internet programming and who can blame them, a new trend known as chord cutting. Our own Time Warner bill has gone up almost 25 dollars in the last year, most of that in extra fees including a 6 dollar sports channel use fee. TWC and the other providers like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish will say that ESPN is to blame because of the high fees it demands for carriage over these systems. That has some truth to it, but look at how much money these same cable companies have sank into local TV rights contracts for teams in MLB< the NBA and NHL. The NFL largely dodges this issue because most of its games are still on over the air TV, something that is almost unheard of these days with the other leagues. This also does not even take into consideration the huge amount of money promised to college athletics, mainly in the form of NCAA football and men’s basketball at the division I level, viewed by many including myself as nothing more than university sponsored minor leagues. As more and more customers drop 180 to 200 dollar a month cable bills for on demand internet programs where they are purchasing only the programming they want to see, it forces the cable folks to raise rates. That bubble is about to pop like an overblown helium balloon and when it does pop, the sports leagues could find themselves being short changed because future promised dollars that were coming are suddenly now evaporating in the smoke and dust that is left behind by the burning down of the cable and satellite TV industry as we know it today.
Walkers are coming from the north and south too. From the north, they carry signs from entitled players who want even larger salary figures from owners who no longer have public welfare and no private money in hand to spend. The southern flank carry signs representing fans who are revolting against ticket prices that are increasing at many times the rate of working wages, fans who are tired of overpriced food and drinks provided by third party venders that do not follow food safety requirements in several instances. Minimum wage was $4.25 in 1993, it is now $7.25 in most locations. Yet $4.25 in 1992 will cost you more like $9 in today’s market for the same goods.
So the fans won’t buy tickets, the players are demanding money that is not there because the cable contracts are dead and worthless sheets of legal paper, while the government bonds have expired and no public official worth his or her weight in is coming through that door with as much as a dime of free goodies. This could happen and when it does, how do the pro leagues respond, and how does baseball in particular adapt to this very possible future reality?
I don’t have all of the solutions, but here are a couple. First, MLB should realize that the way fans are going to consume sports is changing and they will not be able to rely on passing this service fee on to the backs of many people who will never watch a game on television, much less attend a game in a stadium. MLB must come up with other revenue from the broadcast of game events. How you do this in part would be to make every single game you broadcast on TV and radio available worldwide to anyone online, no matter what. The audio service largely already accomplishes this and the MLBTV product should follow suit. Make that service available to any fan who wants to see any game, any team, anywhere. Already class action has forced MLB to sell an individual team package for out of market games, but this out of market concept is outdated and frankly it should have been terminated 15 years ago. MLB should have a very basic process here, no matter the fan, no matter where in the world you are geographically. Want to get the audio only package, sell it on a monthly or season long basis, sell it also on a per team or whole league type of package. So, I can get all MLB games for a month at a time, one team for the entire season, or all MLB games for the entire season. The same concept naturally would be true for those who upgrade to the video streaming service.
MLB should also hire broadcasters to cover games in other foreign languages. Many teams already have Spanish announcers, but hire a few MLB controlled broadcast teams who can do games in various popular languages around the world. While these announcers would not be able to cover all 2430 regular season games, they could cover 5-7 games a week, with all teams being offered throughout the season. Imagine if on any given day, you could find a couple games with an option in French, or German, or Chinese, Etc. These foreign language products would be streamed anywhere in the world, including to US based customers with a 30 day free intro to get fans interested. Teach them about the game if you will, then if they get hooked and fall in love, they can by a subscription. Similar audio broadcasts in various languages should also be made available via streaming services and if in languages that are in parts of the world with less internet traffic, dedicate a shortwave or related radio broadcast service specifically for this purpose.
Second, find ways to make the stadium into a year round money generating facility. Stadiums would become better public works investments if they were used more than 80 some odd times a season. MLB teams should find ways to book events at stadiums on all possible dates outside the baseball season and during the season, allow various events to take place at the facility on all dates not used for baseball, accept the day prior to a team returning home from a long road trip when the facility needs to be prepared for the next home games on the schedule. With more and more teams creating social zones in stadiums, those could all be rented out for big events and receptions on a very regular basis. I think the future here is interesting, as I could see a day where seats as we know it are no longer sold, with fans instead buying tickets to various zones within a ballpark and having areas to move around in, while using more restaurant style seating with tables and movable seating that allow for folks to face the field of play if using such setups on game days. Plus here is a big leap of Sheldon Cooper sarcasm, host more baseball games. Schedule the big state high school tournament during certain seasons at your stadium, bring college teams in on a regular basis for more than just the single weekend tournament and have events at the stadium on those open dates that are baseball related that get the community involved with one another. Have showcase events for international prospects, have baseball combine style events prior to the draft, and other events that promote baseball’s future talent, but do so in MLB stadiums where you can draw in MLB crowds. Imagine, you sell 30 thousand seats at 15 bucks a pop for any seat in the stadium and charge 5 dollars for parking, you know, minor league rates back in the day and you have made 450K just in ticket sales for that one event. For the stadiums as we know them to become true profit machines and thus to view them as investments or properties that have value, they must be living breathing spaces that are regularly active throughout the calendar year. We would never see funding for office buildings that were open only on Monday and Tuesday, or about 100 days in the year, which is even more than we see for actual game day events in MLB, even when postseason is accounted for. The numbers are certainly much worse in terms of usage dates for the NFL which has a max of about 12 in any given season, while the numbers for NHL and NBA arenas are about a max of 58 dates if a team played all the way to the finals, since no team plays the max 7 games in all four series. Even and arena that is home to both an NBA and NHL team gets a max of fewer than 120 usage dates during the year.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that things will probably not unfold in exactly the way that my imagination is presenting here. But the issues I have laid out on electronic paper here could very well take baseball and sports as we know it into new directions that require very difficult decisions and it will require creative solutions by power brokers who are used to getting everything the way they want it. All in the baseball and sports industry will need to be willing to make some real sacrifices and change how they think today, or risk forever destroying the very games we love in the future when resources have dried up and the league as currently funded becomes a bankrupt hulking mass of debt with empty decaying buildings that are home to no games, no fans, and no joy.
Spring training 2016 is coming upon us and one month from today, the first teams begin reporting for pitcher and catcher workouts in Florida and Arizona. As fun and relaxing spring training is for the many fans who make the journey to warm climates for spring ball, another tradition is the many games that are played between MLB teams at unique venues that do not normally host MLB games. Teams face one another in larger minor league ballparks, in international settings such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and in large multipurpose stadiums that could be temporary baseball venues for a city trying to show itself as a candidate for a potential MLB expansion or franchise relocation.
Typically, the final weekend of the exhibition season features about a 50-50 split of games played in traditional spring training venues and games played at sites outside Florida and Arizona. I propose a one-time unique form of baseball outreach for 2017, where all teams play outside Florida and Arizona on the final Friday and Saturday of spring training. March 31-April 1 of 2017 assuming the scheduling model remains as is would be those dates. NO games are played April 2 and it is likely six teams will have a regular season opener that Sunday if MLB finds that the 2016 triple header is a big success. So here is my proposal.
First, the traditional games, Dodgers v Angels, Giants V Athletics which have been made a bit less meaningful with interleague play, would still be scheduled as Wednesday and Thursday exhibitions, one at each ballpark.
The following matchups would all take place Friday March 31 and Saturday April 1, 2017. The Padres top two minor league clubs are in El Paso and San Antonio, while the Dodgers used to be a long time San Antonio affiliate. So the dodgers and Padres would face one another, Friday in San Antonio at the Alamodome, Saturday at El Paso. The Rangers and Astros would also face one another going in the opposite direction, Friday at El Paso and Saturday in the San Antonio Alamodome, as they did in 2014. Houston also played an El Paso exhibition against the Brewers in 1997.
The marlins and Rays would play a pair of games at the 55,000 seat stadium in Havana, Cuba, while another international matchup would take place in Montreal as the Blue jays play another pair of games, this time the opposition would be the New York Yankees. Keeping with the international theme of the moment, the Diamondbacks would face the Angels for two games at Monterey, Mexico. Other matchups, the Giants would face the Mariners for a pair of games in Sacramento, while the Rockies and Athletics play at Salt Lake City. The Nationals and Orioles would meet in Norfolk, the Pirates and Phillies at Redding, Pennsylvania and the Cardinals would meet the Royals in Springfield, Missouri. Indianapolis would get two games between the White Sox and Cubs, The Reds and Indians would play in Louisville, while the Braves would face the Twins in Charlotte. The new ballpark in Hartford, Connecticut though not affiliated with either of these teams would play host to a matchup between the Red sox and Mets, and Toledo Ohio would be host to the matchup between the Brewers and Tigers.
A while back I wrote about how other sports leagues after mergers had to decide which rules to play under. The ABA/NBA merger in 1976 took away the 3 point shot from the four ABA teams that had used it in their former league. It would be just three seasons until the NBA adopted the rule for the 1979-80 season. Similarly, the AFL teams once legally merged into the NFL in 1970 had to take away 2 point conversions after touchdowns out of the playbook, until the NFL brought the play back for the 1994 season.
Now, let’s look at how other sports teams are structured and use that as a way to debunk the argument that it is better to have a less skilled pitcher as a batsman rather than a skilled hitter at the dish. IN early football it was more common for players to take the field both on offense and defense. Today in some very small high schools with limited roster sizes, you may still see a few players take the field on both sides of the ball, but a majority of players are going to play only with the offensive or defensive unit. Could you imagine asking Aaron Rodgers or tom Brady to play defense just because that was how old school football was played? How about asking star defensive cornerbacks to come in and play quarterback. Sure this happens on rare occasions with players moving off a natural position in football, where a receiver or running back plays QB in a wild cat formation, but that is about as common as a pitcher coming in to pinch run for a slow base runner who would then be replaced by the appropriate defensive player when the team went back into the field next half inning.
IN hockey and soccer, the goal tender is never used as an offensive player and all that is contributed from that position is the start of a break out the other direction via a long outlet pass to a skilled position player. In basketball, the point guard would never be expected to be a leading rebounder and the center would never be expected to lead the team in assists. So why then do baseball purists insist that watching a pitcher swing the bat is somehow enjoyable baseball?
I used to be among those who believed that the DH took away a degree of strategy from the game, that it was too easy to just leave the starting pitcher in the game since he would not take a turn at bat. But I now view this differently, because having the pitcher bat could be an easy excuse to use as a deciding factor on when to pull your ace while down a run in the 6th inning or later for a better hitter. In the DH world, you truly have to evaluate when your guy has begun to tire or be figured out by the opposition as he goes through the lineup for the third or fourth time and decide when you then put in that relief specialist. Managers today often go to the bullpen to maximize a winning opportunity based on hitter and pitcher matchups, so why not allow the manager to place a 9th skilled hitter into the lineup against a difficult opponent?
As I have noted before, most modern pitchers do not learn to hit if they have always been a career pitcher since high school. Even those who played a position and converted later when in college or the minor leagues often did so because they were viewed as more capable on the mound than in the batter’s box. IN the minor leagues below double A, pitchers never bat and in double and triple A, pitchers only bat if the game is contested by a pair of NL affiliates. Even when an NL affiliate is at home against an AL affiliate, the DH is still used, thus these pitchers have very limited batting experience as professionals. It would be like asking the quarterback to suddenly double as a kicker or defensive safety with very limited training or experience. In other words, given the practices of professional baseball today, such expectations on pitchers being able to take what would even be considered a quality turn at bat in the majors can only be described as asinine.
If you ever here the reason for not making a change in your business practice that goes like this, “we have always done it this way because it is our tradition”, then you should already have your BS detector raised to the maximum. For centuries, women had no voting or property rights and this was even true for more than half of this nation’s history. Only in the last century have our modern democracies encouraged literacy for all citizens. Many arguments against changing things, interracial marriage, same sex marriage are all steeped in some form of religious and political tradition. Baseball has many rich traditions but how many famous plays, important games, hall of fame worthy moments are tied to a contribution with a pitcher at bat? Can you name one? I’m waiting. Sure it is cool when a pitcher comes up and jacks one out of the park, but how many of those hits decided a critical game, much less a post season game and I’m talking any type of a hit by a pitcher at bat, not just homers.
To underscore the point, during the history of the league championship series, only three pitchers have homered for the winning team at any point during the series and one of those was Mike Cuellar for the Orioles in 1970 before the AL brought the DH into existence. The other two, Don Gullett for the Reds in 1975 and Jeff Suppan for the Cardinals in 2006. How many world Series winners have had a pitcher go deep during any point of the series, not many. That list features only 8 names, Jim Bagby of the 1920 Indians, Jesse Haines with the 1926 Cardinals, Bucky Walters of the 1940 Reds, Bob Gibson with the 1967 Cardinals, Mickey Lolich with the 1968 Tigers, Dave McNally with the 1970 Orioles, Ken Holtzman of the 1974 Athletics and Joe Blanton with the 2008 Phillies. IN fact, no pitcher homered in any post season game from 1976 through 2005. The best baseball played is when the best pitchers face the best hitters with capable defensive players in the field, so why not have a universal DH?
Modern baseball is starting to evolve in a way that also would debunk the argument that says, the DH is not contributing to the team as a defensive player. Some teams now are using the DH as a way to rest another wise capable defensive player from time to time. So as more and more teams want to focus on having a versatile roster of players who have high defensive value, from time to time one of those players may need a day off from play in the field, but they would still be capable of swinging the bat for four or five turns during a particular game at DH. Finally, give me Edgar Martinez any day over Randy Johnson as a hitter, give me David Ortiz over Pedro Martinez and give me Jeff Bagwell in 2005 instead of any Astro pitcher during that World Series when the Astros were still an NL team. Oddly, had Houston been an AL team, Bagwell might have been able to continue as a hitter who would have been limited to DH only.
A universal DH brings about other potential implications for the good of the game. While this piece won’t be an extensive overview of potential realignment, another topic I have written about before, clearly having one unified Major League Baseball playing under unified rules makes for a more seamless transition from one division to another. When the Brewers went from the AL to the NL in 1998, they had a team that was built with a DH in mind and on the roster under contract, with only the 1997-98 offseason to adjust. When Houston needed to transition from NL to AL, the franchise had a year notice and could begin planning accordingly, even before the 2012-13 offseason arrived. Such a unified system would allow for more geographic realignment which would make it possible to create new divisions and organize franchises in ways that would in some ways remind fans of the reported but never considered radicle realignment detailed in media reports in August 1997.
IN closing, MLB needs to deal with this situation once and for all. You never saw the AFC playing under different rules from the NFC after the 1970 NFL merger. Baseball I have argued needs to settle on one common rule, DH or no DH for all teams. My vote clearly has evolved, as I now think given today’s game structure, the universal adoption of the DH is the only proper way to go. The only time we should ever see another pitcher at bat, is if the existing DH gets put into the field as a defensive player.
This week I read where MLB is going to consider changes to the Wild card system if the clubs ask for it. Part of this is born out of the fact that the three best teams in the NL are all from the central division and thus, two of them will play a single elimination game to then decide which of them faces the division winner from ironically the central, while the weaker western and eastern winners who are likely the Mets and Dodgers respectably will face off in the other National League Division Series. This will insure that either the fourth or fifth best team in the NL in terms of winning percentage advances to the National League Championship Series. But before you react to all the howling from Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Cardinals or whoever wins that division have the biggest gripe because they will face a stronger team no matter who emerges from the Wild card game, but let’s look back at the many other examples of teams being shut out all together because they had the bad fortune of being in a strong division and the lucky ducks who won it all despite being weaker from soft divisions.
I went back and looked at the league standings using Baseball Reference which has a page that organizes the win/loss records by all of MLB, not just the division. In 1969, the top four records belonged to the four division winners, Baltimore, the Mets, Minnesota and Atlanta. Three other teams won 90 or more games and missed the postseason, the Cubs, giants and Tigers. That season produced the highest percentage of 90 game winning teams in the division era, 7 of 24. IN those days, a division heavy schedule was played with no interleague, so no complaining could arise. IN 1970, the Yankees had a better record than the Pirates, but with no interleague play, it was a moot point since the Twins and Orioles were both better, the Pirates had the second best mark in the NL behind the Dodgers and Pittsburgh was the first sub-90 win division champion with an 89-73 mark. In ’71, the Tigers were like the Yankees in that they were better than the NL Giants, but they were not as good as the Athletics or orioles in the AL. The Cardinals interestingly had the same record of 90-72 as the Giants, but because the Cardinals wanted to be in the East, they finished in second. Of course we cannot assume the Cardinals would have been better in the West, but we can always say what if. The Dodgers remember were just a game behind San Francisco win the season ended. It was the 1972 White Sox who were the first team to really feel left out in the cold, they were better than the Tigers by a game, but Detroit won a weaker Eastern division while the Sox were left staring up at the developing dynasty in Oakland.
The 1973 NL season was the first that would make you ask what could have been done to make things better. The Dodgers won 95 games and were second to Cincinnati in the West, the Giants won 88 in third, yet the Mets won just 82 games to win the NL East. Going into a Monday of makeup games after the regular season ended for most teams, a situation was possibly going to occur where a three-way tie took place in the NL East between the Mets, Pirates and Cardinals, who all could have tied for first at 81-81. When the Cardinals played game 162 on Sunday September 30, they came in at 80-81 and a loss would have won the NL East for the Mets had New York split a doubleheader in Chicago. Pittsburgh had to win on Sunday to go to 80-81 and if the Mets split or were swept at Chicago, it met a makeup game on Monday for the Pirates and two for the Mets. As fate would have it, the Cardinals did win 3-1 over the Phillies in St. Louis, the Pirates beat Montreal 10-2 in Pittsburgh and yes, the Mets only split that doubleheader in Chicago, winning 9-2 in the first game but losing 1-0 in the second. On Monday, October 1, the Mets and Cubs would play two in Chicago and if the Mets lost game one, the second game would be played. If they won then they had the NL East crown and the second game would be called off since it would have no impact on the final standings. Pittsburgh played a home game and lost to San Diego finishing 80-82, and the Mets would win that first game in Chicago to take the division at just 82-79. Had the Pirates won and the Cubs had swept those Monday games, a three-way tie of 81-81 clubs would have taken place. Those Mets would go to the World Series, the Giants and Dodgers who had left new York behind 16 years earlier despite better records could only watch at home.
It happened again in 1974 with the Reds and Braves sitting at home, Cincinnati won 98 and the Braves 88, while NL East winner Pittsburgh won just 88 and faced the 100 win Dodgers in the NLCS. IN 1976 a pair of second place NL teams had better marks than AL West winner Kansas City, but no interleague play and thus no reason for gripes from Dodger and Pirate fans that year.
The 1977 season was an expansion year and so the divisions were top heavy, especially in the American League which was home to the new Toronto and Seattle franchises. The top four teams in MLB all made the playoffs, the Yankees, Royals and Phillies all won over 100, the Dodgers won 98, while the 97-64 Red Sox and Orioles, 96-66 Pirates, 94-68 Rangers and 90-72 White Sox all watched at home. The ’77 season holds the record for most 90-win teams that missed the playoffs in the division era, with 9 of the 26 teams at that time winning 90 or more and another eight teams losing 90 or more, the Indians, Padres, Brewers, Mets, Athletics, mariners, Braves and Blue Jays, Toronto and Atlanta both were over 100 losses. Only two teams, both in the NL had exactly .500 records, the 81-81 Cubs and Astros. Three teams would win between 82 and 89, four would lose between 82 and 89.
The 1978 season would see eight teams win 90 or more, in the AL we all know what happened with the Yankees and Red Sox in that division playoff at Fenway. But did you remember that the Orioles and Brewers both won over 90 and Baltimore had a better record than the Royals, another 90 plus winner out of the west. The NL saw better records for the Reds who finished behind the Dodgers in the west than the Phillies who took the east. The Giants just missed the 90 win club with 89 victories. The 1978 season was interesting in that no team won between 80 and 83 games and another eight would lose 90 or more, Seattle and Toronto both losing over 100.
In 1979, the AL Brewers, Red Sox and Yankees all won 90 or more, all were behind the Orioles in the eastern division and all were better than the 88-74 Angels out west. The NL Expos were better than Cincinnati who won the west, its final official flag until 1990, but in the east Montreal was behind Pittsburgh.
The 1980 season was remembered for three great races. The Yankees would edge the Orioles in the AL East and Baltimore would miss the postseason even though the team was 100-62, Kansas City won the west in a romp with a 97-65 mark. The NL featured great finishes with Philly edging Montreal by 1 in the NL East, Houston beat the Dodgers in a playoff for the western flag and Cincinnati was not far behind.
I mentioned official flags for the 1979 and 1990 Reds, they should have also won one in 1981. But that was the season of baseball’s first massive strike and thus the rushed choice by MLB to split the season, giving those teams in the lead when the strike hit June 12 an entry to post season, so everyone started fresh with a chance to win what became a race over a eight week period from August 10 to October 4. The Reds were the best team by far, they were 66-42, playing exactly two thirds of the normal 162 game schedule. The Reds were on pace to win 99 games if you project the record to a full season minus the strike, but the Reds were not the best team in either of the two halves, those titles instead went to the Dodgers and Astros, who were second and third in their division overall, and fourth and eighth overall in MLB for that season. The same thing happened to the NL East Cardinals, who had the third best record overall in MLB in ’81, but the split portions went to the Expos and Phillies, teams who were second and third in the NL East and who were seventh and ninth in MLB. IN the AL, the Athletics had the best mark in the AL West and second overall in MLB for the entire season, but with the split, it gave them a matchup with a Royals team that overall finished in fourth in the division and 17th in all of MLB with a combined 50-53 record. IN the AL East, Milwaukee had the best overall mark and the Brewers did win one of the split portions, the other went to the Yankees. The Bombers would go to the World Series that year, despite having a mark overall that was third in the AL East and tenth in MLB at 59-48 behind the Orioles who were second. In the AL in 1981, it would have been Athletics vs Brewers if the split had not taken place, Reds vs Cardinals in the NL and we would never have had the story of Montreal’s blue Monday.
In ’82, Milwaukee edged Baltimore by a game in the AL East, the Angels two games worse than Baltimore would win the west by three over KC. The Cardinals edged the Phillies by three in the NL East, Philadelphia had the same mark as the 89-73 Braves who took the western flag by a game over the Dodgers.
IN 1983, the AL would see a repeat of 1980, the White Sox romping this time in the West, while Baltimore got justice and took the east, the Tigers and Yankees would both win over 90 and stay home, though most teams in the AL East had winning marks that year. The Dodgers and Phillies had the best two records in the NL, as did the white Sox and Orioles in the AL.
In 1984, the Royals took the AL West winning just 84 games, the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees and blue jays were all better back east, all were way behind the 104-58 Tigers. The Cubs and Padres had the best two records in the NL. A year later in 1985, the mashing of teeth would come from New York, the Mets were better than the Dodgers by three games but the 98-64 Mets were behind the Cardinals in the NL East, the Dodgers took the west easily outlasting Cincinnati by 5.5 games. Meantime, the Yankees at 97-64 finished 1.5 behind Toronto but easily had a better record than the royals at 91-71, the eventual World Series winners, just don’t remind Cardinal fans about it.
The ’86 season is remembered for one of the best postseason events of all time, even though the regular season was really not all that dramatic, the entire postseason field was locked up with a full week left on the baseball calendar, Boston locked up the AL East on September 28, the season did not end until October 5, while the Astros, Angels and Mets had clinched previously. It would be 1987 that again would bring us some odd divisional results in both leagues. IN the AL, Detroit won the eastern title at 98-64, Toronto 96-66, Milwaukee 91-71 and the Yankees 89-73 all were better than the 85-77 Twins who got in winning the west and that Minnesota team would go on to a championship, despite the ninth best overall record in MLB and the fifth best in the 14 team AL. Over in the NL, the Cardinals took the eastern flag at 95-67, while the 92-70 Mets and 91-71 Expos sat at home, the 90-72 Giants got in winning the west.
Ironically the twins would then be bumped out in 1988, they were 91-71 and better than the 89-73 Red Sox who won the east, but Oakland was great again winning 104 and leaving Minnesota in the dust, even though the Twins were six games better than the 1987 World Series titlist. It happened to two teams in the 1989 AL West, Oakland won 99 to take the flag, but Kansas City with 92 and the Angels 91 victories both were better than the 89 by Toronto in the east, while in 1990 the White Sox at 94-68 were better than the 88-74 Red Sox. Again Oakland ran away in the west in 1990 going 103-59 to face Boston in the ALCS.
The 1991 World Series is probably the best ever played and nothing cheap happened to allow the Twins and Braves to get there. Minnesota had the best record in the AL followed by Toronto, Atlanta was only bested by Pittsburgh overall in the NL. In 1992, the best four teams again went to the post season, the Brewers, Reds and Twins all won 90 or more that season and went home as second place teams.
The 1993 season though will be remembered as the one that produced the best team to not go to a post season game in the division era. The 1980 Orioles won 100, the 1981 Reds played at a 99 win pace, but no one will ever forget those 1993 San Francisco Giants, a team that was all but moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. The Giants raced out to a commanding lead, but ’93 was an expansion year and so the divisions had a top heavy feel, particularly in the western division of the NL which was home to the newly formed Rockies and the Padres which went through a fire sale. The Braves would win 104 and take the division on the final day of the season, the Giants had a chance to tie Atlanta but got blown out at Los Angeles and sat at home with a 103-59 mark. The Phillies would win the NL East with just 97 victories edging Montreal by three. The White Sox and Blue Jays were the best two teams in the AL that year. Interesting to note, MLB had already announce the new three division alignment for 1994 and the balanced schedule used in 1993 would continue that next season. Had the 1994 division alignment been used in 1993, the great race would have been in the NL East, where the Braves at 104-58 would have pulled away from the Phillies and Expos who were then seven and ten behind the Braves. The Giants would have won the NL West by 22 over the Dodgers and the Padres and Rockies would have both been eliminated before September 1. The interesting race would have been in the NL Central, that title would have gone to the 87-75 Cardinals who would have edged Houston by two games. The Phillies would have been the wild card and if we had a second wild card like we now have in 2015, a 94-68 Montreal team would have played those Phillies, the winner to get the 104-58 Braves while the 103-59 Giants would have taken on the 87-75 Cardinals. IN the AL, the white Sox would have won the new central division, Toronto the east, while the west would have gone to the 86-76 Rangers. The Yankees at 88-74 would have been the wild card and if we went to a second one, it would have resulted in an additional playoff to break a tie between Baltimore and Detroit. The wild card winner would have then faced Toronto while the White sox and Rangers did battle.
What happened in 1994 does not matter ultimately since the strike canceled the World Series, but imagine if the Rangers had kept playing at the pace they were, they were the best team in a division with a record of 10 games under .500 and the 21st out of 28 teams in terms of overall winning percentage. If that pace would have continued, much better teams like the White sox, Orioles, and royals would have faced a possible Wild card entry against a team that got in with a horrendous division record. We almost saw that play out remember in 1973 and it nearly happened again in 1997, 2005 and 2008.
IN 1995 and 1996, nothing unusual would take place. IN ’95, the Astros would have played the Rockies, something that almost happened if not for a Rockies win the final day of that season, the playoff for that wild card would have been in Denver. Also, the loser of that divisional playoff between the mariners and Angels would have then played the Yankees in another elimination game, while the winner would have faced Boston, Cleveland awaiting the wild card winner in 1995 using today’s rules. IN ’96 if a second wild card would have existed, the Expos would have won as many as the central division Cardinals and a possible three-way tie for the second slot would have taken place in the AL to end the season. The Mariners would have had to make up a game and if they had lost it, a three-way tie for that second Wild card would have been created with the White Sox and Red Sox.
In 1997, the Mets and Dodgers both were 88-74, both would have been tied for the second wild card berth if it had existed, both better than an 84-78 Astros team that took the central title. In ’98, the only thing of note is that Boston had a better record than the AL division champs in Texas and Cleveland. Texas would have been tied with 88 victories with Toronto, a Blue jays team that would have been the second wild card if it had existed and thus Boston and Toronto would have played in that game for the right to then face the 114-48 Yankees, while Texas played Cleveland under today’s rules.
The NL in that same season actually had a tie and a playoff between the cubs and Giants, the winner got the NL’s best team in Atlanta, while the Mets just missed joining that party, a win the final Sunday would have created a three-way tie that would have needed to be broken under either the 1998 or modern Wild card systems.
IN 1999, the top teams all made it to post season, and we had another tie break in the NL between Cincinnati and the Mets. IN the AL, the second Wild card if it existed would have gone to Oakland.
In 2000, the Yankees at just 87-74 took the east, Cleveland was 90-72 and missed the post season, if the second wild card existed, the Indians would have faced Seattle and then that winner would have taken on the White Sox, while New York and Oakland, the series that was actually played in 2000 would have opened the ALDS.
If not for the Wild card in 2001, Oakland at 102-60 would have missed the playoffs. This great team though instead of facing the Yankees to open the playoffs would have had to play the 85-77 Twins under today’s rules and then get the 116-46 mariners if they had advanced, while the Yankees would have faced Cleveland. IN the NL, St. Louis would have had a playoff with Houston to decide the central and then that loser would have hosted San Francisco under today’s rules. That winner would have played who ever won the central that year and Atlanta and Arizona would have met in the NLDS.
In 2002, 11 teams won 90 or more, a higher mark than the 9 in 1977, but a lower percentage as 9 of 26 is still more than 11 of 30. In 2002, The Yankees had the best AL record and they would have faced the winner of a playoff between the Angels and either the Mariners or Red Sox, a tie existed if we had a second wild card. Oakland would have played Minnesota which was actually the case that year. IN the NL, the Braves would have faced the winner of a Giants and dodgers wild card game, while the Diamondbacks played the Cardinals as was the case that year.
The 2003 season would have presented an interesting change. Under today’s rules, the Yankees would have faced the winner of a Boston and Seattle wild card game, both teams were better than the Minnesota team Oakland would have faced in the AL playoffs. IN the NL, the Braves would have played the winner of a marlins and Astros Wild card, while the Giants would have faced the Cubs.
In 2004, Boston would have hosted Oakland and Houston would have hosted the Giants if the modern Wild card playoffs existed. The AL winner would have played the Yankees in the ALDS while weaker teams in the Angels and Twins would have faced one another. IN the NL, the Houston and San Francisco winner would have gone to Atlanta which was the case for the ’04 Astros, while the Dodgers went to St. Louis.
The 2005 season presented another weak division winner. The 82-80 Padres won the NL West that year. The Phillies 88 and the Marlins and Mets both at 83 wins were better than San Diego. Had a second wild card been around, the Phillies and Astros would have played to see who took on the Cardinals who won over 100 games, while the Braves at just 90-72 would have faced that San Diego team. IN the AL, the Red Sox and Yankees would have played off the AL East and the loser would have hosted Cleveland in the Wild card game. That winner would have then played the White Sox, while whoever won the East would have matched up with the Angels.
IN 2006, the Yankees at 97-65 and Mets with the same record had the best marks in all MLB. The Yankees faced the 95-67 Tigers that post season and lost. Under today’s rule, the Yankees would have played Detroit or the White Sox, Chicago would have been the second Wild card if it was around and that sox team was 90-72. The Twins and Athletics who won 96 and 93 respectably would be the other matchup in either playoff format. IN the NL, the Mets were clearly the best team and they would have played the winner of a Phillies vs either padres or Dodgers wild card. Los Angeles and San Diego tied at 88-74 to win the West. The western division winner would have played a an even weaker Cardinals team at just 83-78 from the NL Central, the team that ultimately won the 2006 World Series.
The 2007 season in the NL was one of the great finishes. With three days left, a possible five-way tie existed for the NL East, West and wild card positions between the Mets, Phillies, Rockies, Padres and Diamondbacks. When all was said and done, the Diamondbacks got the weakest team in post season, the 85-77 Cubs. Under today’s rule, Arizona would have played the winner of that great game between the Rockies and Padres, while the Cubs would have faced Philadelphia. IN the AL, the Yankees would have hosted Seattle to settle a Wild card, then the winner would have played Boston, while Cleveland would face the Angels. The Indians and Red sox both had 96-66 records, best in the AL, but Boston won the season series 5-2 and thus claimed the top spot.
The 2008 post season was memorable for many reasons. If we had a second Wild card, it would have produced another memory, because Boston would have hosted the Yankees. The winner of that would have then opened at the Angels, while the Rays would have awaited the winner between the Twins and white Sox as was actually the case in 2008 when those two had a playoff for the central division. IN the NL, the Mets would have lived one more day and played at Milwaukee in a Wild card game, the winner of that would have then played at the Cubs, while the Phillies would have played a weak 84-78 Dodger team from the west, a team that was not as good as the Astros at 86-75, Cardinals 86-76 or marlins 84-77.
IN 2009, the Yankees had the best record in the AL, they would have been rewarded by playing Boston under today’s rules, Boston won 95 and was much stronger than the Twins and Tigers who had to go to a playoff game to decide the Central. Boston would have first had to win a wild card game against the 87-75 Rangers who would have taken the second spot a game ahead of the Tigers and Twins, who thus had to play the second consecutive one-game playoff to decide the central division winner. The Angels would have had the fortune of facing Minnesota under that system. IN the NL, the 92 win Rockies would have played the 88 win Giants in the Wild card, the winner to then get the 95 win Dodgers from the same division that season, while the Phillies with 93 wins would have faced a 91 win Cardinals team.
IN 2010, the AL East would have produced what we have this season in the NL Central. Tampa with 96 victories took the division, the Yankees with 95 would have faced Boston with 89 in the Wild card, yes Theo, your Red Sox would have benefited from the new rules two years in a row, more about 2011 in a minute. The Twins who won 94 and the Rangers with 90 would have played in the other series. Over in the NL, the top teams all were the division winners, the Phillies at 97, Giants 92 and Reds 91. The Wild card would have featured the 91 win Braves hosting the 90 win Padres, the winner going to Philadelphia while the Reds opened against the Giants.
Then there is 2011, which for all purposes had its own version of one game playoffs the final day of the season. We all remember the epic fall suffered by the Red Sox and Braves, which allowed the Cardinals and Rays to get into the post season and lead to a Cardinal championship. Now under today’s rules that great finish would not have taken place, but the Rays and Red Sox and or the Braves and Cardinals could have had memorable games that match some of the other one-game playoffs in history such as the Yankees and Red Sox in ’78, the Rockies and Padres in ’07, the White Sox and Twins in ’08, the Tigers and Twins in ’09, or the Royals and Athletics in ’14. The winner in 2011 of Boston and Tampa would have faced the Yankees who won 97 games, while the Rangers and Tigers who won 96 and 95 respectably would have opened with one another. IN the NL, the Phillies would have opened against the Cardinals or Braves, they did face St. Louis that season, while Milwaukee and Arizona would be the other contest.
Since 2012, we have had the two Wild card system. IN 2012, the Tigers won the division with just 88 wins in the central, the Rays and Angels were both better and missed the playoffs even with the second slot available as a Wild card entry. IN 2013, 11 90 win teams existed tying the record from 2002, though again in terms of percentage, that still falls short of 1977 and 1969. Pittsburgh won 94 that season and settled for the Wild card, better than the Dodgers with 92 in the west. Pittsburgh faced a 90 win Cincinnati team and the Cardinals who won 97 faced those Pirates, while the 96 win Braves faced the slightly weaker Dodgers in the other series. The 2013 NL results are a foreshadow of what we are seeing now in 2015, the numbers are just more extreme in terms of the likely win totals for the five teams involved. IN 2014, the top 10 teams in MLB and in deed the top 5 in each league perfectly aligned themselves, the top teams were all division winners followed by the four Wild cards.
IN 2015, it would appear that the top 10 in MLB and the top five in each league will again qualify, it is just the unbalance where by the best three teams are all from the same division, so two of them will be Wild card entries. But hey if it were not for that wild card Theo, your Cubs would very much be on the outside with two weeks to go. Just look at the final standings in 2002 where the Red Sox would have had a chance for something facing the mariners in a second wild card tie breaking game. Look at the AL East standings from 1977 through 1980 and again in 1987, the teams who would have been happy to just have a Wild card to play for were many. Those Red Sox in 2011 would have given anything to play another day against those Rays on September 29, this current system would have done just that.
Bottom line, nothing is perfect, but at least we know that these great teams on paper have their opportunity to play their way toward the ultimate prize, a World Series championship. We all know what the real solution is though baseball would probably never do this, which means getting rid of divisions all together and either sending the top five from each league or the top ten from MLB into a post season tournament. If the leagues remained, the fourth and fifth teams would have a playoff game, the winner to face the team that finished first while second and third did battle. If going with no leagues and just looking at all of MLB, then the seventh and tenth teams would have a playoff and the eighth and ninth teams would do likewise. The weaker of those remaining teams would face the team finishing first, the stronger of the teams would play the team finishing second. The remaining two series would feature third and sixth place teams in one, fourth and fifth place in the other opening series.
Personally, I love the wild card, even if a weaker division winner gets in, it still rewards winning the division. My solution to that, a balanced schedule where everyone plays everyone, 14 games against each team in the division, six against each team in the rest of your own league, four interleague games against one team and three against each of the remaining 14 teams from the opposite league. Cut the schedule to 154 games, simply reduce the number of divisional games to 12 per opposition, or 13 for a 158 game schedule.
Theo, be careful what you wish for, because you are at least able to have your club in position to play for something that you would have gladly accepted with those 2010 and 2011 Red Sox. IF baseball realigns someday say to 32 teams and 8 divisions, that second wild card could again be taken away and the weakest division winner would be forced to play the lone wild card in that playoff elimination game.
Many proposals have been written in recent years by me and others about how to modify the current Major League Baseball schedule.
Officially on September 7, I dropped into the U.S. mail a letter to major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred which outlines some scheduling specifics to which I am now going to publically write about. Call this if you want baseball’s Square Deal as far as scheduling is concerned, after all with a writer named Reginald Deal as the author of such a plan, and given my love for baseball and the weather that equals my interest in history and politics, well you get the idea.
The mathematics based on the current 162 game schedule are strait forward. A team plays each of the four divisional opposition clubs 14 games each, seven home and seven away. Each series is scheduled as one three-game and one four-game series at each ballpark, so that 56 total games are played within the division. The remaining teams outside the division within the same league are scheduled for six games, three home and three away, thus adding another 60 games to the schedule and creating a total of 116 games played inside the league. The remaining 46 games are scheduled as interleague contest against all 15 teams from the opposite league. A team from one league would host seven teams from the other circuit for three games each at home, while playing seven more on the road for three games. This takes care of 42 interleague games, the remaining four would be against a 15th team as a two home and two away series played on four consecutive days.
This scheduling format would fit perfectly into what MLB currently uses for its scheduling model, as 51 total series would be played, 15 interleague, 20 interdivision within the same league, and 16 within the same division.
My proposal takes things even further though. It calls for home field in the World Series to go to the best team in terms of win-loss record, the only exception being if the better team was a wild card while the team from the other league won its division, in which case the division title earns the weaker team home field. It also allows for a 154 game scheduling provision where by the schedule is simply reduced by cutting the total number of divisional games from 14 to 12 against each opponent. All series would in most cases be scheduled for three games, though in unusual situations such as the
Friday-Monday home series Boston gets for Patriot’s Day, a four game series would be scheduled and the visiting team would play just two games on its return to Fenway, thus making it a requirement that such a series always be scheduled against a team in the division.
The schedule also allows for an expansion to 32 teams and creating a pair of leagues with four divisions each. IN this instance, the number of interleague games increases from 46 to 48, three games at home against eight teams, three against the remaining eight on the road. The number of games played against teams inside the same league outside the division would remain at six each, three home and three away for a total of 72. This then leaves divisional play, where three opposition teams would again be schedule for 14 games, seven home and seven away as mentioned above if scheduling for 162 games, or reduce the total to 12 games each against each of these three teams and create a 156 game schedule.
There is one other note to mention concerning the scheduled based on expansion. It would not expand the number of teams in the post season, but instead create a wild Card game where the team that was the wild Card would travel to play a single game against the division winner with the weakest record. Not only does this create competition for the lone wild Card berth like we had before, it also creates a competition where by the teams that are winning a division will want to continue to play their best possible lineup to avoid being that 4th seed and thus falling into that playoff game.
I have one additional note concerning expansion that is referenced in the letter to commissioner Manfred. It is an observation that states that if no expansion team is placed in the Pacific time zone, either the Diamondbacks or Rockies will have to move to the AL and allow for the Astros to return to the NL, so that a pair of true western divisions containing four teams each are created. If an expansion team did go to the west, the Rockies would be required to join other teams from Texas or the Midwest in such a divisional structure.
Will these proposals be considered, who knows. One thing is clear to me, baseball can come up with a schedule that is more congruent, more symmetrical, and certainly one that could and would be truly balanced and equitable.
IN recent days, a lot of talk has been generated from a couple of comments that were made by players and expanded upon further by Commissioner Manfred. One area of discussion focused on the universal use of the DH in the NL and the other dealt with a reduction back to a 154 game schedule. I am now going to spend some time elaborating on both of these and how my views are changing as it relates to where baseball is now in 2015.
Let’s start with the discussion about the designated hitter. When I first discovered baseball as a kid in 1985 at the college level and especially in 1986 when I was forever hooked by the big league game, I found it odd that the NL and AL had different rules. My 13 year old mind thought, the NFL does not use different rules for NFC and AFC teams, the NBA didn’t when you switched from Eastern to Western Conference teams, so why does baseball do this? At that time though, it was critical to understand that Major League Baseball as we knew it was in effect two very separate leagues and the only areas of common ground they shared were in terms of the overall governance of the sport, in that the Commissioner of Baseball had power over both of them and both had working agreements with the minor leagues and with each other when it came to the World Series and All Star Game. But through 1999 in terms of legal recognition, the National and American Leagues were two separate entities.
When the NFL and AFL decided to join forces in 1967 with a complete merger in place by 1970, the two leagues had to agree upon which rules to follow, one key difference being the AFL using a 2-point conversion option in addition to the standard 1 point kick attempt. The NFL version would become law of the land, but the 2 point conversion would return after 24 seasons for the 1994 campaign. When the NBA took on four former ABA teams in 1976, those teams had to adjust as the NBA did not have the 3 point shot, an ABA invention. Three seasons later when the 1979-80 campaign opened, it was back and now is a tremendous offensive weapon for most successful teams. While I am not going to claim to be as much of an expert on hockey, I am sure there were ideas from the old WHA which would have four of its teams absorbed into the NHL in 1979 and hockey today looks nothing like the game did 35 years ago. So what does this merger history of our other major sports leagues have to do with baseball? Simple, the two leagues quietly merged in 2000 and since then, legally we have had one baseball league known as Major League Baseball. Now days, the AL and NL are largely unified, they share umpires, all baseball business is conducted as one total organization where votes are based on a majority or three fourths majority vote of the total ownership, where as in the past, some procedures required three quarter votes in favor within your own league and just a simple majority in the other league, sometimes the other league had no say at all. So in 1973 when the American League adopted the designated hitter, the National League could not stop them from doing so and in the same manner, the AL could not force the NL to use it.
But now, we are in a merged league, the 16th season of a joint solo baseball league is upon us. From the time of the completed mergers going forward, all teams in the other sports played by the same rules, you did not have NFL teams playing under different rules in 1985, the absorbed ABA teams into the NBA did not have their own special 3 point rules in place 16 years post-merger in 1992-93, no special hockey rules either for those teams 16 years post-merger in 1995-96. Put simply, baseball needs to get with the program and have one uniform rule in today’s era of interleague play. If you want a DH league and a non-DH league, interleague play would need to go away and thus, MLB would need to expand to 32 or contract to 28 teams. We know the ladder is not going to happen and while expansion could and should happen at some point, it is not likely in the next three to five years and no matter your views on interleague play, usually when something new is brought into a sport, it is there to stay in some form or another.
Since I have openly advocated for a schedule where all teams play everyone, this only furthers the point that baseball needs to either fully embrace or get rid of the DH. Given the lack luster ability of modern pitchers to hit a ball in today’s hyper specialized game of baseball, that is a point for the DH, which until a few years ago I opposed. Pitchers are no longer trained to hit unless they are truly talented as two-way players in high school and college. As professionals, they never take a turn at bat until double or triple A and even then, only if it is a game between affiliates that are both from NL organizations. Here, football is the obvious comparison, because by the time you get to the top level of the professional sport, you are a specialist on offense, defense, or you are a kicker, you are not expected to play both safety and receiver, both offensive and defensive line, and you are certainly never going to be both a quarterback or running back and a defensive player. Since modern baseball has taken this approach with pitchers and decided that they are no longer going to be able to train as hitters in the minor leagues for as long as three or more years while they develop as professional ball players, this too brings me to another point in favor of a universal DH.
The big issue I have had with the DH was that it limited the number of strategies employed by the manager, but given the high use of the bullpen in today’s game with a strict pitch count in place for most starters, how much strategy is left when you decide to pinch hit for the pitcher in the sixth inning, when he might have been only and out or two away from being removed during the seventh inning anyway? Other than the overrated double switch, which hurts a team more by sometimes taking out a more capable hitter for what is in theory a weaker hitter from the bench to push back the pitchers turn in the batting order, all remaining strategies of baseball are in place even with the DH. Teams must decide when to hit and run, when and where to shift, what pitch sequence to throw, which batters to pitch around, which pitcher to bring into the game during a high leverage situation with two runners in scoring position in the eighth inning with a lead of just one run, where a hit could flip the game to the oppositions favor. All of those things, all of those beautiful strategies in baseball will always remain, even in a DH league. Thus, after opposing it for years, I have come around to being a supporter of the DH and it should be uniform for all teams in our single baseball league. The only time a pitcher should hit is if the DH has to be given up and moved into the field of play as a position player and while rare, this is something that should remain, not because I want to see pitchers hit, but because it will on those occasions force the manager into a difficult decision.
Now on to the length of the schedule. Baseball for a large part of its history from around 1908 to 1960 with only a couple of exceptions played a 154 game schedule. The growth to 162 with the 1961 AL and 1962 NL expansion was simply out of utility, not need. Baseball played a balanced schedule in 1960, 154 games divided by seven teams in your league only equaled 22 games against each team. IN the new format, 18 games against each of nine teams would be played, had the 154 been kept, the schedule would have been 18 games against one and 17 games against eight teams. Scheduling of course in the modern game had become much more complicated than even that simple mathematic result.
However, 154 in today’s game is very doable and in fact, you could retain the proposed format I shared last summer and give players a day off every single week.
The schedule I proposed last summer featured contests against every single team, three games against 14 and four against the 15th team outside your league for a total of 46, this would be played as seven series of three games at home, seven series of three on the road, and then a two-two home and road set that would be played over four consecutive dates, the rivalry series like we have now. IN a team’s own league, the ten teams outside the division would be played six games each, three home and three away for another 60 games, while the remaining 56 games would be divided into 14 games against each team inside the division, seven games home and seven away verses each team, with a three game and a four game series to be played at each ballpark home and away. Moving to a 154 game schedule, you would simply reduce the divisional games to a total of 48, or 12 total against each team. Now, you would be rid of those four game series and the only four-game set would be the rivalry home-road on the interleague schedule. While the length of the season on the calendar would not change, you would add more off days on the schedule, such that a team would have an off day every single week accept one and that one week where the off day would not exist would be for the two-two interleague series against the regional rival and all those rivalry games would be scheduled for the first Monday-Thursday after the All Star Break.
For those who will surely point to the baseball records that were broken on the longer schedule, I would point out that the number of at bats and not the number of games played would be a key factor when looking at offensive stats and baseball had a very compelling record pace set by one Albert Bell, the only player to ever go 50-50 doubles and homers and that was in a shortened 144 game season in 1995. A 154 game schedule would also allow baseball if it wanted too under a unified league, to consider more of a geographic realignment that would reduce travel, while exposing fans to all teams from across the country. One major idea which would be unpopular with many traditional fans but supported by players I am sure would be to play 82 games inside the division, 16 each against three teams and 17 each against the remaining two divisional opponents, the remaining 72 games against 24 teams would be played as 24 three game series, playing 12 teams on the road and 12 teams at home. The home and road assignments would switch each season. Furthermore, where duel markets were involved, teams would face those clubs either both at home or both on the road in the same season, so as to not allow for fans in those markets to see every team every year while denying that to fans elsewhere around the new league structure.
What would that alignment look like? Well for starters, let’s take a page out of the old hockey manual and name our five divisions after key figures in baseball history. Who those figures would be would certainly trigger debate, but I would want them to represent a variety of baseball generations, positions on the field and they should represent both American and international baseball culture and history. I won’t name the divisions here, but I will propose this alignment. If and when baseball expands to 32, I would favor four divisions of eight teams rather than eight divisions of four, stronger teams as wild cards are preferred in the former over weaker division winners which would surely come about from the ladder. The scheduling formula for 154 games and 32 teams would be simple, three games against 24 teams outside the division for 72 total just as proposed above, while the 82 games inside the division would be split among seven opponents, playing 12 games against five teams and 11 against the remaining two. But now, here is the new alignment with our current 30 teams.
Division 1, Mariners, Athletics, Giants, Dodgers, Angels, Padres.
Division 2, Rangers, Astros, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Royals, Twins.
Division 3, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, White Sox, Tigers.
Division 4, Reds, Indians, Pirates, Blue Jays, Rays, Marlins.
Division 5, Nationals, Orioles, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox.
This post briefly ran for about 35 minutes with a calculation error that was based on 162 instead of 154 game scheduling, correction now reflected in posting above.
ON this blog some months ago, I wrote about how MLB in theory could expand today to 36 teams and the impact would be no more than what happened during the 4-team expansion of 1993 and 1998. I believe that the impact could be less significant because of the much greater pool of available baseball talent. IN addition, a growth from 30 to 36 franchises would be equal in scope to the growth from 20 to 24 in 1969 in terms of the 20% growth of the industry and still less than the 25% growth during the expansion from 16 to 20 franchises in 1961-62. Today’s baseball more than ever has an international flavor, with several player s from South Korea and Australia now on big league rosters. IN 1995 when the last expansion teams were announced to begin play in 1998, no one could have envisioned the leap forward in the ability for MLB teams to obtain talent from Japan and we are now entering a similar era of growth with talent imported from Cuba. Only three Australian’s were in the league in 1995, Graeme Lloyd and Dave Nilsson with the Brewers and Craig Shipley with the Astros. Chan-Ho Park had yet to make his name as the most significant player from South Korea to play in North America’s top league and that was the same year a Japanese pitcher named Hideo Nomo took baseball by storm. Couple that with MLB’s efforts to grow the game and increase the talent pool of black American players, development efforts in Canada, a future pool of talent potentially in parts of Europe and you have a sport that is in prime position for expansion.
Bottom line, the time is right for MLB to expand. Forces in other sports leagues may ultimately drive this, with the NHL strongly hinting at a round of expansion to as many as 34 teams and with rumors of future expansion that could be coming to both the NBA and NFL, baseball would certainly want to make sure it was capitalizing some new markets before other sports leagues take a dominant foot hold in territory that still has room for expansion of its major league sports landscape.
Given the recent comments by the commissioner concerning future expansion involving Canada and or Mexico, let’s examine the most liberal expansion plan. This plan would put two more teams in Canada in Montreal and Vancouver, it would place a team in Monterey, Mexico and it would leave three slots of expansion sites to be decided between a variety of markets. One of the battles would be between Mexico city and San Antonio. Most would argue that Texas should have a third team and since Monterey is the Mexican city most prepared to support a big league team given its business climate, Mexico would get only one and not two teams. Canada clearly has had a prior history in Montreal and signs grow stronger each day that at some point, baseball at the big league level will return to French Canada. The question, does western Canada receive a team in Vancouver? One could certainly argue that a team in Vancouver would be a logical fit and if the team was in the same league with the Mariners, Seattle would have a shorter road trip finally on its schedule. Of course the mariners have a fan base in Vancouver and the Blue jays might not want to give up the Canadian television market share they have in western Canada either. Montreal having a prior history in terms of Canadian television is an easier sell. So one clearly could see the road to 32 teams going to Montreal and Monterey, but clearly MLB has other US territory it might want to consider, which makes the odds longer for Vancouver and longer still for Mexico City, both by the way were long shots for the 29th and 30th franchises when baseball announced it would expand in march of 1994, following the success the Marlins showed in their first year and the record setting response achieved by the Colorado Rockies.
Baseball of course has potential relocation worries still hanging over the Tampa Rays if a stadium situation is not resolved for that franchise and long term questions remain with the Oakland Athletics. Baseball surely would want to keep the A’s in California if at all possible, so if the club ever does leave Oakland, a bidding war would exist between San Jose and Sacramento. While the former is considered part of the Bay Area, the ladder is in current Athletics territory and is only 80 miles away, a portion of the Athletics fan base has Sacramento roots and Sacramento opens a new market in terms of local TV and radio. San Jose is largely blocked from getting the Athletics because of the Giants, but if the Athletics did go to Sacramento, nothing would stop San Jose from attempting to get an expansion team or relocating say, the Rays? The Rays have been speculated as a potential relocation to Montreal for months now and if the Tampa stadium efforts falter again, a lot of French may be heard on the sunshine coast. If Montreal did land the Rays, MLB could of course go back to Tampa if it built a stadium, but now we are looking at a lot of what if scenarios. Let’s just assume for this purpose that no team gets relocated and let’s give Montreal and Monterey automatic qualifying status if the focus of expansion is international. Vancouver would clearly be battling with Monterey for that second franchise, unless MLB truly wants to focus outside the US, in which case one easily can argue for all three cities having teams. Mexico city is clearly in 4th place here and it would have stiff competition from the borders to the north as well.
My view is that in addition to locks for Montreal and Monterey, Vancouver clearly gets a franchise and Charlotte is a city that should be granted a franchise given that a large region of the southeastern US does not have a local team and Charlotte fits nicely between Cincinnati, Atlanta and the Washington-Baltimore region. Las Vegas can make a similar argument and here, we are talking about a city that is likely in the near future going to be home to the NHL and perhaps soon after the NBA. Baseball has a long history of deep discomfort with gambling and so one cannot help but wonder how that hurts Vegas. Portland like Vancouver would be a great site for future teams as well, but I can’t see MLB going to both cities at the same time, Unless MLB is more comfortable with Portland over Vegas. I think baseball will let other leagues gamble on the Nevada desert and Portland joins Vancouver, Charlotte, Montreal and Monterey, leaving the question about the 36th franchise between two cities, San Antonio and Indianapolis.
Both cities have had history of very successful NBA franchises and Indy has in recent years proven to be a great football market. But I view San Antonio as the leader here because of its greater size, the fact that it is part of a vastly growing region with Austin just 80 miles north and more and more people and thus potential fans are moving south every year.
Assuming thus no relocations, here is my latest idea of a super 36 team MLB based on the recent comments by Commissioner Manfred, as I assume MLB would not expand just north and south of the border.
The AL East would add Montreal while the AL Central would add Charlotte and the west would add San Antonio and Portland, Houston would move back to the senior circuit.
Pittsburgh would move from the NL Central to the East, the vacated slot in the Central would go to Houston and Monterey would be added as the sixth franchise, while in the NL West, Vancouver gets the sixth position. Below are listed what the new alignments would look like.
AL East: Tampa, Boston, Baltimore, Yankees, Toronto, Montreal.
AL Central: White Sox, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, Kansas City, Charlotte.
AL West: Texas, San Antonio, Angels, Oakland, Portland, Seattle.
NL East: Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Mets.
NL Central, Cubs, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Houston, Monterey.
NL West: Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, Dodgers, San Francisco, Vancouver.
Would this happen any time soon, not likely, but these are all cities that have been talked about before when the discussion of expansion and relocation has come about over the past two decades. Baseball is more regional than the NBA and NFL because of how its teams are concentrated in various markets, so by adding teams in these particular markets, especially Monterey and Charlotte, you are truly expanding baseball’s geographic footprint. All the new franchises would be within reasonable travel distances to nearby cities, with Vancouver having the longest trip, one cannot see all three Pacific northwest cities in the same division. Monterey is relatively close to Houston and the state of Texas by air and San Antonio is an obvious fit here. Charlotte would be within reasonable travel distances to other cities like Atlanta, Washington and Baltimore and Montreal would have close connections by train or air to Boston and Toronto.