Friday, November 10, 2006

I Can't Stand It anymoremoremore

I apologize for my discourse here, but I have to rant while I still can (i.e. not employed) and I’ve been wanting to make an argument for something that has bothered me immensely for the past few years. And this site is the perfect place for me to finally get it off my chest. In my season previews for both pro basketball

and hockey
, I suggested maybe dropping some teams or just reorganizing things to go back to four divisions, like they both used to be. Six divisions is too much for either league, with crappy teams routinely getting high playoff spots for winning awful divisions. Four divisions means that teams have to do better to get in. And how awkward is it to have four or eight playoff teams in each conference/league with three divisions? It doesn’t add up. Only football, with 16 teams in each conference and a 16 game season set up well, has a mathematically and sensibly perfect format. Everyone else needs to change.

Naturally, I’m going to make the same argument for baseball. Call me bitter, (and make no mistake: I am very, very bitter), but the Phils have gotten screwed the past two years in the playoff hunt. You can say that they didn’t come through in the end, and that’s true, but I’d like to point out that each time they actually had a top-four record in the NL. They lost out, because of divisional arrangements, to mediocre teams winning bad divisions (St. Louis this year, San Diego before that).

Now, I know St. Louis is not giving me any support in this matter after their great postseason. But still, should they have even been there with 83 wins? That just doesn’t seem fair. Going back to the old two division format in each league would let the best teams make the postseason.

Now I know that baseball has an amazing history and that many purists don’t like the idea of a wild card. Two wild cards would have many traditionalists furious. But this is how the game evolved. Sure, in the old days, only one team from each league made it. They just had the World Series and that was it for the playoffs. But, there were only 16 teams playing for the first half of the century.

The original AL: Yankees, Red Sox, St. Louis Browns (now the Orioles), Washington Senators (now the Twins), Tigers, Athletics (in Philly and then Kansas City), White Sox, Indians

The original NL: Dodgers (in Brooklyn), Giants (in New York), Reds, Cubs, Braves (in Boston and then Milwaukee), Cardinals, Pirates, Phillies

So, traditionalists, please don’t fret, because I’m advocating for a league like that. I think 7 or 8 teams in a division is a good number. Honestly, the old system was nice. It’s just that baseball has almost doubled in size since then. And with expansion, it has naturally added more playoff rounds. After the major expansion of the 1960’s, baseball stood at 24 teams, with four divisions of six teams each, and a new playoff round. In 1969, they started the League Championship Series. This made sense because they had gotten much larger.

AL 60’s expansion: Angels, New Senators (now the Rangers), Brewers (now in the NL), Royals

NL 60’s expansion: Mets, Astros, Padres, Expos (now the Nationals, of course)

This is where things stood until 1994, when baseball reached 28 teams with the addition of the Marlins and Rockies (the Blue Jays and Mariners started in the late 70’s). It is during the 90’s, with the extra expansion and the shaky leadership of Bud Selig, that things started to go wrong. After getting to 28 teams, baseball decided to add another round. No harm in that – they had grown in size again, they already were planning on going to 30 teams soon, and they wanted more postseason cash. It’s perfectly understandable.

But they wanted to be cool and cute and go to an awkward six division format. This was odd mathematically, since there were two divisions of four teams and the rest with five. It was unbalanced. It also spread the good teams out, and though it worked most of the time, bad teams still got in. While no team has ever gotten into the postseason with less than 80 wins under this format, we’ve come close (like, say, the LAST TWO YEARS!!!) And it should be noted than it its first year of existence, the six division format produced a division without any team over .500 (the AL west). Of course, we never got to see a losing team in the playoffs because that first year was also the strike year of 1994. Remember the year that the Pirates were leading the NL central at the all-star break with like a .480 winning percentage? The Astros eventually got it by just barely getting over .500. But you see my point. (By the way, I also remember a year, maybe the same one I just described, when four out of the five teams in the NL east had better records than anyone in the NL central.

Of course, the fifth team that didn’t was the Phils.)

Although this upset me, I figured that having six divisions of five would at least be somewhat sensible in a league of 30 teams. So when Arizona and Tampa Bay began play in 1998, I admitted that it was at least a decent solution, if temporary. But then, Bud Selig continued to be cute and stupid and, I must say, extremely guilty of a conflict of interest. Instead of using the expansion to get to the even format, with five teams in each division and fifteen teams in each league, Bud surprised everyone by moving the Brewers to the NL. Instead of balance, baseball now has 16 teams in once conference and 14 in the other. Now one division has six teams, while another has four, and the rest have five. WTF???

It’s not just the math that bothers me about this move, though seeing those weird standings every day irritates me to no end. And I didn’t even look before how it affects the schedule makers. Let’s see here: the Yankees had 74 divisional games. The Twins had 76. Looks like most of the AL teams had around 75. But in the AL west, they all had 57 games. In the NL, most of the east and west teams also had about 75 divisional games. But the central teams, with their six team colossus, had weird results – Cardinals 81, Astros 77, Reds 84, Brewers 82, Pirates 78, and Cubs 84. Where’s the balance?

But again, like I said, it’s not just about the math. Selig’s reasoning for this was very shady. Instead of doing the natural thing and moving the Tigers and Royals over divisions, he just moved the Tigers and put the Brewers in the NL. He claimed that this would keep rivalries intact and satisfy people. Huh? He claimed, more specifically, that the Royals did not want to move to the AL west, that they had “deep roots” in the AL central, and that fans in Milwaukee had been clamoring for a return to the good old days of the NL, like with the Braves.

Come on, Bud. The Royals haven’t done anything since the new divisions were formed. They haven’t had any significant rivalries, or hell, any significance at all, since George Brett retired. I thought, if anyone, they were rivals in the old days with the A’s and the Cardinals. So I really doubt they cared. And as far as people in Milwaukee go, I can’t honestly say I know, but they hadn’t been an NL city since the mid 60’s. They seemed to support the Brewers pretty favorably for the past 30 years in the AL, especially when they won the World Series for that league.

What was the deal, then? Why create this imbalance and weird shifting for apparently no reason? Well, Selig was owner of the Brewers for years before becoming commissioner. When he accepted the job full-time, he had to sell the team. And he did. But he sold it to his daughter and her husband, so it stayed in the family, and he obviously still cared about baseball there. He knew that moving the Brewers to the NL would create noise/ public interest and opportunity for his beloved team. Most importantly, he wanted to create a rivalry with the nearby Cubs that he knew the team could market. Thus, even though he was a commissioner and not the owner anymore, he changed the baseball format just to get the team more cash. I call that a major conflict of interest, but it happened. And we’ve had that zany sextuplet of misfits ever since.

Well, my plan is going to put a stop to all of this nonsense. I’ll let him have his Brew Crew in the NL, but these divisions will be better off. Since both leagues have an even number of teams, we can simply slice them down the middle. The AL will have two divisions of seven teams, and the NL will have two of eight. Maybe the extra membership will help the NL get back to respectability. Of course, they can always add two more teams… or drop two.

Here’s how I would do it, much like how it was before 1994:

AL EAST: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, D-Rays, Tigers, Indians

AL WEST: White Sox, Twins, Royals, A’s, Angels, Mariners, Rangers

NL EAST: Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Braves, Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Cubs

NL WEST: Brewers, Cardinals, Astros, D-backs, Rockies, Padres, Dodgers, Giants

There. Doesn’t that make much more sense?

I know some rivalries are a little split, but they’ll still play each other. Maybe we can get the displaced central teams in each league to play a few more series. I don’t want to ruin your precious Cubs-Brewers, Bud. (But seriously, we need Tigers-Sox and Tigers-Twins and Indians-Sox and Cubs-Cardinals to stay alive. I’m sure it can be managed.)

Playoffs: Division winners host each wild card; records determine home field advantage (though I suppose wild cards will have to be away every time).

(And let’s dump the all-star game as the way to determine Series home advantage. That’s a whole other topic, but I’m just saying…)

Again, I’m not looking to drop playoff rounds. Maybe they do last too long, and maybe they could finish the season earlier and/or cut the LCS to five games. Who knows. The point is, I think having the best four teams in each league is the most fair. I mean, isn’t that what they want now? Yes, conceivably, a team could finish third in its division and still win the Series. This will piss off the purists, I’m sure. But is it so bad? The other leagues I spoke (hoops and hockey) of have the same number of teams, but twice the playoff participants. And football has 12. Baseball is still the hardest sport to make the playoffs in by far, mathematically.

But this will allow good teams that make a run at the end of the season to get in. People won’t be able to sit on big leads and watch the other teams in their division screw up. This will also put heat on people like, say, the Yankees, who will have to deal with more than just the Red Sox.

And again, this is the only way to ensure that THE BEST TEAMS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. Eight teams make it; one goes home happy. It’s really not much different from now, in the end, but it makes more sense. I suggest we demand this from the good old American pastime before it loses any more fans. It’s fair, it’s balanced, and unlike FOX news, it won’t make you stab yourself.

Now if we could just get a salary cap and revenue sharing going…..

Meh. Forget it. This is all I’m asking for now.


Lou said...

This post is still sinking in. You know I like to comment.

What happens if the 4 teams with the best record are in the same division? That situation is entirely concievable. Does only one division winner enter the playoffs, or does team # 4 get lopped off to the other division winner can be in the playoffs?

I like the idea, but I think the 6 division format is better for small market teams. The divisional hole they have to climb out of if they have a slow start out of the gate is shallower. I think it's better for the game's exposure, however convoluted it has become.

I think that if anything, some tinkering with scheduling is in order to provide some balance.

Oddly enough in your breakdown the AL playoff picture looks the same, except that Oakland is the Wild Card.

j. leo said...

Well, this is the point: fortunately, the best teams in teh AL made it this year. Other years they didn't (like when the central was way down).

I'm all for small market teams competing. Maybe they should align divisions by market size or payroll. But right now, there's a big market spender in every division.

Once again, the easiest answer to this is my constant suggestion: salary cap plus revenue sharing. It worked for everyone else. But it seems liek basbeall will never do it, so I have to be more realistic.