Over the weekend, word leaked that MLB was considering a plan that would dramatically reshape the game. One team would move from the National to American league, leaving two, 15 team leagues. Then, all divisions would be scrapped and the teams in each league would compete for five post-season slots.
I think this is horrible news, and not for the reasons you would expect.
I think it’s horrible because it’s a great idea, yet most insiders feel it has little chance of actually being adopted. It serves no purpose other than to get those of us who want some kind of radical change to the structure of baseball excited that the game might really be considering a daring move. And when something vanilla passes, like adding another Wild Card to the current system, we’ll all be disappointed and discouraged.
Bud Selig has made it clear that there will be expansion of the playoffs, probably as soon as next season. Simply adding another Wild Card team to the current set-up is an awful idea. It’s awful mostly because A) the prime benefactor seems to be AL East teams and B) it doesn’t do a thing to remedy the issues with scheduling, competitive balance, etc.
If baseball really wants to add more playoff teams, they must be willing to radically reconfigure the entire game.
Two 15 team leagues feels best for several reasons. First, it honors the history of the game. Before the expansion of 1969, there were no divisions, just two leagues playing for a spot in the World Series. What a perfect way for baseball, which is more tradition-bound than any other sport, to move forward: by looking to the past.
Second, with everyone playing the same schedule, it will be a truer and fairer contest to see who the best teams. Plus, the standings would just look nice, with a line under the team in fifth place and everyone below fighting to pass them.
There is one massive problem with this system: an odd number of playoff teams. That means two teams are probably playing a single-game to get into the second round. That doesn’t feel right.
The big stumbling block appears to be Selig’s love of Interleague play. When ideas similar to this were floated in the past, he shot them down, saying they would cheapen the value of Interleague games, as Interleague games would be played throughout the season. Big freaking deal. No one really cares about Interleague play anymore. Fans of regional rivals enjoy the games, but no one gets excited about the years the Royals and Pirates or Nationals and Mariners play.
In general, I’m against changing the way the playoffs are currently comprised if it means just adding one more Wild Card slot. My ideal system would be moving back to two divisions in each league and eliminating the Wild Card (along with Interleague play). But that ain’t happening. Truly radical ideas, like adjusting the makeup of divisions based on size of market, budget, recent success, etc. interest me as well, but those aren’t ideas that American professional sports will ever entertain.
Ditching the divisions and allowing 15 teams to battle it out for five playoff spots is an inspired idea that would satisfy both those who want to expand postseaon play and those who are always looking back to baseball’s past.
It’s a shame baseball will probably take the easy way out.