I’ve always considered myself to be a baseball traditionalist – I like baseball played on grass, not astroturf; under the sun or stars, not a dome. I like pitching duels. I prefer reliable hitters rather than home run kings who strikeout every other at bat. I like to keep score when I go to a game.
But, as an East Coast baseball fan, I am sick of the Red Sox, Yankees, Braves hegemony. For whatever reason – though mostly economic – these teams have maintained their position at the top of their division for years. Other teams may make things interesting for a season or two, but generally they are not up to the task of stringing together a series of good teams like the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox have. It’s not just the money (Braves’ money has declined in recent years, yet they remain tops in the league), but money is a significant part of the equation.
When trying to level the playing field, many will advocate an off-the-field idea: revenue sharing. And in general, I’m a fan of revenue sharing. But I’ve got a different idea. What if we leveled the playing field on the field – by changing the team schedules?
Currently, the baseball schedule is more or less the same every year. My Phillies, for example, play the Braves about 18 times per year. The Orioles play the Yankees about 18 times per year. On the otherhand, the Yankees get to beat up on the Devil Rays about 18 times per year. Hardly seems fair.
So, why not go to a football-style schedule in which team schedules are determined, in part, by the previous season’s records? Did your team have a winning record? Then you’ll play more teams who also had a winning record – making winning more difficult in the year following a successful season. Did your team suck last year? Well, then you’ll get to play other bad and mediocre teams, theoretically giving you more chances to win.
Like in football, you would still play a certain amount of teams in your division and league, but the remainder of your schedule would be determined by caliber of team, regardless of division or league – the Yankees and White Sox would play more frequently, but the Yankees would also play the Braves and Cardinals in regular season play. On the other hand, the Marlins would have more match-ups against bad teams – the Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates (all teams that are not in the NL East).
The playoffs would feature the top 4-6 teams from each league based on record, regardless of division (remember last year when the Padres went to the playoffs even though three teams in the Eastern Division had better records but watched the playoffs from home?). The best team or two in each league would get a bye and some sort of home field advantage, and the first round or two (between the lowest seeds) would feature quick, 3-5 game series immediately following the end of the regular season.
Why do this? For the following reasons:
- This weighted schedule would create some competitive balance, making it harder for the best teams to dominate from season to season, and giving less dominate teams a greater chance to be in the playoff race in August and September.
- This schedule would create more energy in cities with good teams and also in cities with bad teams. Who in New York wants to watch the Devil Rays? They’d rather watch the ChiSox. On the other hand, Royals fans would have more hope if they played the Big Boys a little less frequently. This schedule would also guarantee World Series re-matches in the regular season, something that can only happen currently if the interleague scheduling stars are aligned with Bud Seligs toupee.
- In the playoffs, increasing the number of wild card teams and giving a bye to the best teams gives an inherent advantage to the best teams (they get to rest for up to a week) and allows less dominant but competitive teams to prove themselves in the playoffs (something that the Phillies, Marlins and Mets couldn’t do last year, even though they had a better record than the playoff-bound Padres).
- It adds variety. Teams play so many divisional games that it frankly gets boring. By creating schedules based on a team’s record, not just their division, teams will play more games outside of their division and league than they currently do, making the season more interesting.
Well, this is just a thought. I am frankly bored with the current schedule and would appreciate seeing more teams from other divisions and leagues from time to time. Too much is dependent upon a team’s division right now (sucks for teams in the AL East not from Boston or New York), and we can increase competitive balance by rearranaging the schedule. This kind of schedule would make the game more interesting, September more exciting, and just perhaps, the extremes between good and bad records a little smaller.
2 thoughts on “Balancing Baseball (on the field)”
It’s an interesting idea. The divisional placement does put a heavy burden on some teams. After seeing the Orioles’ moves this offseason I was bolstered with hope that we could pull off a _solid_ fourth place finish. Whereas, I think the Orioles could win the AL Central, and maybe even the West.
On the other hand, moving to a schedule weighted as you suggest would be a large step toward having a “super-league” of the big market teams, and a lesser-major league of everyone else. And it could erode confidence that the best teams would make the playoffs.
I think that the traditions have to count for something. And occassionally, David beats Goliath, so I wouldn’t want to change that. But we midwesterners also are sick of the east coast hegemony. But we don’t want your cities either.
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