Saturday, November 26, 2011

What the hell is Major League Baseball thinking?

A number of things have come together in the recent postseason that are very good for the game and its fans – on the surface. Dig deeper and you’re going to be left scratching your head.

There’s a new collective agreement in place that will mean labor peace for some more years (as compared to the mess in the NBA). There will be a second wildcard position, quite possibly in 2012. The Astros are going to be moved to the AL and play in the Western division. On any day when all teams are playing, there will be an inter-league game.

Let’s disregard the collective agreement, because I don’t think any fans have a beef with that.

Way back in 1997, MLB decided to add one more team to each league (the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays). The problems this decision created were major in that each league would have an odd number of teams. There were two solutions: inter-league play extended over the entire season with one team from each league involved. The other thing that could happen was to move one team to another league.

Apparently, Bug Selig, who owned the Brewers at that point, felt that it would be a conflict of interest to have his team move to the NL. So the Kansas City Royals were asked first and declined. Since Milwaukee had been a NL city for 13 seasons (1953-65) when the Braves were in town, it was felt this was the best switch to make. It was also worth a lot of money to the team that moved. Gee, I wonder why this all happened this way?

So from 1998 until the end of this past season we had two unbalanced leagues with the AL West easily being the best place to be because you had only three other competitors to beat in your division instead of four – or five if you were unlucky enough to be in the NL Central.

My big question to all parties concerned is why this was allowed to happen in the first place? It created a patently unfair situation for all teams. The solution to the situation was obvious: either don’t award franchises to Arizona and Tampa, or wait until four franchises could have been awarded.

Now let’s look at the fallout of this latest decision.

It’s been decided to move the Houston Astros to the AL Central, thus putting both leagues back into balance – exactly the same place MLB was during the off-season of 1997 when the two new teams were added! Now I don’t know about you, but if I were a Houston fan, I’d be pretty pissed off about this.

We’re now going to have inter-league play spread more thinly over the entire season, the decision that was shot down in 1997. So why is it the correct decision now? Nothing has changed?

I have been against inter-league play from the beginning because the number of games between teams in each league had to drop. Not only that, but the schedule also changed to pit teams from each division against each other more often. In divisions like the AL east, this puts the “lesser” teams like Baltimore, Toronto and, until recently, Tampa Bay at a distinct disadvantage against the division’s two powerhouse teams, New York and Boston.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the inter-league schedule will affect inter-divisional play next season. Are we going to see even few games between our teams and teams from other divisions? That would hurt the game a great deal, in my opinion.

My basic feeling is that MLB made a big mistake creating only two new teams in 1997. It should have been four or none at all. With the continuing juggling they're only painting over the initial mistake that was made.

Time has born out that one of the decisions for a new franchise was a poor one. The Tampa franchise is floundering badly – not out on the field, certainly. They’ve been able to compete toe-to-toe with Boston and New York for several seasons now. It’s at the gate where they’re hurting. Even when they were in the World Series in 2008, I was shocked to see empty seats at Tropicana Field. As they came on so strongly at the end of 2011, thousands of seats went unfilled night after night. The team was forced to sell discounted tickets and waive parking fees in the middle of a postseason drive in an attempt to fill up their stadium. Not a very good sign.

Arizona has been more successful putting bums in seats, but there are several other teams around the league that have been floundering at the gate which means other options could have been looked at back in 1997.

But with Bug at the helm we got a very wrong decision from MLB’s hierarchy and I believe it’s harmed the game, most definitely in the fairness department.


JohnZ said...

Rick - great post - Bud Selig has been such a bad joke as a Commish for baseball fans, imo. I am sure you could come up with a Top 10 List of dumb decisons by Bud.
I was wondering about the same impacts that this new MLB "structure" might have...and if it means less games among our division teams - well then that is a bad thing in my book. Bud keeps neutering baseball tradition and does very little to develop a real fan base. Your points are right on the money.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, John.

I was so cheesed off about this that I commented on the decision on the MLB site (under the moniker of “Hogtown”) and immediately got 11 “likes” for what I said. That indicates there’s pretty strong feelings among the most diehard fans against what is being done by the MLB braintrust. To me, they’re just floundering around even more. It does address the most egregious error: the unbalanced leagues, but past that? They still have issues that are not being dealt with.

The only thing that could save this situation a bit is if they drop the two times during the season where inter-league play takes place. Limit it to just those games throughout the season when one team in each league has no one else to play and be done with it.

I’d also like to go back to a more balanced league schedule. It’s fairer for all divisions. Sure playing your own division is more exciting when something is on the line, but if the team you’re against over and over is incredibly weak or strong, it turns into a bye for one of the teams, and that’s not a good thing for the game.

Thanks for weighing in, John!

PS Want to write something for the blog? We’d love to have you as a guest!

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Well put Rick. The Bug has done it again. If I was a Astros fan I'd be pissed off too. But as you say it only fixes, on the surface, the previous situation.
I feel very strongly the inter-league play should stopped and stopped now, while they can still do it. We need to get back to the balanced schedule so that you can properly square off for the expanded play offs.
Thanks for the post Rick. And thanks to JohnZ for his comment about Bug's "neutering baseball". I think that sums it up nicely.