I’m not sure how much of what’s in Tracy Ringolsby’s latest for Baseball America is coming straight from under his cowboy hat, or how much of it really is indicative of what MLB is seriously contemplating, but if it’s the latter… wow. The game of baseball might see some seriously significant changes in the upcoming years. Good ones, perhaps. But definitely big ones.
Ringolsby’s piece begins with talk of expansion. Expansion to Montréal, specifically. Portland, he says, also looks like a strong candidate, with commissioner Rob Manfred having mentioned it multiple times as a potential site, as well as having stated that a team in the west would be part of any expansion plans. It doesn’t hurt that both cities have strong and serious ownership groups.
“There seems to be a building consensus that baseball will soon be headed to a 32-team configuration,” he writes. “It will lead to major realignment and adjustments in schedule, which will allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days.”
The union got some concessions from the owners on days off in the most recent CBA, but what Ringolsby suggests is the league going a 156 game schedule — which he notes would fit perfectly within the footprint of the current schedule, giving each club one off-day per week — and ditching the traditional American League and National League in favour of four geographically aligned divisions each comprised of eight teams. Over the course of the season teams would play 12 games against each of their seven division rivals, and only three games each against the other 24 teams in the league — cutting down on travel costs, which he suggests would offset revenue lost with the shorter schedule.
The tiny number of inter-division games could potentially undercut a bunch of current rivalries — something Jays fans know all too well from the state of the club’s once-great rivalry with the Detroit Tigers — but I think there’s a lot to like about it, too. That Jays-Tigers rivalry would be back, for example, as the configuration Ringolsby suggests would see the Jays in a division with the Expos, Red Sox, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Mets, and Cleveland. Would we care that we would’t see the White Sox or the Royals as much as we’re used to? Probably not. But the Twins might.
He also suggests that the playoffs would feature the four division winners playing the winners of four play-in games — making 12 playoff teams in total, as opposed to the 10 teams that currently play postseason baseball. There are a bunch of other details that Ringolsby touches on, which I won’t go into here, so as encourage you all to head over to BA and read his piece for yourselves.
So, what do we think about all this?
Personally, I don’t know about all this. Thing is, the league is going to go to 32 teams at some point anyway — there’s just too much money in it and too many cities that want in for that not to happen — so we might have to deal with it whether we like it or not. Or at least some form of it. I’m not sure how the Yankees and Red Sox, for example, would like losing seven games against each other per year (though for the Yankees the addition of eight against the Mets would offset that), so that might not fly. I assume this would mean the adoption of the DH league-wide, which would anger a lot of NL fans (and pitchers, too!). But obviously I like the addition of the Expos. I like bringing them and the Tigers back into the rivalry fold — and Cleveland doesn’t hurt either. A little more Detroit and Cleveland, and a little less New York and Boston sounds good to me. And only one series at the Trop for ever two seasons? Fuck yes! It would suck for west coast fans, of course, who’d only get a chance to invade Seattle every two years, but maybe that could be offset by alternating it with Portland (though it’s, like, twice the distance to travel from Vancouver). And I like that — assuming each division would be mandated two Wild Card spots — it would give us a kind of balanced schedule, too.
I don’t think it’s perfect, but I don’t really know what perfect is. And I guess the fact that my immediate thought isn’t “holy shit, what a goddamn disaster” probably speaks well to it. But maybe I’m missing something? Let me know if I am, or just what you think, in the comments!