Musings about Baseball and Other Stuff
I haven’t been on here in a while, but as this year’s playoffs get underway, I got to thinking about what it takes to make it to the postseason.
The MLB regular season is a grueling grind – 162 games over the course of 6 months. Off days can be 2 weeks or more apart. This is actually part of what makes Baseball so great; there’s nowhere to hide. At the end of this long and exhausting ordeal, you can bet that the teams we see playing in October are truly the best the game has to offer.
Or are they?
Division titles are hard to come by, it’s true. But they would mean a lot more if every team in each division had to take the same path in their quest to win it. They don’t, because the powers that be still value the money to be made from regional interleague rivalries over the fairness of a truly balanced schedule.
It took me a while to warm to interleague play, but now I’m a fan. I got spoiled growing up in a market with two big league teams. I’ve been to plenty of Cubs games and White Sox games over the years, and though I didn’t keep track, I’d venture to guess I saw every team in both leagues play in Chicago at some point. But I get that fans in, say, Pittsburgh, might get excited to see the Red Sox or Yankees come to town. Kansas City fans may look forward to a Dodgers game. This is great for the fans and great for the game itself.
However, the interleague schedule, as it stands now, doesn’t fully live up to this potential. The divisions rotate every year. The NL Central, for example, played games against the AL East this past season, the AL West last year, and will face the AL Central in 2018. That’s fine, but because of regional rivalries, the rotation doesn’t go far enough.
Take the Cubs. They played in Boston this year, but the Red Sox didn’t visit Wrigley. They hosted the Blue Jays, yet never traveled to Toronto. Why? Because they had to get in the annual home-and-home series against the White Sox, that’s why. The White Sox were among the worst in the league this season, and the Cubs took 3 of the 4 contests. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ closest divisional rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, are assigned the Minnesota Twins (335 miles away!) as their annual “regional” matchup. The Twins are a playoff team and swept the 4 games against the Brew Crew in August. (Yes, the Cubs ultimately won the division by 6 games, but had it ended up closer, these unbalanced matchups could have had a greater impact.)
It just makes sense to have every team in a division play the same number of games against the same teams. I’ve done the math, and it really isn’t that hard. If we assume every series to be three games (there’s room to mix that up within the division), a 162-game schedule contains 54 series – 27 home and 27 away. Here’s how to do it:
10 interleague series: 1 home, 1 away, vs. each of the 5 teams in one division (rotated each year) in the opposite league.
20 inter-divisional series: 1 home, 1 away, vs. each of the 10 teams in the same league but different divisions.
24 divisional series: 3 home, 3 away, vs. each of the 4 other teams in the same division.
Voila! 54 series, and a perfectly balanced schedule – and it really isn’t that big a departure from the current format.
The barrier to this plan is, of course, money. Cubs/White Sox, Mets/Yankees, A’s/Giants, Dodgers/Angels – those games are guaranteed sellouts, and the teams and the league are likely not willing to give up that gate revenue.
But who knows? Years ago, when the NL had 16 teams and the AL had 14, I proposed on my old blog that one NL team should switch leagues to make two 15-team leagues. I was skeptical that everyday interleague play (until then reserved for a few weeks in June and July) would be accepted. But it happened! So maybe one day my balanced schedule will become a reality as well.
And those crosstown rivalries? We’d still have ‘em; just every three years. Wouldn’t that make them all the more exciting?