Opinion -- MLB realignment
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 16, 2011 1:47 PM
Perhaps no sport -- its history, traditions and rules -- is regarded with more reverence and sacredness than baseball.
Which is why the announcement over the weekend that Major League Baseball is considering realignment came as somewhat of a surprise.
ESPN reported last Saturday that Major League Baseball and the players' association had discussed eliminating existing divisions and moving to two 15-team leagues. The Houston Astros or Florida Marlins have been mentioned as potential candidates to move to the American League. The Milwaukee Brewers were the last team to switch divisions, moving from the American to the National League in 1998.
Interleague play would take place throughout the season and the top five teams from each league would make the playoffs. ESPN reported the proposed realignment as being in the very early stages of discussion.
The proposed realignment would eliminate situations similar to that of 2008. The New York Yankees finished the regular season 89-73 and third in the American League East. The Yankees failed to make the postseason despite having a record similar to the Chicago White Sox, who at 89-74, won the American League Central.
Under the current proposal, the removal of divisions would leave the overall record to determine a team's postseason fate. A sticking point involves interleague play. With the odd number of teams in each league, it is possible that a team in contention late in the season will have to be playing its final games in interleague play.
How interleague play would impact baseball's travel and television schedule as well as ticket sales remains to be seen. There would be potential for more games against teams in a franchise's geographical region, while games against a former division rival could be lost.
The loss of divisions would likely leave television executives with interesting and possibly difficult decisions to make. Currently, divisional opponents face each other 18 times each season. Under the proposed realignment, that number would likely decrease and means baseball's biggest rivalries would occur less often each season.
FOX and ESPN, currently the only networks to air Major League Baseball to national audiences, could potentially have fewer games between high-profile teams to air on their respective networks. The Red Sox-Yankees, Phillies-Mets, Giants-Dodgers or Cardinals-Cubs rivalries that have taken center stage on network television may be broadcast less frequently.
Continual interleague play could also have an affect on ticket sales.
Marketing a three-game series in a team's home ballpark against an opponent from the opposite side of the country and different league on a holiday weekend could be a challenge. The ability to raise the interest level of fans in Atlanta or Philadelphia for a series against the Mets will always be greater than that for a three-game series against the Mariners.
Baseball and its fans have long been reluctant to change.
Subtle changes such as the designated hitter, interleague play, the wild-card and expansion were all initially met with varying forms of resistance before ultimately being accepted.
Major League Baseball may change its divisions, scheduling and its postseason. One thing that will never change is the love people have for the game and its place in American history.
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