Dividing Baseball

added 6/18/2011 by Bob Hulsey

Rumors of baseball realignment have been rampant for the past two weeks, ever since ESPN's Buster Olney revealed that it had come up in labor talks. It has created murmurs about the Astros switching leagues, moving west, perhaps playing in a non-divisional 15-team league.

The talk provides a lot of column inches and brings out the mad scientist in a lot of baseball fans. Here's one idea that relies on ten three-team divisions and losers brackets as it gets late in the year so bad teams will have something to play for.

Deadspin has their own take which works only if the Seattle Mariners move to Oklahoma City just like the SuperSonics did (and they would need to change their name too since "Oklahoma Mariners" makes even less sense than "Utah Jazz").

Brad Mills is on record as opposed to any changes, telling Stephen Goff of the Examiner "what is so bad about the way they have things right now?"

Nothing really, Brad, except it chaps some people's sense of symmetry that one league has 16 teams and the other has 14, that one division has only four teams (and the poor Rangers are two time zones away from their divisional opponents) while another has six and that anybody has to be doomed to the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox. It's all so "unfair".

For now, Major League Baseball is saddled with 30 teams, which is easily divisible by two, but not by four or six. To have 15 teams in each league means either one team in each league has the day off every night or the schedule would be set to play interleague games all season long, even in the heat of a pennant race.

They can't expand to 32 teams (no good markets plus a bad economy) and they can't contract down to 28 (the unions would throw a fit) plus the Designated Hitter rule is adored by the players union and fans of high-scoring, four-hour slugfests but despised by traditionalists. It's just slightly less complicated resolving this than achieving peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians (hmmm, maybe MLB should return to its 1967 borders...).

But if baseball wants 15 teams in each league, by golly, why not? Bud Selig should just order the Milwaukee Brewers back to the American League where they came from and be done with it. But, no, selfish Bud's not going to do that.

Okay, then let's have one National League team volunteer to switch leagues. Show of hands? Anybody? Eh, no.

Okay, well let's just strong-arm the new kid (that would be Jim Crane when he completes buying the Astros) into switching or we won't approve the sale.

That's where we seem to be at present.

Rather than solving the Rangers' problem, the owners want to throw Nolan Ryan a bone by giving him a bunkmate to share the misery. Enjoy those 9 p.m. West Coast games, Astros fans. That could be your future.

One must question the sanity of someone willing to commit $680 million to a team that just got swept at home by the Pirates but I'll presume Crane is an intelligent man. My advice to Jim would be - don't do it. Just say no.

But if you have any inclination to take that deal, be sure not to walk away empty-handed. I would have a list of demands that would need to be met to uproot a half-century of National League traditions and become a DH-loving American League fan:

  • The American League owners must pool $50 million to shave off Crane's sale price.

  • Houston must be given a first-round supplemental draft pick, the 31st of the draft, for each of the next three seasons. Used wisely, that gives the club three more Jordan Lyles.

  • MLB must buy out the remainder of Carlos Lee's contract to make him a ward of the state unless another team is willing to sign him to a free agent contract, then he's their problem.

    Don't forget that 15 other clubs don't want to switch so Crane and Houston deserve some compensation for making this sacrifice. If MLB won't agree to those terms, let them move the Marlins and tick off all 23 of their fans.

    Someone once said baseball must be a great sport because it manages to survive the commissioner's best efforts to ruin it. Somehow, Selig only seems to come up with ideas I dislike with no interest in getting rid of the gimmicks (DH, interleague play) that I already hate.

    Personally, if the club joins the American League, I'd like to see the "Astros" retired and let the franchise be rebranded with a new name, new colors and a new logo. The real astronauts are becoming a thing of the past with NASA remaining, under the current administration's vision, only as a bastion for climate quackery and muslim outreach.

    "Astros" is a quaint notion from the past, much like the Astrodome, a once-thrilling idea that has gone by the wayside. The team should reflect the new Houston. Maybe they should be the "Surgeons" or the "Drillers" or the "Humidity". I don't know. I'd just hate to see an American League team called the Houston Astros that plays at a train depot. That thought would be more depressing than rooting for the worst team in the National League.