If Baseball Wants To Shake Things Up, Go All The Way

DENVER—Since becoming commissioner, Bud Selig has shown a willingness to shake up the game.

From three divisions to wild cards to elimination of the American League and National League offices and the unification of umpires into one group, Selig has overseen a revamping of the game.

Now comes talk of a movement to realign and create a balance in membership between the two leagues.

Here's an idea. If there is going to be realignment, make it major. Shake up the game and put it in position to move forward over the long-term. Don't look for a short-term solution with long-term headaches, which would be created by the 15-team league proposal that would turn interleague play into an everyday event.

If it's time to shake things up, then shake them up.

Contract by two teams. Eliminate the leagues entirely. Create four seven-team divisions. Develop a schedule that allows for more showdowns between natural rivals, and allows for teams to play each other every season. Create an All-Star Game with true emotions.

Step 1: Contract Tampa Bay and Oakland

Both franchises have had quality front offices and a resume of success, but they don't have support from fans, civic leaders or elected officials. They are stuck in bad stadiums in bad locations, with no clear sign of escape.

Act quickly and solve ownership problems with existing franchises by allowing the folks in Oakland to buy the Dodgers, and the ownership group in Tampa to take over the Mets, two franchises that should be crown jewels but have become embarrassments because of the off-field follies of the current groups.

Address the union's concerns about the elimination of 50 jobs because of contraction by expanding active rosters to 27 players—which would actually add four jobs. At the same time, limit September callups to 30 so the game isn't radically changed during pennant races.

Step 2: Realign the remaining franchises into four seven-team divisions

Emphasize geography and natural rivalries. This would improve marketability with the broadcast media because it would eliminate time zone headaches created by several current divisional alignments.

West: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Giants and Mariners. With Arizona not observing daylight savings time, all the teams except Colorado would be on the same time schedule, and the Rockies are just an hour ahead.

East: Red Sox, Tigers, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays. All in the Eastern time zone.

Mid-America: Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Brewers, Twins and Cardinals. All seven teams are in the Central time zone except Cleveland, but the Indians are with six teams on similar financial footing.

South: Braves, Orioles, Reds, Marlins, Astros, Rangers, Nationals. Houston and Texas are with five teams from the Eastern time zone, but the Rangers can attest that's better than the two-hour time difference they face as a member of the AL West.

Step 3: Create a balanced schedule that emphasizes geography

This format emphasizes natural rivalries and exposes fans to every team every year, and eliminates debates over strength of schedule because every member of a division plays the same schedule.

All seven members of a division would play each other 12 times, a total of 72 games. A division would then have three-game home-and-home series against a second division, a total of 42 games. Division members would play a three-game series on the road against each member of a third division, and at home against each member of a fourth division, for 42 more games.

That creates a 156-game regular season schedule, which knocks a week off the regular season and allows for expanded playoffs without having to worry about October.

Step 4: Expand the playoffs

The top two finishers in each division advance to the postseason, along with the four remaining teams with the best records. Teams are seeded by their overall record. The four division champions bypass the first round, where the eight other teams play best-of-five series. Two rounds of best-of-seven series then determine the two teams to meet in the World Series. Home-field advantage goes to the team with the best overall record.

As an added bonus, eliminate off days in the postseason. Teams reach the playoffs because they have the depth to handle the day-to-day grind of the regular season. Why create a postseason that allows a lesser team to manipulate its pitching staff to take advantage of off days?

Step 5: Fix the All-Star Game

With the American League and National League officially eliminated, finishing off the process that began with the amalgamation of league offices and umpires, The All-Star Game would be enhanced and become an international event. With the impact of foreign players, turn the game into a showdown of American-born players against then foreign-born players, similar to the Futures Game.