Baseball Gets it Right: A Fan’s Take on the Owner’s Meetings

If there’s one potential takeaway from the Major League Baseball owner’s meetings Nov. 17 that should resonate with sports fans, it’s the fact that baseball doesn’t seem to be headed toward the same labor rancor currently facing the National Basketball Association and cost the National Football League its offseason.

Players and owners have reportedly agreed to proceed with plans that significantly change several aspects of the game. For one thing, MLB knocked $65 million off the sale price of the Houston Astros after Jim Crane agreed to move the team to the American League. That move will make their 51st season in the National League their last. They will become the second team to switch leagues after the Milwaukee Brewers changed leagues in 1998.

The good part about the move is it now creates two leagues with the same number of teams, 15. This means that unbalanced schedules where some teams don’t have to face the best teams from one league or don’t get the worst teams from a league will likely end. What’s not as much fun is the prospect of having interleague play – games between the American and National Leagues – every day of the season.

For baseball purists, the advent of interleague play took away one of the biggest charms of the All Star Game and the World Series: The chance for heroes from one league to face off against heroes from the opposing league. Seeing Roger Clemens facing Darryl Strawberry back in the 1986 World Series was special because they didn’t have a history against each other in games that counted. Now, that is rarely ever the case.

People who embrace interleague play love the fact that stars from a league they normally don’t get to see can play in their home ballpark. They also get an opportunity to see teams develop rivalries, particularly geographic rivalries (think the Subway Series between the New York Yankees and New York Mets or the Battle of the Beltways between the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals). They also get to see teams who use the designated hitter having their pitchers forced to hit.

Obviously, geography alone doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a rivalry. The cities of Washington and Baltimore may not necessarily like each other, but the teams don’t have much of a rivalry. On the other hand, a long ago article on the advent of interleague play included a sentence to the effect of, “it took the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals all of 12 pitches to establish a rivalry.”

Having odd numbers of teams does create a logistical problem, however. How do you schedule games to allow for balance, knowing that you have interleague games every day of the season? Here’s my humble suggestion: Have each team face every other team in their own division 18 times (nine home and nine on the road), then have them face teams in the other divisions in their league and one division in the other league six times each. That would total 162 games, would allow teams to face each opponent in other divisions the same number of times and also would allow two series per year against each interleague opponent.

In addition, baseball also approved the addition of a second wild card team and a one-game playoff between the wild card teams to determine which team qualifies for the Division Series. This prevents a competitive disadvantage that would come from a full three-, five- or seven-game series between two teams while the division winners rest and also adds drama to the single game between the teams.

Baseball has long been accused of missing the boat on a number of fan-related or sport-related issues. This time, they seem to be making some positive moves. Will it add interest to a sport that has been losing interest? Only time will tell. But at least they’re making some moves that make sense.

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