Legends On Deck

Regionalism and Realignment: A New Plan to Restructure MLB

If the 2020 season ever begins, where the teams play would be one of the most interesting decisions made.  An early proposal had all the teams playing in their Spring Training facilities (in AZ and FL).  Most recently, there’s been a plan put forward to reconfigure the league by region.  This would include dividing teams into thirds:  East, Central and West.   This proposal would keep all teams in their home cities, but cut down on travel between cities.  Teams could also be limited to playing other teams within their region through the regular season.  Here’s a look at the new, regional proposal that would (temporarily) realign the American and National League for the 2020 season:

New Regional Divisions for 2020

East

  1.   Atlanta Braves
  2.   Baltimore Orioles
  3.   Boston Red Sox
  4.   Miami Marlins
  5.   New York Mets
  6.   New York Yankees
  7.   Philadelphia Phillies
  8.   Tampa Bay Rays
  9.   Toronto Blue Jays
  10.   Washington Nationals

Central

  1.   Chicago Cubs
  2.   Chicago White Sox
  3.   Cincinnati Reds
  4.   Cleveland Indians
  5.   Detroit Tigers
  6.   Kansas City Royals
  7.   Milwaukee Brewers
  8.   Minnesota Twins
  9.   Pittsburgh Pirates
  10.   St. Louis Cardinals

West

  1.   Arizona Diamondbacks
  2.   Colorado Rockies
  3.   Houston Astros
  4.   Los Angeles Angles
  5.   Los Angeles Dodgers
  6.   Oakland Athletics
  7.   San Diego Padres
  8.   San Francisco Giants
  9.   Seattle Mariners
  10.   Texas Rangers

Postseason

How would the postseason work in a three region plan?  Hard to say.  Here’s my idea.  The new postseason format would include all three regional winners and five wild cards teams.  These five wild card teams would be spread across the three regions and put the top eight MLB teams in the postseason.  Here’s what a revised postseason could look like:

Wild Card / Regional Round (Best of 5 Series)

  •  #1 Regional Champion vs  #8 Wild Card
  • #2  Regional Champion vs  #7 Wild Card
  • #3 Regional Champion vs  #6 Wild Card
  • #4  Wild Card vs #5  Wild Card

Championship Series (Best of 7 Series)

  • Highest Seed vs Lowest Seed
  • Second Highest Seed vs Third Highest Seed

World Series (Best of 7 Series)

  • Winners of the Championship Series

This three regions approach may prove to be a more competitive model than the current two league, three division format.  In this plan, three rather than six teams make the postseason based on winning their division or region.  Five wild card spots would allow the very best teams, regardless of region, to earn a spot in the postseason.

New Traditionalism

The three regions proposal is currently seen as a temporary solution to get a baseball season going with considerations for the health of the players.  This COVID-era approach might actually be worth considering as an ongoing format for MLB.  While at first, baseball purists might argue against this idea because it would break with the more than century long tradition of the National League and American League.  The question should be, what actually makes these leagues worth preserving?

When you consider that the players union seems to support the universal Designated Hitter rule, the only distinction between the two leagues would be eliminated.  However, those who oppose the DH rule could make their case to adopt or reject it in each region.  For example, there’s no reason the East couldn’t have the DH and the Central or West could choose not to have it.  This would work just the same as it does now.   Currently, when an NL team plays an inter-league game in an AL city, they use AL rules (and vice versa).

When inter-league play began in 1997, some teams that played in the same city (or state) played each other for the first time ever.  Prior to inter-league play the only time the NL and AL would play were in the All-Star Game or World Series.  Inter-league play launched brand new rivalries:  Yankees vs Mets (Subway Series), Angels vs Dodgers (Freeway Series), Cubs vs White Sox (Crosstown Classic), Cardinals vs Royals (I-70 Series), Indians vs Reds (Ohio Cup Series), Marlins vs Rays (Citrus Series) and Athletics vs Giants (Bay Bridge Series).  If you are a Yankees fan would you prefer more scheduled games against the Mets and Phillies, or ensuring you remain in the same league as the Oakland Athletics?  The answer seems fairly obvious.

The Future of MLB

As I have written about previously, baseball has become less of a national pastime and more of a regional one.  The 162 game schedule and local television and radio audiences make it a game that is closely followed by dedicated fan bases that do not much exist outside each team’s region.  MLB has become less of a “superstar” driven league like the NBA or NFL, even with some of the extraordinary talent that exists in the league today.  Realigning MLB franchises into regions would likely expand ticket sales when crowds return.  Weekend series between regional rivals would entice more fans to make short trips to see their team on the road.  New geographical rivalries would emerge between teams that were previously in different leagues.

In recent years, MLB has been looking at rule changes to deal with things like the pace of play.  It’s really not rule changes that are needed to bring new fans into the game.  What MLB needs is to restructure the league in a way that highlights the appeal they already have.  A new format could also allow for other creative ideas like tournament play, more destination games, a new inter-league format and new possibilities for the All-Star Game.

Baseball has a long history of firsts in the sports world.  It’s time to re-imagine what MLB can be and start thinking more locally.

**Map found at www.sportleaguemaps.com**

Brian Koss
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