I know, there’s a lot of things that need fixing. Ebola. ISIS. Global warming. Racism. Sexism. Rush Limbaugh. But saving the world can come later. First we have to fix baseball. Because priorities.
We’re coming off a good World Series, and a great Game Seven. The baseball season ended with the tying run on third and a kid named Madison Bumgarner standing on the mound, proving that you don’t have to have a great baseball name to be a great baseball player.
So let’s hear it for the World Champion Giants, the last team standing. They deserve to wear the crown. And hooray for the Royals, too. The Little Engine That Could came oh-so-close.
But still, as I said the other day, I can’t get over the fact that they were wildcard teams. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Wildcards – teams that end the regular season in second place – don’t belong in the playoffs. Even if they’re the Mets. Baseball’s playoffs should be for winners only.
Baseball doesn’t have a 16-game season, like the NFL. It doesn’t have an 82-game season, like the NBA and NHL. They play 162 in baseball. It’s a marathon. On Sunday, they’ll be running the New York Marathon. And they won’t make the first 10 guys to the finish line run a series of sprints to determine the winner.
Sorry, Thomas, Jason and Angel, but that’s how it should be in baseball, too. The reward for finishing in first place after 162 games should be much more than home advantage in the playoffs. The reward should be the playoffs, period. If you’re not looking down at the rest of the pack after 162 games, it’s time to go home.
That’s the way it used to be, that’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it can be. We can bring it back – and to everyone’s satisfaction, too. So now that you’ve elected me commissioner (your thank-you notes are in the mail), here’s what we’re gonna do . . .
We’re gonna add two teams.
My predecessor, Bud Selig, told The New York Times yesterday that the game is in great shape, despite dismal national TV ratings (which, thankfully, reversed course for Game Seven), because baseball is all about the local market now.
“People want to use national TV ratings as a barometer — as a thoughtful, sensitive barometer of the sport — and they’re missing the entire point,” Selig said. “Let them come to Kansas City and walk the streets, or San Francisco, or Pittsburgh last year and a lot of cities this year, and tell me this sport is declining. It makes no sense….
“What teams are getting locally is staggering. Our fans live and die with every game in all these places.”
The Times also pointed out:
According to Forbes, 11 of baseball’s 30 teams had the highest-rated and most-watched local programming in prime time this season. Teams are covered locally on television as never before. The result, for many fans, is an increasingly localized sensibility.
So I reckon it won’t be hard to find a couple of cities that want a piece of the pie. Are you paying attention, Las Vegas? How about you, Norfolk? San Antonio? New Orleans? Oklahoma City? Sarasota? Portland? Montreal? Havana? (!!!)
We could even put a second team into a great baseball city. I’m talking to you, Boston. You too, Philadelphia. Pay attention, St. Louis.
And since baseball’s doing so great on the local level, we should have no problem finding local gazillionaires to own the teams. I can see you, Sheldon. Here’s a chance to show how smart you are, Donald. Here’s your chance to throw out the first pitch, Mr. Ballmer.
And here’s the best part: Adding two more teams gives us 32 teams, which means the American and National Leagues can have 16-teams, each with four four-team divisions. That’s eight divisions total, eight first-place teams at the end of the season – perfect for two rounds of playoffs before the World Series. Au revoir, card du wilde.
What’s more, adding two teams lets us go back to fully balanced schedules, where every team in a division plays the exact same number of games against the exact same teams. No team can whine that it lost because it had a harder schedule.
Speaking of schedules … Do you like interleague play? OK, we can keep it. Or not. (And I vote for not.)
Here’s just one way to make each happen:
Without interleague play: 14 games (7 home, 7 away) against each of your three division rivals (42 games), plus 10 games (5 home, 5 away) against each of the 12 teams in the three other divisions (120 games). That’s 162 games. Where have I seen that number before?
With interleague play: 6 games (3 home, 3 away) against each of the four teams in one of the divisions in the other league (24 games), plus 14 games (7 home, 7 away) against each of your three division rivals (42 games) plus 8 games (4 home, 4 away) against each of the 12 teams in the three other divisions in your league (96 games). Holy cow, that’s 162 games again.
If we go interleague, the “rival division” will rotate each year, meaning every team gets to play six games against every team in the other league once every four years. Yes, it means eliminating the annual “local rivalry,” but this is one Mets fan who’s more than willing to forego playing the Yankees every year. In fact, I’d love to retain bragging rights for three years after we whup ’em.
There are lots of other possibilities, some of which would require shortening the season by a few games. Which really isn’t a bad idea, since the playoffs could begin a week earlier and we’d see fewer scenes like this in the “Fall” Classic:
And, of course, the beauty of it all is that we’ll have eliminated wildcards. Win your division and you’re in the playoffs. Come in second and wait till next year. Like it says in the Bible. Baseball’s in the Bible, by the way. It opens with “In the big inning” (h/t Maury Allen).
But wait, you say . . . Won’t adding two teams and 50 players water down the quality of the game?
I don’t think so. Baseball was an awfully good game in 1946, when the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series. Some guys named Williams, Doerr, DiMaggio and Pesky played for the Red Sox. The Cardinals had fellas named Musial, Schoendienst, Marion and Slaughter. Sure, there were only 16 Major League teams that year, but the population of the U.S. was only 141 million. Now we’re at 319 million, more than double the 1946 number, but we’re only doubling the number of teams. On those numbers alone, we’re not diluting the quality.
But think about this … There’s a reason I picked 1946. There were no black players in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson broke the game’s color line. There also were very few, if any, Latin American players. And there were no players from Japan, South Korea or Taiwan. Our pool of available talent is greater than ever now. I think we can find 50 more Major Leaguers, and even 80 in September.
So there we have it. Add two teams. Balanced schedules. No wildcards.
It’s a start. At our next owner’s meeting, we’ll get rid of the DH and mandate twilight games on Fridays and day games on weekends, so you can take the kids to the ballpark, where they’ll fall in love with the game, and still get them in bed before 3 in the morning.
Hang in there. We’ll have this all sorted out by April.
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