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A Bump along the Road to Reorganization

I had wondered a while back why the two leagues in Major League Baseball are relatively unbalanced, and why, in each of the last two expansions: first the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins, then the Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks (with the Milwaukee Brewers switching leagues—h/t to wolf0309 for the catch)—the NL gained two teams each, rather than simply adding one team to each league.

Ultimately, I believe the problem boils down to a major issue: scheduling. It's something that hasn't gotten a lot of press that I've seen, but it's a non-trivial concern. Right now, with the current schedule, it's more or less a guarantee—barring inclement weather, scheduled doubleheaders, interleague play, or other such situations—that five days a week, there will be 15 games taking place across the country: seven AL games and eight NL games.

Now consider the case of two fifteen-team leagues. We now have a significant problem: because there's an odd number of teams, this leads to one team in each league always being the "odd team" out. Given the current MLB schedule, that leads to two entirely undesirable side effects:

  • When teams are idled by being the odd team out, they are going to be off for several days in a row.
  • There is no way to schedule this fairly. Even if all series are straightened out to three games each, that means you have 54 series. Fifteen teams cannot evenly split 54 series: six teams will sit out three series, while the remaining nine teams would have four series off.

Of course, this last point is the real killer: now you have to schedule extra games so that all teams can play the same number of games. This also means it will take more time for all teams to play 162 games. The other option is to straddle off days between teams, but this makes scheduling just as complicated, if not so.

Changing the number of games each team plays is also not a viable solution, in either direction. Chopping nine series from the schedule, reducing the season to 135 games, would certainly be rejected by the clubs on economic grounds. Conversely, adding six series to create 180 games is equally unpalatable: nobody wants to be at Fenway or Wrigley or Safeco in early March or mid-November.

So what are some realistic alternatives?

One option that might work is to expand again, this time adding two teams to the AL. Then the leagues are much more balanced, and you can move to an NFL-style system of four four-team divisions per league. Or you could have two eight-team divisions; whichever floats your boat.

Another alternative is to create year-long interleague play between the teams with off days. Again, this is not so desirable because of the rule differences. The way around this would be to make these exhibition games, but then they lose some of their luster, and possibly some of the economic advantages as well.

A final idea? Adopt the DH rule across MLB (or banish it—although it clearly makes sense to me to keep it!), and then just treat MLB as one big set of teams, divided into six divisions, with scheduling to match. Each team plays six series against each team in its own division, then two series against every team in one other division, and one series in each of the remaining four divisions. (Or six, three, and three, and change divisions every year.)

Any other ideas out there?