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Realignment? No way. How about "unalignment"

Apr 21, 2010, 8:40 AM EDT

In reaction to the “radical realignment” proposals that floated around last month I made an off-hand suggestion to do something far more simple and far more elegant in order to address the temporary problem of the Yankees and Red Sox hegemony: break all of baseball down to two leagues, with no divisions, a fully-balanced schedule and have the top four teams in each league make the
playoffs. It’s not original or anything –  others have suggested the plan before me — but it’s so damn appealing.

Today Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan develops the notion in an excellent column. What’s more, he does something that might actually help get the ball rolling: he gives the plan a name. He calls it “unalignment,” and it makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if a hundred baseball writers came out to today to dismiss it out of hand:

AL teams would play everyone in the league 11 times a year, with 19
interleague games. Those in the NL would play eight teams 10 games each
and seven teams nine games each, plus the 19 interleague contests. If a
team goes somewhere twice one year, it would host that team twice the
next season. The interleague games would rotate yearly. And if baseball
prefers 15 teams in each league, it could move Milwaukee (or another
willing participant) to the AL and use a schedule with at least one
interleague game every day instead of confining them to two blocks a
year.

Passan has an excellent response to those who think that such a plan would kill divisional rivalries: tough. While ESPN won’t like it if we cut the Yankees-Red Sox games down to 11 from the current 18, unalignment would at least give every other AL team a larger piece of the gate from New York and Boston games than they currently get. Bonus: while we may lose seven Yankees-Red Sox games, we also lose even Indians-Royals games and many others of that ilk.

The biggest thing this plan has going for it is fairness. Everyone plays more or less the same schedule (interleague is still a problem, but let us not make a perfect world in which interleague play does not exist the enemy of a good plan).  As Passan notes, it avoids the pitfalls of the NBA and NHL systems in which everyone gets into the playoffs for one in which making the playoffs is still difficult, but no longer impossible for those stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography. It retains the part of their systems, however, which rewards the best records no no matter where they happen be located.

I think it’s time to get this bandwagon out of the garage and out on the road.  Unalignment, baby.

  1. Jonny5 - Apr 21, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    “While ESPN won’t like it ” That is exactly why this won’t happen until Selig is gone. He’s already proven he’s happy to be a slave to network television. BTW, I don’t see much of a SOX / Yanker Hegemony for the 2010 season. Myself, I like the idea, while I think the players won’t like it too much. This will have them traveling much more won’t it?

  2. Jay Seaver - Apr 21, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    No, no, no. For all the flaws of the current alignment, it keeps most of a team’s games in the same timezone as its fans. Eliminate interleauge and we’re fine.
    Just as a hypocrisy check, is Passan one of the guys who complains that playoff games start too late? Because as an East Coast baseball fan, I am happy to have a few 8:30 starts in October versus a bunch of 10:05 starts throughout the summer.

  3. ditmars1929 - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    I would leave the current structure in place with the following revisions:
    1. Some realignment (or contraction/expansion) so that there are the same number of teams in both the AL & NL, be it 14 teams or 16 each.
    2. Balanced schedule for each league.
    3. Elimination of all inter-league play.
    4. Elimination of the All Star game determining WS home field.
    Lastly, I like the divisions because it gives the game more of a regional rivalry feel. Plus, if you had no divisions and the top four teams in each league making the post season, you’d be lessening late season races and excitement.

  4. Andy H - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Maybe . . . but wouldn’t this take us from 3 pennant races per league to basically one?

  5. David Pinto - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    You forget the reason for divisions in the first place. No one wants to watch a tenth place team.

  6. Moses Green - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    This wagon is bound to glory, I’m all in. I would also like to alert you in a non-snarky manner of some minor headline dyslexia.

  7. john pileggi - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    Not a perfect solution (there is none), but better than what exists now. Gives stronger teams a better chance of advancing, and makes the opportunities for fans seeing the attractive teams greater. If we can combine it with dumping inter-league play and the DH, it is fantastic. I guess that is why it will not happen.

  8. Jason @ IIATMS - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    There’s no more sharing of the gate; that’s been replaced by the revenue sharing/lux tax bucket of cash.
    Each team who gets more of the Yanks/Sox at THEIR HOME would, though, see an increase in their gate receipts… for which they keep all of it.

  9. Preston - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    First of all, Jay does have a good point about starting times – that is one advantage of the unbalanced schedule (it’s actually a disadvantage for me, as an East coast fan of a West coast team, but obviously I’m the exception). I will say, though, that I’m much more likely to flip on a Red Sox Yankees game if it’s one of 11 matchups through the season rather than one of 19. It’d be a little easier to appreciate the good baseball and ignore the length if they didn’t happen quite so frequently, I think.

  10. Old Gator - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    Get rid of that neanderthal atrocity known as the designated hitter as part of a plan and I’ll go for it. Any plan.

  11. RobRob - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    There’s a pretty significant flaw in this plan that goes unnoticed. Eleven games a season (in the AL) is a bad number for baseball. It means two four-game series and one three-game series, or three three-game series and one two-game series. Four-game and two-game series are terrible for scheduling (and travel costs), and they’re what lead to the unbalanced schedule in the first place.

    You need at least 12 games per team to make it work effectively, but that leaves you with only six potential games for interleague for the AL and it doesn’t work at all for the NL.

    I’m afraid the unbalanced schedule is here to stay.

  12. Andrew - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    I agree the time zone thing is a big deal. The less trips to the west coast the better. I’m sure west coast fans don’t enjoy the early starts of when their team plays east coast.
    Realistically we won’t get rid of interleague play for a long time, but why can we not shorten it? Keep the 2 or 3 series that are big draws and eliminate the rest. A home and away with each teams rival and a home and away with 2 pointless teams that don’t have rival and maybe one more series if they really have to. Anything more then that is excessive.

  13. Moses Green - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    This is Moses, but I speak here for mathematics. Mr. Math disagrees that increased scheduling and travel problems would be caused by 2 4-game series and 1 3-game series each against 14 opponents. Leaving 8 games which I would propose be called “Interleague” and played as two 3-game series and one 2-game series.
    Or the 8 games could be reserved for two 4-game series against a designated regional rival.

  14. JB (the original) - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:47 AM

    Other than the regional ‘time zone’ issue, I think there would be a ‘fan interest’ and attendance issue as well. With everyone chasing one crown, teams will be eliminated from possible post-season play much earlier, which would affect fan interest in those towns. Other than the unbalanced schedule part (just using the the wins/losses), have they gone back and looked at the previous 10 years and seen how the seasons would have looked/turned out? The difference between how long teams stayed in contention using both methods? The differences in who would have qualified for the post-season? It would be interesting to look at.

  15. By Jiminy - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    As a lifelong Twins fan, I hate this idea. I spent my childhood looking up at the Yankees, knowing we had no hope of ever catching them. In the current divisions, we’re in a pennant race every year.
    The real solution is a salary cap and more revenue sharing. But until there is some semblance of competitive balance, the best solution is to keep the juggernauts in the same division. They can battle head to head all year, creating a compelling pennant race; all the second tier teams have their own exciting division races; then they meet in the playoffs, and every few years a tier two team pulls off an upset.
    Everybody wins in this system except the Orioles, Jays, and Rays (and even they win now and then). It’s unfair for a normal team to be buried in a division with overfunded behemoths, but until that problem is solved, better a few sacrificial lambs than a whole league of permanent also-rans.
    You could rebalance the schedule, I’m fine with that. Just keep six divisions, so everyone spends most of the season with a shot at the postseason.

  16. Johnny Salami - Apr 21, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    Add two more teams and operate each league with 4 4-team divisions. That keeps the current playoff setup but also ensures that only champions play in the post season.

  17. by jiminy - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    Come to think of it, the unbalanced schedule has another problem. It’s bad enough for the AL East also-rans to have almost no chance at winning their division. But thanks to the unbalanced schedule, they have a harder road to the wild cart, too! While they get beat up playing in their division all year, some lesser team strolls through the easier schedules of the AL West and Central and snatches the wild card. I don’t know if the problems of three teams in the AL East are enough to force the entire league to watch more games played in the wrong time zone. Maybe not. But I do think the unbalanced schedule is unfair and more easily fixed. And it’s not like Twins fans are really more excited about playing the Royals and Indians fifty times a year than seeing some other cities come by now and then. The huge emphasis on playing division rivals gets pretty boring. We’ll gladly take the burden of playing the Yanks and Red Sox off the hands of the poor Orioles, and let them play the Royals instead. If it means they pass us in the wild card race, that’s only fair.

  18. PinstripedHippie - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Or how about back to just AL East & West, and NL East & West — with the two division winners from each making it, plus two wild cards each total for each league – and the two can both be from the East if that’s how it shakes out. I.e, Tampa and Red Sux can both make it if they are both better than the next two of second-best from AL West, etc. Would still have to even out the schedule but that’s fine.

  19. Carroll - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    “and it makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if a hundred baseball writers came out to today to dismiss it out of hand”
    Gets my vote for quote of the day.

  20. Perry - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    How does “unalignment” where four teams qualify for a playoff help any of the teams “stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography”? Take the American League for example. There are 4 spots available. Lets assume in most of the years the Yankees & Boston have 2 or the 4 best records, that effectively leaves 2 spots available for 13 teams. I think we can agree that in all likelihood at least one of the remaining 2 spots will be filled by a west coast team probably Anaheim (if history is any indication) that leaves one spot for 12 teams. Doesn’t seam to me to be very good odds for the teams “stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography”. You can go through the same scenario for the National League. Philadelphia & St. Louis would probably be locks for 2 of the 4 spots most years. The remaining 2 spots might be a little more open to competition but in all likelihood would go to two of only 3 or 4 teams (Atlanta, Dodgers, Colorado & Giants). Of course it might vary slightly but the chances of that so called teams “stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography” making it are slim to none. Their chances of making it are probably no greater then they currently are. One final comment, two thirds of the way through the season, how many people do you think are going to attend games for those 10 or so teams in each league that have have no chance to be one of the four.

  21. RobRob - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    Check your math. In the AL, there are 13 opponents per team. Eleven times 13 is 143, which leaves an additional 19 games to reach 162. At 12 games per opponent in the AL, you’d have 156 games within the league and six games for interleague to reach 162.

    Two-game series increase the travel costs of teams for the simple reason that there are more travel days. I think that players hate them as well because each day of a two-game set is a travel day. Maybe I’m just personally opposed to the four-game series, but they also don’t fit well with a weekend series. They either start on a Thursday or drag until a Monday, and I suspect that Monday is a bad TV night for MLB.

    I think the problem is simply that there are too many teams to support a balanced schedule of 162 games, and there aren’t enough playable dates to add more games to the schedule.

  22. eaglealan64 - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    What an awful idea – can’t believe anyone would take it seriously ….

  23. Flipsy - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    Why not be even more radical? Get rid of AL and NL and make it East and West. That cuts down on the travel. If you want, you can break it into 2 divisions and have the division winner and the 2 next best teams make the playoffs. You would have a slightly unbalanced schedule (a few more divisional games) but you can make it a lot more balanced since 2 and 4 game series are easier due to regional proximity.
    I know there is history and all but really that makes a lot of sense. The Interleague play is already focused on playing local teams (NYY-NYM, SFG-OAK etc). You would keep most of the rivalries alive due to geographic proximity and as the Celtics and Lakers show, you don’t need to be be close to be rivals.

  24. mattjg - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    I like the outside-the-box thinking, but I see a few problems with this plan.
    1) As previous commenters mentioned, as a fan of an East Coast team, I don’t want to have to stay up until 1 a.m. more often than I do now.
    2) This would likely increase travel expenses for teams since they’d play outside their geographic region more often. It seems it would especially burden the smaller market teams, since most of the big-market teams are clustered in the Northeast and don’t have to travel far to play other teams in that region.
    3) While it would be more “fair” in that the four best teams from each league would make the playoffs, it would remove more teams from the pennant races earlier. Really, the only teams it could conceivably keep in the pennant races are the Orioles and Blue Jays (and likely the Rays when their cheap young talent becomes old and expensive).
    That being said, I don’t have any better re/un-alignment ideas.

  25. Perry - Apr 21, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    I have a unique idea if the only purpose is to get teams “stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography” a chance at the playoffs. Cut the season to 154 games and add 2 teams to the payoff format. Leave the leagues, divisions, etc… as they are this leaves the rivalries intact but the playoffs go from 4 to 6 teams. It certainly gives those teams stunk in a tough division a better chance of making any playoff. The only drawback that I see (and that’s not to say the aren’t others) is that those teams that do not make the playoffs will have less revenue because they are playing 8 less games, but it also may increase revenue for several teams as more teams will be competing for more playoff spots.

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