MLB should consider making division realignment permanent

Baseball’s realignment into three, 10-team divisions is likely to last only for 2020, but it would help create new, exciting rivalries

Major League Baseball is looking at every possibility in order to get in some resemblance of a 2020 season. The change that promises to be the most controversial is division realignment.

Among the proposals being discussed is doing away with the traditional separation of teams into three divisions in both the American League and National League. Instead, to reduce the amount of travel clubs would have to do, they would be put into three divisions of 10 teams apiece based on geography.

The new divisions would be, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale: Baltimore, Boston, Miami, the Mets, the Yankees, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Washington in the East; Atlanta, the Cubs, the White Sox, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, and St. Louis in the West; and Arizona, Colorado, Houston, the Dodgers, the Angels, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Texas in the West.

It’s a format intended to be used only for one season, but—and this will make baseball traditionalists cringe—it’s one the league should consider making permanent.

The current divisions have remained the same since 2013 when the Astros jumped from the NL Central to the AL West, long enough for fans to grow accustomed to it. But it also leaves plenty of questions.

Why aren’t the Dodgers and Angels in the same division? The Giants and Athletics? The Yankees and Mets, or the Cubs and White Sox? The Dodgers and Angels are separated by 30 miles down I-5 but played each other just four times last season. The Giants and Athletics are so close together their respective stadiums are in view of each other across San Francisco Bay. The trip from Citi Field in Queens to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx takes less than an hour by subway.

Houston and Texas both play in the West but are located in the Central Time Zone, two hours ahead of the rest of their division. That means fans of those clubs have to stay up until midnight to watch their teams when they play on the West Coast as many as 27 times a season. The Toronto Blue Jays don’t play in the same division as the two clubs they are closest to geographically, Detroit and Cleveland.

The Blue Jays and Tigers had a burgeoning rivalry in the 1980s when they were both in the East and fans of both teams could make the trip up Highway 401 to see them play. They finished in the top-3 of the division together seven times between 1984-1993, but their rivalry reached its apex in 1987. The Blue Jays led the division by 3.5 games with a week left in the season. They lost all seven games, including a season-ending sweep at Tiger Stadium. In the season finale, in front of more than 51,000 fans, Tigers starter Frank Tanana pitched a six-hit shutout to beat Toronto 1-0 and secure the division title. Since 1998, though, the two teams have been separated and play each other for just one series a year at their respective parks, that rivalry nothing more than a distant memory.

The new format would create in-state rivalries that don’t exist under the current system. The Cardinals would play the Royals 18 times a year, the Rays would play the Marlins, the Indians would play the Reds, and all five teams in California would play each other. The Yankees would go into the same division as the Phillies, bringing back a bygone era when they would travel by train down to Philadelphia to play the old Athletics.

There are some issues to work out before these new divisions become a reality. Each division would have to award their own MVP and Cy Young Award, or there would need to be just one for the entire league. The league would have to figure out whether inter-division play would take place, or whether each club just plays the other nine in their division all season. Toronto would need to switch places with a team in the Central to reunite with the Tigers, perhaps Atlanta who would then have a natural rivalry with the Florida teams.

Traditionalists will argue that the division format is fine the way it is and shouldn’t be tampered with. They said the same thing about the designated hitter and the introduction of the wild card. The argument that things should stay the same simply because that’s how it’s always been no longer works. As MLB prepares to enter a new decade, it must continue to move forward and look to add more excitement to the game or risk falling behind.

Next: Angels trying to build a supporting cast for Trout

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