I think it was renegade New York Yankee pitcher-turnedauthor Jim Bouton who commented that Major League Baseball must be a great sport because even the people who run it can’t manage to totally screw it up.
But they’ve come close.
If you’re a casual fan—which by definition there can’t be since fan is short for “fanatic”—you may not be aware MLB currently has its knickers in a tangle over the number of teams it has.
There are 30 major league teams. But 16 are in the National League and 14 in the American League.
Each league has three divisions. Four of the six divisions have five teams. But the other two have six (National League Central) and four (American League West). That’s where the “problem” lies.
You see, goes the reasoning, its a lot easier to win a fourteam division than a five-team division.
There’s only three other teams to beat instead of four, you see. And when you compare a fourteam div ision to a six- team, why that’s a difference of—wait a minute while MLB does the math—uh, two!
So far three remedies have been proposed.
Move one team from the National to American and have two 15-team leagues with lots of playoffs. (Think NBA).
Move one team from the National to American and have three 5-team divisions in each league. (Think NFL).
Leave everything as it is, stop the season after the first playoff round and then let somebody vote on who the best team is. (Think NCAA football). Okay, so I made that one up.
In each case the prime candidate for moving is apparently the Houston Astros.
I can hear the late Astro announcer Loel Passe turning over in his grave.
(Come to think of it Loel often sounded like that when he was alive, too.)
In each case the prime reason given for switching the Astros to the American League is “think of the great rivalry they will have with the Texas Rangers!”
Wouldn’t you think people who are basically involved in marketing on a grand scale would understand one of its first rules?
Success isn’t a function of geography. Success is a function of putting out a good product.
Sure, Houston and Dallas could be natural same-state rivals as could, oh, Tampa Bay and Miami, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Kansas City and St. Louis.
But what puts posteriors in the stands every game, not just when you play someone in the same state, is having a good team.
A case in point, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been in the same league/division for approximately 135 years. And there is no natural rivalry.
Why? For about the first 110 years Philadelphia was awful. For the past 25 Pittsburgh has been.
The converse. In the 1970s there was no better rivalry in sports than between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers.
They were, and are, two cities a great distance apart with absolutely nothing in common. LA has Hollywood, Cincinnati’s big downtown attraction is a monument dedicated to the history of water.
But in 9 of those 10 years one team finished first and the other was second seven times and third twice. That’s a rivalry!
Bottom line. The current MLB league/division setup was created in 1998. It apparently took the owners 13 years to notice one league had two more teams than the other.