There's been a lot of talk recently about realignment in Major League Baseball. Much of that talk includes the term “radical” as a descriptor of proposed schemes. The so-called “radical” realignment scenarios usually involve a complete tear down of the existing American League/National League distinctions, to be replaced with a more holistic “Major League Baseball” aligned by geography. Much as the old American Football League was subsumed, becoming a conference in the NFL, the old AL/NL distinctions would become mere divisional semantics of the greater, realigned MLB concept.
There are a few very good reasons for realignment. Primarily, it is a problem of math. There are 30 major league teams. 14 play in the American League. 16 play in the National League. Each league is divided into three divisions. The NL Central has six teams (the other two divisions have five each.) The AL West has four teams (the other two divisions have five each.) The entire point of so-called “radical realignment is to move one of those NL teams to the American League in order to create six divisions (three per league) of five teams each. The problem with that theory is that in order to do that, you have to schedule and interleague game every day of the season, in order to make the math work for a 30 team league. And having interleague every day pretty much means you don't actually have two “leagues,” an AL and a NL. You have one league, with six divisions. This is what they call “radical.”
I hate the misuse of terms. I also hate small minded solutions that cower in the face of the actual problem. The problem isn't that MLB needs to move a team from the NL to the AL. The problem is that MLB has too few teams. The obvious solution isn't to create some sort of wonky 6x5 league with “interleague” play every day. The obvious solution is to add at least two teams.
At BTF, I suggested a team in Salt Lake City and another in Newark, NJ. Both would go into the AL, creating two leagues with 16 teams each. The basic layout of the leagues was thus:
AL EAST - BOS, NYY, BAL, NWK
AL CENT - CLE, DET, TOR, TBR
AL MIDW - CHW, KCR, TEX, MIN
AL WEST - SEA, SLC, OAK, LAA
NL EAST - NYM, PHI, WAS, PIT
NL SOUT - ATL, MIA, CIN, HOU
NL CENT - CHC, MIL, STL, COL
NL WEST - LAD, SFG, SDP, ARI
This alignment is the least radical possible. It literally solves the problem in the fewest steps, without switching franchises from their traditional leagues. Put a new team in Newark, playing in the AL East. Put a new team in Salt Lake, playing in the AL West. Play baseball. Simple. Easy. Not radical. The hardest part of this strategy would be to carve out a new franchise in existing New York Yankees territory, a problem I'd suggest be solved by eliminating the “luxury tax” system, wherein the Yankees, after crossing a certain threshold of payroll, have to pay other teams a “tax” from their coffers. A team in Newark cuts into the Yankees' gigantic market (as well as that of the Mets) so there's no reason to double penalize them for being, well, the Yankees.
This seems like a straight forward solution to me. But for some reason, the powers that be in MLB refuse to even consider expansion. I blame Bob Costas.
Regardless, after putting this together, I got to thinking about what a true “radical” plan might entail. Now, granted, as a former card-carrying radical of the radical school of radicality, I might have different ideas as to what plans could honestly use that moniker, but hey, it's my blog.
Going through the thought experiment, starting with a few grounding assumptions.
The proper direction is out, not in. MLB should be growing it's product, not shuffling pieces around the board with no real future-oriented strategy in mind.
The smallest market in baseball, currently, is the Milwaukee metro, with just under 1.7 mil people in its Combined Statistical Area. Rounding a bit, a million and a half is the smallest market size that would likely support a ML baseball team.
There are eleven (11!) markets in the United States larger than Milwaukee that lack a MLB team.
- Columbus, OH
- Las Vegas
- Salt Lake City
- Greensboro, NC
Eleven markets! Eleven new potential baseball teams! Think of the radical possibilities. But wait. Let's balance our crazy with some realism. We're not 20-somethings with an irrational hatred of corporate coffee shops any more. Orlando, while over 2 million strong, is very close to Tampa and the Rays. And the Rays are having a hard enough time drawing customers as it is. Orlando's off the list.
Columbus, OH is actually a bit larger than Cleveland these days, and growing rather than shrinking, but Cleveland already has the stadium and the team. Columbus is too close to the Indians, so they're off the list too.
Three of the markets are in North Carolina. While NC is booming, I don't think it's ready to go from zero to three franchises over night. We'll leave Charlotte on the list, but remove the Raleigh-Durham Triangle and Greensboro from consideration. Marking those off as well, we're left with only seven potential expansion sites.
- Las Vegas
- Salt Lake City
You've got enough markets to bring in the two new American League teams, PLUS another division entirely. But you can't have a single, orphaned four- or five-team division off by itself. You need at least eight ne2 teams, in addition to the two new AL teams, to really expand. Luckily, we haven't even begun to exhaust the potential markets.
As I said earlier, the smallest market in MLB is Milwaukee, with just over 1.5 million people in it's Combined Statistical Area. The vast majority of MLB franchises operate within CSA markets of 1.5-6 million residents. BUT, there are a few notable exceptions. New York, as previously noted, has 22 million people, but only two teams. If we assume the City splits evenly (and there's no reason to gut punch Mets fans at this particular moment, so why not) that's 11 million per franchise. Clearly, the NYC metro can take another team. In fact, if we use the same math from above, wherein 1.5 mil people creates a metro-market to sustain an MLB franchise, NYC could support 14 franchises. FOURTEEN!
(Dear Yankees fans, if you want to know how it feels to be a Pirates or Royals fan watching your payroll eclipse theirs by factors of ten, think about having more than 14 competing teams in the metro area.)
Now, I'm a reasonable man. I don't think we should break the NYC metro up between 14 different teams. That's just silly. Assuming that some New Yorkers don't even like baseball at all, I'm fine with doubling the market size needed to support a single-franchise city for the multiple franchise model. You only need 1.5 mil or so to support a single team, but to support two teams you probably need 5 or 6 mil. Which is fine. Instead of 11 NYC teams, we'll only assign them with two expansion teams – one in Newark, NJ; another in Brooklyn. That's 5+ million citizens – or roughly the size of the entire Atlanta-Marietta-Sandy Springs metro area, per team. We now have an additional two franchises!
But there's no reason to single NYC out for the slice and dice. Los Angeles has just under 19 million people. Again, we'll be generous and just add a third franchise to the LA basin.
Chicago has 9-10 mil, but we've already added a new franchise to Indianapolis, which abuts South Chicago more or less, so we'll keep ChiTown as a two team city. But Boston has nearly 8 million people. No reason not to add a new NL team to Beantown.
At this point, we slide into the “just over 6 mil in population” cities. Dallas. Philly. Houston. Dallas, at near 7 mil and growing, could probably take a second team. We'll draw the line at Philly's 6.2 mil, unless we desperately need a final franchise to balance things out.
At this point we've added eleven new MLB teams.
- Las Vegas
- Salt Lake City
- Boston NL
- Dallas NL
Imagine that league for a moment. Every major city in the country has a major league baseball team. Every franchise has a roughly equal market from which to draw fans. Sure, the historically manifest brands will maintain their position of dominance – not every Yankee fan in Jersey is going to burn his Cap'n Jetes jersey the day the Newark Sopranos open shop. But the field is a lot more even. And being that there are a ton more teams, you can cut the regular season drastically, have distinct leagues without interleague play, AND have a playoff structure that includes like, twenty friggin' teams. What could a Selig not love about this plan?
But wait. We're not done. There are some rather notable markets outside of the US boundaries, currently unserved by MLB. Let's assume you need 2-3 million unAmerican fans to support America's past time.
- Mexico City, Mexico (22 m)
- Guadalajara, Mexico (4.5 m)
- Monterrey, Mexico (4 m)
- Puebla, Mexico (2.6 m)
- Juarez-El Paso, aka The Borderplex, Mexico/Texas (2.5 m)
- Montreal, Canada (3.8 m)
- Vancouver, Canada (2.3 m)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico (2.6 m)
- Havana, Cuba (2.1 m)
Okay, fine. Is it too radical to put a team in Castro's Cuba? Even considering the possibility of the “natural rivalry” between the Miami Marlins and the Havana Your-Family-Goes-To-Prison-If-We-Lose? Fine. Pussy. Call it another eight potential teams.
30 + 11 + 8 (with a second Philly team, and/or Havana in the wings) = 49. Forty-nine potential teams! Radical realignment.
AL EAST - BOS, NYY, BAL, NEWARK
AL CENT - CLE, DET, TBR, INDIANAPOLIS
AL TEXAS - TEX, HOU, AUSTIN, EL PASO
AL MIDW - CHW, KCR, MIN, NASHVILLE
AL WEST - SEA, OAK, LAA, VANCOUVER
NL EAST - NYM, PHI, WAS, BROOKLYN
NL SOUT - ATL, CIN, MIA, CHARLOTTE
NL CENT - CHC, MIL, STL, PIT
NL MTN – COL, SLC, VEGAS, ARI
NL WEST - LAD, SFG, SDP, SACRAMENTO/LA3
IL NORTH – TOR, MONTREAL, BOSTON-2, SAN JUAN
IL SOUTH – MEXICO CITY, GUADALAJARA, MONTERREY, DALLAS-2
There you go. A 48 team super league. 12 divisions of four teams each. And for you traditionalists out there, I've maintained both the Red Sox-Yankees and Cubs-Cards rivalries.
Win your division, go to the playoffs. Period. End of story. Scheduling to accommodate travel and balanced competition. No need for Mexico City to play the Yankees, so long as Mexico City and Monterrey play the same schedule. The MLB playoffs become a true World Series, a North American championship to put all other international competitions to shame. Hell, when it's all done and you have the champion challenge the Japanese and Korean leagues to play each other so that the winner would fly over and face off for global bragging rights.
Grow baseball. Level market access around the league. You know. Radicalism.