If Cubs-White Sox Has No Juice, It’s Time For MLB Realignment
Say the phrase “interleague baseball” and no fan even raises his eyebrows anymore. We’ve done the interleague thing for 19 seasons now, and since MLB put Houston in the American League the equal odd number of 15 teams in each league forces and interleague series at all times during the season.
Take this weekend for example.
The upstart Cubs are hosting the new look but highly disappointing White Sox of Chicago’s South Side. Today’s pitching matchup is Jon Lester vs. Chris Sale. The story lines around the Cubs are numerous and fascinating, most revolving around great young talent and quirky personable manager Joe Maddon. Wrigley Field is rocking for the first time in forever and Chicago is better off for it.
But the MLB schedule also has the Yankees at the Red Sox. So the national TV slots for each game of the three-game slot are occupied by the New York-Boston rivalry. Granted the Yankees are a surprise, buoyed by controversial Alex Rodriguez, whom the Yankees would have sold for a used radar gun in the spring if they could have. But the Red Sox suck and Yankee contention will come down to games in late August and September, not the contests leading up to the All-Star break.
But people will watch. People will most definitely watch.
So if the juice is with the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry while Lester vs. Sale is resigned to the SportsCenter highlight bin, it’s safe to say these “natural rivalries” aren’t getting the job done. Sure, Cubs-White Sox sells a few beers on Waveland Avenue today; Mets and Yankees fans took turns insulting each other in April of this season, but the interleague rivalry thing is a bit stale.
Here’s my wish to make it stick. Reallign baseball.
Make baseball like hockey, with an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference; create only four divisions of seven or eight teams. The Eastern Conference North could feature: Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Blue Jays and the Pirates. The Midwestern Division could feature the Royals, Cardinals, Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Reds and Indians.
Think about the Cubs having, say a 15-times-a-season rivalry against the Royals. Think about the Cardinals having two rivals in Chicago. All the California teams would fight for a division title amongst themselves (and probably the Mariners and Diamondbacks).
If all regional teams competed for division and playoff spots, then you create true rivals, not the polite three game home-and-home series that you have now or watching Mets-Orioles series that really means very little.
If the two Chicago teams can’t grab the national spotlight on the weekend they play, what really is the point of doing it in the first place?
Would the New York Rangers have such deep hatred of the New Jersey Devils and the (Brooklyn) Islanders if they played only twice a season? No, it would be like Christmas – fun for a day or two, but then back to regular life.
Think about the down year the White Sox are having now and the prospect that seven games in September against the Cubs could keep the North Siders out of the playoffs. Imagine the Yankees having to finish up against the Red Sox, Mets and Nats to qualify for the post-season.
My idea would make scheduling much easier and would cut travel in huge fractions. Whether the East teams play the teams from the West is almost pointless because a division series against a bitter regional rival would never be more than a couple of weeks away. Your postseason would come down to teams from the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and West Coast -- four distinctly different regions of the country.
(Though playoffs are not the impetus for this idea...each division could send it's top 3 teams to the post-season; teams two and three meet first while the division champs await the winner. Winners of the division series then play each other within their conference until an Eastern and Western champion emerge to meet in the World Series. Cut the regular season to 146 or 152 games for the extra "round" of (always) regional rivals.)
Baseball would get some energy back; attendance would continue to climb; merchandise would sell because people’s neighborhoods, families and regions would have split allegiances. All good reasons to do it, yet probably the reason MLB wouldn’t consider it. It’s not the way they do things.
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