To dissolve or not to dissolve, that is the question. Commission Bud Selig has been presented with a few ideas to improve the game as MLB tries to offer something new to divert our attention from the steroid saga that simply will not die. The latest ideas include realigning the leagues to do away with the divisions.
The argument, as per Buster Olney, is that the current divisions are quite unfair to both fans and teams. The best teams do not end up with the best records in the league. Invariably a soft schedule or a tough one, as dictated by the division, results in some teams posting an inflated record and others finishing with a record not truly representative of their ability. This hurts both the fans and the teams, forever damning the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles to fight for third place in the AL East even though a team like the Rays may be one of the best teams in the American League and fans are done a disservice having to watch the Tigers or Twins in the postseason instead.
I have a couple of problems with this plan. The first is that MLB is not set up to be fair and the second is that the Olney is missing the greatest effect of the divisions, rivalries.
Major League Baseball is not fair by its very nature. There is no observed salary cap that inhibits a team from winning simply by spending money. The argument that the teams stuck behind financial power houses like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the division and would do better in a division-less field of 14 teams battling for four (or six as was another suggestion) playoff spots is null and void because they are still not going to eclipse those teams anytime in the next decade.
If the field was expanded to a six-team postseason with an NFL-like bye round then perhaps this plan would work a little better. Certainly the league and the owners would be in favor of an expanded postseason, but as fan of the most major sports in the U.S. I am happy that there is at least one relatively short postseason tournament. Still, then it seems like the league would simply be expanding the field to give those other teams a chance and to ensure that even if the Yankees and Red Sox have a bad season relative to their annual potential that they could make the playoffs.
The other problem is that Olney is a writer that comes out of the Northeast and does not recognize the effect of the divisions throughout the country. Without divisions the league is left with few rivalries. Only the established grudges would be able to be sustained. By limiting a division to the same teams every year new rivalries are born simply because teams see each other so often. Without this impetus to inspire conflict between fans in Minneapolis and Detroit there are few signature series to highlight consistently every season.
I argue this is important because baseball is no longer “America’s Pastime” and needs to give new fans something to care about. Unless the league only wants Yankees, Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets fans, the league needs to consider how they would engage the other 23 team markets. The reason sports are popular is because of the sense of competition and a rivalry incites that sense to a degree that is palpable to even the most novice fan.
This dissolution would have the opposite effect that the suggestion is supposed to have, perhaps being so detrimental that baseball would only become a regionally popular sport. Why drive away the rest of the young fans that are already becoming more and more enamored with sports that are minor by comparison but still collectively dangerous to the survival of baseball as a cross-generational tradition? Dissolution is hardly the answer to baseball’s problems no matter how much pundits cringe at the mention of the AL and NL Central.