Realignment would strengthen the game
Ship the Houston Astros to the American League's Western Division, establish six, five-team divisions and return to a balanced schedule.
And, oh yes. Pencil in one Interleague game each day throughout the season and eliminate the current two periods when AL teams play NL teams. That's getting a little old.
These are the perfect changes Commissioner Bud Selig & Co. should make to improve the game. Nothing radical, just some fixes that will make baseball better and lessen some of its glaring inequities, i.e. the four-team AL West and the six-team NL Central.
There's been a lot of talk this month about realignment, adding another round of playoffs, eliminating divisions and doing something about the unpopular unbalanced schedule.
Major League Baseball lawyers and executives from the Players Association have been hard at it, trying to quietly work out an new Collective Bargaining Agreement to replace the contract that expires Dec. 11.
Realignment is being discussed as well as adding another round of playoffs. These types of changes must be approved by both sides.
"The important thing," says Selig, "is that the owners and players have open minds. In the 1960s, '70s and '80s baseball was stuck in neutral, unwilling to change, unwilling to do things that it should do."
That certainly wasn't true in the '90s, and the last decade.
I'm encouraged that we're not hearing much from these closed-door owner-player meetings because that means progress is being made. No longer are the sides taking verbal shots at each other and negotiating through the media.
We had enough of that in the past. Who can forget the disastrous players' strike of 1994-95 which led to cancellation of the '94 World Series.
I believe the biggest hurdle facing realignment would be convincing the Astros to move to the AL. Drayton McLane, who's selling the team to Jim Crane, says he wants the franchise to remain in the NL.
"We've been a National League city for 50 years," says McLane. "Don't you think people like the NL? There's more strategy associated with it."
But, with a new owner, wouldn't Selig have a better chance to encourage change? The Commissioner can be very convincing and can always use his "in the best interest of baseball" powers.
The suggestion that the divisions might be eliminated -- leaving two, 15-team leagues is ridiculous. The beauty of the divisions -- and the Wild Cards -- is that interest remains high throughout September.
Of course, I'm sure those advocating eliminating divisions are proposing various formats to decide how playoff teams other than those in first place make the postseason. One of their arguments is now, an occasional deserving third-place team doesn't make the postseason, but could with no divisions.
On the other hand if the divisions are eliminated, several small-market teams would have lessened chances to make the playoffs. Late-season interest might wane.
Leave the divisions alone.
Selig strongly favors expanding the playoff format from four to five teams in each league.
As an aside, with the addition of one more Wild Card team, a one-game playoff between those two teams would be the best format. It would be a sudden-death game and create enormous interest. Plus, that format would make winning the division title that much more important. The risk of losing a one-game playoff would be so much greater than in a best-of-five, or best-of-seven tournament.
When I began covering baseball in the late-1950s there were two, eight-team leagues. The pennant winners went to the World Series and that was it.
"It's 2011, it's time to change some stuff," says Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a member of Selig's special committee for on-field matters. "But there are so many channels you have to go through to get something changed ... There's so much more than meets the eye."
Over the last 50 years MLB has added 14 expansion teams and realigned twice.
With the addition of Arizona and Tampa in 1998, the last realignment took place.
It wasn't easy. Selig, at one point, discussed radical realignment. Long-time NL teams such as the Phillies, Braves, Reds and Mets would have moved to the AL.
The plan was based on geographic rivalries, with league allegiances out the window. Essentially teams in the two AL divisions would be from the East and Midwest. The two NL divisions would have been made up of teams from Chicago and West.
Thank goodness it never happened. Too many owners opposed it.
In the end the Brewers moved from the AL to the NL, and that created the six-team NL Central. It also left 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL, but there was no need for an Interleague game each day or a bye because there could be seven games in the AL and eight in the NL.
Because so many owners opposed moving their teams I wonder what would have happened had Selig not owned the Brewers at the time and been in a position to order the move.
Reds manager Dusty Baker says "your chances of winning your division playing four other teams are obviously better than playing five like we do. Regardless, whatever they do, I don't think we need drastic changes -- just tweaking."
If the Astros switch to the AL West there would be a season-long rivalry with the in-state Rangers.
I favor the Astros moving because it makes sense, but if that doesn't happen the D-backs would be the next possibility. There might be less resistance from them.
"We would do whatever's best for baseball," says Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall. "I agree most would say us or the Astros would be best candidates to shift leagues."
Another thought might be to have the Astros move to the NL West and Arizona to the AL West. The one thing that must change is a return to the balanced schedule. Under the current format, teams play division rivals 18 times each season. That makes winning a tough division like the AL East much more difficult; teams play 72 of their 162 games within the division.
"You're talking about the fairness of it," Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona said recently before at game at Tropicana Field against the Rays. "I love the idea of a more balanced schedule. Just the idea of a balanced schedule is probably a good thing."
As Dusty Baker says, tweaking is all that's needed. MLB will be much better when it happens.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.