Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced some changes to the sport on Thursday, three things that are pretty radical for a sport that doesn't change all that quickly. One team is switching leagues, which will create an odd number of teams in each league (which means constant interleague play), and also two teams will be added to the post-season. And while the changes have been rumored for the last several months, that doesn't necessarily mean that they were well-thought out. Let's examine each of the three...
Astros move to AL: In time for the start of the 2013 season, the Houston Astros will be changing leagues. They will move from the six-team National League Central to the four-team American League West. This will balance out all of the divisions, but it will leave no NL presence in Texas. Yes, the American and National Leagues are not different entities anymore (they used to have their own officers and even their own umpires), but they do still have their own fan base. In my June 13 column, I essentially called Selig a moron for even considering the move, and now he's done it.
The Astros were just sold to Jim Crane, and Selig pretty much hornswaggled Crane into making the move as a condition of the sale. Selig did knock off 65 million dollars from the sale price, I'm sure without pausing much to reflect the National League tradition that was part of Houston since 1962. (By th way, an unscientific Houston Chronicle polls shows 71% of Houstonians against the move to the AL).
In 1998, during baseball's last expansion, the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the American League so that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays could go into the AL (Florida's other team was in the NL), and the Arizona Diamondbacks could be placed in the National League (a promise from Selig). The Brewers and their fans seem pretty happy to be in the NL (once home to the Milwaukee Braves), so it would seem that if you had to make a move (still not necessary), it should be the Arizona Diamondbacks to the American League, and to balance out the divisions, keep the Astros in the NL, but move them to the Western Division. Arizona in the AL would also mean one team in each league in the Mountain time zone.
League Alignment/Constant Interleague Play: The need for this seems to have come from out of nowhere. It's like someone commented that it was harder to win the NL Central than any other division, because that division has six teams instead of four or five, and the next thing you know, all of sudden something has to be done about it. Houston's move to the AL will mean 15 teams in each league, with each division having five teams. Great. Now the standings sheet looks more symmetrical in the paper. But so what? Since 1977, there has only been one five-year period (1993-1997) where the American and National Leagues have had the same number of teams. It hasn't been an issue at all before, why is it all of a sudden a huge deal now?
Having an odd number of teams in each league means there will always be at least one interleague matchup. Is that going to mean more interleague games per team? How will the schedule be broken down? I doubt that MLB actually drew up a mock schedule, or did the math to figure it out. Just doing some basic calculations, it could work. Each team plays roughly 54 series in a season, which would break down to more than three interleague series a year for each team scattered throughout the season. I'm sure they'd keep the all-interleague calendar for June, but that would have to be shortened significantly. Teams only play five or six interleague series now. It all seems to be workable but my argument is that none of it is necessary.
Expanded playoffs: Perhaps as early as this coming season, or if not, in 2013, ten teams will make the post-season instead of eight, with one wild-card added in each league. I wrote all about this back on June 6, saying this could be a good thing for the wrong reason. Selig just wants more playoff teams because that's what the other leagues do, but having the second place finishers play an extra game or series puts more importance on the division title. However, remember the drama we just had with the Red Sox and Braves both collapsing, allowing Tampa Bay and St. Louis to reach the playoffs with the Cardinals ultimately winning the World Series? Under the expanded playoffs, there would have been no drama. The Red Sox, Rays, Braves, and Cardinals all would have made it.
Part of the beauty of baseball is fewer playoff teams. The regular season means something. Before expanding in the 1980s, 70 percent of NBA teams (16 out of 23), and 76 percent of NHL teams (16 out of 21) made the playoffs. It was a joke. More is not necessarily better, and a note to Commissioner Selig (too late now)—You've got a good thing going. Why mess it up?
Farewell to Regis: I got up early (9am is early for me these days) to watch Regis Philbin's final appearance as host of Live With Regis and Kelly. I am not a regular watcher of the show, but it was worth seeing the sendoff. The best segment was a montage of people who have impersonated him over the years (especially Dana Carvey and Darrell Hammond).
Too much of a good thing?: Those of us hoping for BCS chaos were happy when Oklahome State lost to Baylor on Friday. But when Oregon, Oklahoma, and Clemson lost on Saturday, the BCS started to sort it self out again. Now three SEC West teams are at the top of the standings, and we could have an LSU-Alabama rematch for the national championship.
Other sports: I completely forgot to watch the MLS Cup final between the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. L.A. won it 1-0 on a Landon Donovan goal, and David Beckham gets a ring in maybe his last game in the U.S. I wonder if there will be a big parade...I didn't see the NASCAR title race Sunday, but I heard it was a good finish. All Tony Stewart had to do was finish ahead of Carl Edwards, but he won the race anyway...I also forgot to watch the American Music Awards Sunday. See? There really is more than football, and I was watching the Chargers get beat by the Bears, and that Philly-Giants game that I really didn't care about.