In a recent Sports Illustrated article, baseball columnist and part-time orthopedic surgeon Tom Verducci reports on a radical realignment plan up for proposal by a “special committee for on-field matters.” Among the things the committee discussed is floating realignment plan in which teams would not be fixed to a division. Instead, some teams would switch divisions based on several factors such as geography, payroll and something Verducci calls “plans to contend or not.”

Like most decisions that come out of the commissioners office, this floating realignment plan is a stupid idea, but only because it doesn’t do enough to change the dynamics of baseball. There would be too many factors in play for teams to move divisions. In Verducci’s article, he talks about teams spending time in the AL East so they could increase revenues by hosting the Yankees and Red Sox, or move to the AL Central if they want to contend.

This sort of system is too complicated. While it is likely to help those owners cozy with Bud maximize their revenues, it’s not assured to fix a lot of the problems in the game. Franchises should draw fans and make money because they field competitive teams, not because they are looking forward to getting pounded by the Yankees. If, as Verducci says, there are “no sacred cows,” then let’s try and do something that is likely to have a major impact. Something that will give teams incentives to win games and gives fans a reason to show up to the ballpark.

My idea for a baseball realignment would be a radical shift in terms of American sports, but is something sports fans around the world would be much more familiar with. My proposal would be to institute a promotion and relegation system. Yes, yes, I know what you are saying. Relegation? Promotion? This is the United States! We hate parliaments, prime ministers and the 30-hour workweek. The last thing we need is to let the greatest game in our nation be ruined by a bunch of Europeans.

But before you get your All-American jockstrap in a twist, read that Verducci article again. There are a lot of reasons why a relegation system would work for baseball. For those of you not familiar with the concept, it’s a process where teams are transferred among divisions, usually sorted by relative strength of the teams in their division. Typically, two or three teams from the top division are transferred to the lower division while two or three teams from a lower division are transferred up. In European football, relegation can reach five or six levels, but in American baseball we would only be dealing with two.

The basics of the new system would bring the top 16 teams into the top division. For our purposes we call this the American League. There will have to be a lot of changes; since all of the teams are lumped together based on record and not geography, having regional divisions wouldn’t be very effective especially since they could change every year. Instead, all of the teams play each other six times; three home and three away.

While this wouldn’t give us 18 Yankees-Red Sox games to froth about, it also would spare us the 18 Pirates-Reds games we currently have to endure. To use Verducci’s example, teams like the Orioles would only have to play New York and Boston a combined 12 times a year. More importantly, the Orioles would play 24 games against teams not named the Yankees and Red Sox. This would give them a better shot at winning a playoff spot.

The balanced schedule also gives every team around the league the revenue boost from playing the popular teams. Baseball’s current scheduling banks on creating regional rivalries among the teams, but for every Red Sox vs. Yankees, Giants vs. Dodgers, and Mets vs. Phillies – you get a Baltimore vs. Tampa, Washington vs. Florida, and Arizona vs. anybody. Also, losing interleague play might hurt some marketers, but our schedule would make for a more interesting game.

The balanced schedule extends further. Since our top division has 16 teams, it leaves 14 teams for the lower division, the National League. Because baseball has long-time rivalries and our system could keep some teams from playing each other for years, we would have the American League teams play all of the National League teams three times a year, alternating home and away by year.

Since we are throwing away divisions, teams will instead accumulate points for wins. Although other sports award a different amount of points for wins in regulation and overtime, baseball would be much simpler. Perhaps with teams playing two levels of competition, we may want to award more points for wins against the American League than the National League. If enough people complain, perhaps you give a point to teams that have an extra innings loss.

At the end of the year, the playoffs are still largely the same, but we’ll take only the four top teams since there are 16 teams in the league. At the end, we still have a World Series champion. But that’s where things really start to change.

After the World Series is over, the bottom three teams in the American League are sent down and the top three teams in the National League are sent up. This movement means that there is going to be a lot of drama towards the end of the year even for teams that are outside the playoff picture.

Depending on how close the races are, there could be four to six teams fighting for a playoff spot and another four to six fighting to avoid relegation. It gives a team that had a down year a reason to fight down the stretch. The National League would have their own playoffs (with another championship: call it the Jackie Robinson Classic or something), and while their championship might not be the World Series, it would still generate plenty of interest and give a lot of those teams a chance at a postseason that they may not see very often.

Now, I know what you are saying. After doing the math (15 x 6 games vs. American, 14 x 3 games vs. National) that means that the American League is only playing 132 games during the season. Thirty games of baseball is a lot to make up right? Don’t worry; we have a plan for that as well.

One of the great parts about having this type of schedule is that it gives us a lot of flexibility for other types of competitions during the year. One of the most exciting parts about European football teams is the in-season knockout tournament. I am thinking along the lines of the FA Cup in England, Copa Del Rey in Spain, and the Coppa Italia in Italy. A single-elimination tournament with 5 rounds each featuring a 5 game series would add up to 25 games a year, and would offer even more must-see games during the season. Spreading the rounds out during the year would be a good way to break up the season.

Because we are separating the two leagues, this tournament (which we could call the Cooperstown Cup or something equally cheesy) would offer another goal that all teams could compete for. Granted, it won’t be as great as the World Series, but imagine all of the scenarios for intriguing games. The tournament would have a random draw each round, so you could get the top two seeded teams playing each other in the first round. A team that misses the playoffs in either league or is destined to be relegated could make their whole season by eliminating a one of the top teams from the tournament.

It would also create a new triple crown in baseball (most points in the regular season, World Series champ, and Cooperstown champ) that would give us another way to separate some of the truly great teams from every era.

As you may have guessed, what I consider radical probably differs with what the MLB executives consider radical. I’ll admit that there is a lot to get used to and it is going to cause some problems. We would be destroying a lot of rivalries, there wouldn’t be an All-Star game, and there would definitely have to be some agreement on what to do with the DH. Baseball has always been about legacies and history and with two distinct levels of competition, the Hall of Fame debate gets even more complicated.

Overall, however, I think that all of this would be good for baseball. More teams in contention, more chances for all teams to taste the post-season, and unique schedules each and every year. Higher revenues and TV contracts would make a great incentive for general managers to put together a team that could compete in the American league, while at the same time those cash-strapped teams can give their fans something to cheer for outside of another 90 or 100 loss season. Most importantly, it is brings a system where the quality of play is still the most important way to determine how you’ll finish each season.

baseball realignmnent
And we could replace announcers like Rick Sutcliffe with British guys who sound really smart.


*Props to Moses Hightower for also contributing to this article