-Could baseball possibly go to the Alamo City?
Here is the second of my two part series on the current economic state of baseball. Last week's column, which can be read by clicking the link at the top of the page, focused on the problems in baseball today. How baseball faded and football rose, and focused on three central aspects, exposure, innovation (lack of), and inept management. This week's edition strikes a more optimistic tone, as it focuses on the solutions to the problems desribed last week. It involves revenue sharing, salary caps, expansion, and with expansion, realignment. Beacuse this week's piece features more of my opinion, I expect there to be a lot more differing views and things to argue about than last week, which is good. I present my solution after the jump.
What Can Baseball Do to Fix Its Course?
There are two ways of going about doing this, the easy way, and the hard way. The easy way would be to just churn out innovation from within and build up exposure like the methods I suggested. That will help improve popularity a fair amount. The other, and much more difficult way would be to take on the union, and that would be extremely messy and much less certain. The MLBPA is easily the most powerful players' union in sports, and kicking them back a notch or two would be very difficult. Baseball, in my opinion, should have dragged out the 1994-95 strike even longer, as long as it took, to get a hard salary cap and a decent revenue sharing plan. I cannot stress enough how integral each are to the NFL's success. Those aspects are the reason that the Green Bay Packers have just as big a chance of winning the Super Bowl as the New York Giants.
For all of the potential harm, the lost fans, the losty revenue and so on, that a strike would cause, it will be very well worth it in the future. The league cannot go on with the New York Yankees staking claim to a playoff spot every year. Baseball shouldn't have to settle for a down year every once in awhile from these monsterous spenders. Furthermore, splitting of a profitable league's revenues ensures that every team will be given the same footing with which to spend. While it is not guaranteed that every team will compete, as some owners in the NFL elect to pocket that money (cough....Bidwell), the league can say it has done everything it can to help that team, and eventually the fans will revolt and force an ownership change (like we had here). But the league needs to do all it can to ensure balanced footing.
Furthermore, a few things need to be changed in the structure of the league's competition. Realignment should become reality, not to get teams like the Rays a competitive chance, but for simple common sense. For example, let me ask you the following question....
Which city does not belong with the others, geographically?
c) New York
d) St. Petersburg
Now which of those cities doesn't belong? I mean, come on. One of those cities is in Russia....err, Florida. What baseball needs to do is play the NFL game and realign the divisions while adding two expansion teams. The solution is not, not, I repeat, to move teams at this point. To move the Marlins over $40 million in a stadium construction hassle is stupid. What I propose is this. The two expansion teams be granted to San Antonio and Las Vegas. Again, today's theme is innovation, and innovation would be to tap large bases of fans that have not been tapped yet. Also, Las Vegas could be interchangeable with Portland, depending on which city you prefer, as both are in the same general geographic area.
AL Great Lakes
See, look how great that works out? Washington joins the AL and Baltimore, New York, and Boston in the East, the Blue Jays move into the Great Lakes division with Cleveland, Chciago, and Detroit, the Central gets the expansion San Antonio team, and Texas, while Houston and Arizona move over from the NL. The West then retains Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim, while adding the expansion team in Las Vegas or Portland.
The NL, on the other hand, has Philadelphia and New York in the East, while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh move over from the Central. The South includes Atlanta and Florida from the East, and Tampa Bay from the AL. As its fourth member, it take Kansas City, which doesn't make too much sense geographically, but everything else went in evenly. Meanwhile, natural rivals St. Louis and Chicago remain in the Central, along with Milwaukee and Minnesota, over from the AL. And to cap it all off, the West just loses Arizona and retains their current four members.
In the best of worlds, and I think this would be a brilliant idea when and if the political climate ever changes, I think that if MLB expanded to Havana, Cuba, baseball would be much better for it. However, to keep uniformity, I would cap expansion at 32 and move a team to Havana should there be one appropriate to move and kick Kansas City out of the South. However, that is a long time off, and for now, this is what baseball should look like.
On top of this, I have proposed some new schedule formatting. Baseball would keep the unbalanced schedule formatting, but since there are only four teams to a division, there would be more games to otherwise play. My schedule would have each team playing 60 games within their division, 20 per team, 10 home and home, with 24 interleague games against a division in the opposite league, a three game series home and home with each team. The interleague play would occur at AL sites in early June, and at NL sites in late July, switching off every year. For teams that have natural rivals in the other league, such as the Chicago teams, New York teams, LA teams, Bay Area teams, and Ohio teams, one of the division home and homes in the opposite league would be replaced by that rival, and the next time the two divisions meet up, another team would be replaced, and etc. on a rotating basis. Another 120 games would be played against same league teams, 10 per team, five at each site. That would add to games to the slate, but the schedule works out evenly, and making the schedule 162 games or less complicates matters up.
The playoffs would retain eight teams, four in each league, with the elimination of the wild card. The reason I eliminate the wild card is simply to preserve baseball's no free passes playoff system. When you start adding teams to the playoffs, ala the NHL or NBA, you whore up the playoff system and make the playoffs a lower competition level, as well as devalue the regular season. The steps already take to foster competitive balance, in my opinion, are enough.
Well, that is how I see it. That is how I see the problem, and there is how I fix the problem, plain and simple. While it is not as simple as I make it out to be, and sacrafices will be hard and painful. Once you get settled into the plan, the league will be fine and self-sustaining, with little care needed, but still a machine on its way to prosperity.
Although I listed out long and hard baseball's problems in the beginning, baseball is not on the verge of death. It continues to set attendance records every year, the minor leagues and spring training make it personable even in the smallest cities, and if you are reading this, chances are that you like baseball immensely too. Baseball has always appealed to a healthy mix of people. Men and women, old and young, the intellectual and, the, well....non-intellectual. And that is what makes it great. Baseball does not have to fall back on one strong group of supporters. All my plan is aimed at doing is to get more people involved in baseball's already diverse fanship base.
Also, though I listed out baseball's problems, it is not as though other sports are cakewalking to profit. Hockey obviously has issues, the NBA has seen a drop in popularity, football has CBA issues, everyone has problems. My plan just aims to get baseball's rectified. And the best part about it is that it is free of charge. You could pay a consulting firm $30,000, probably more to do all this, but I gave you it for free. All I ask is that you use it for the love of the game and to broaden the number of people who feel the way I do.