Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Addressing Alien Concerns (PART 1)

Whether you’ve been recently abducted by (other) aliens or have just been busy gardening or flying kites, and have missed WPFF’s critically acclaimed “Alien Perspective” series, here are the concerns have been expressed to me by aliens the last few weeks regarding Major League Baseball.

So far, they have asked:
"Why are divisions so numerically unbalanced?"
“Why do some teams have a payroll that is 4, 5, or even 6 times that of other teams?"
“Why do baseball players get to chew tobacco while they're playing?"
“Why are Americans discriminated against in the MLB draft?”
“Why is the scheduling of the MLB post-season so goofy?”

Today, I begin offering suggestions that will, taken collectively, address these 5 concerns. Some of the suggestions are more directly related to the concerns expressed, while others will address the concerns more indirectly.

As students of baseball history know, as recently as the 1950’s, players as young as 18 years old were often hired to play for pennies a second, sometimes for 6+ hours a day, often in unsanitary fields covered with dirt and saliva. Some teams forbade facial hair, required slacks to be worn on charter flights, and provided clubhouse buffets that sometimes contained cuts of steaks that came from meat packing plants that were poorly regulated.

Thankfully, the players unionized, and those working conditions have become a thing of the past.

However, these days any change in anything having to do with players and owners must be agreed upon in collective bargaining—think Democrats and Republicans, but without the love and respect. So change is tough, but needed. Here’s what to do:

1. EXPAND. Add 2 more teams. This HAS to happen. 30 teams in 2 leagues just doesn’t work in baseball. It makes for off-the-charts wacky scheduling, and the divisional imbalance that it necessitates is inexcusable.

There are a handful of cities that have either expressed or been rumored to have interest in welcoming their very own MLB team: Portland, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Mexico City, for example. Let’s say, for illustrative purposes, that Portland and Las Vegas are the best candidates (this page is crazy fun and suggests that Riverside and Montreal are actually the only 2 North American cities “primed to host” an MLB team). Here’s what the divisions COULD look like, with minimal league shift among current teams:

Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays

Kansas City Royals
Las Vegas
Los Angeles Angels
Minnesota Twins
Oakland A’s
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers

Atlanta Braves
Cincinnati Reds
Florida Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
Washington Nationals

Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals

2 leagues of 16 teams. 4 divisions of 8. 14 games against each division rival. 8 games against each team in your league’s other division. That comes out to 162. I’m drooling. I mean, having one league of 16 teams and one of 14, with divisions of 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, and 4 is a great idea and all... OK, I can’t even say that with a straight face.

The internet tells me that another round of expansion isn’t seriously on the table right now for several reasons: the unlikelihood of 2 more metro areas being able to support teams in a down economy; the attendance issues of many teams already in existence; the void of talent to fill up 2 more rosters (plus minor league teams); the grumpy old owners who might have the areas of their TV contracts infringed upon, to name a few.

But remember that paragraph above where I talk about 2 leagues of 16 teams? 4 divisions of 8? And so on? Even with the problems that adding 2 more teams raises, it’s STILL worth it. Those problems are generally already lived with—why not live with them in a league setting that at least lends itself to some semblance of a fair and balanced schedule?

SPINNING EXPANSION TO THE MLBPA:  50+ more jobs. No spinning needed.

SPINNING EXPANSION TO THE OWNERS:  Depends on the owner and the location of the expansion teams. When the Expos moved to Washington D.C., MLB gave Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos millions of dollars for all of the Orioles fans that were going to fall in love with the new girl down the street. It was a nice gesture that established two truths: 1) Americans can be just as adamant as Canadians about NOT going to baseball games (shout out to Nationals fans!), and 2) any area in the country that has been laid claim to by any MLB team as “part of our fan base” is, in fact, part of that team’s fan base and must be bought from the claiming owner by MLB before it can be infringed upon by a new or relocating team. So what’s a Seattle Mariner’s fan living in Portland worth? Probably less than an Orioles fan living in D.C., but more than an Arizona Diamondback’s fan living in Las Vegas. The point is, after MLB bent over for Angelos, any owner feeling infringed upon will darn well find out EXACTLY what their vagabond fans are worth, real or hypothetical. This will make it hard for any team to ever again be birthed or moved. But if the other 28 owners (assuming only one per new team feels infringed upon) are on board, things could happen. Aside from mentioning the expansion fees, tell those 28 owners these things:

a) the schedule will be way more balanced and fair, and will lay the groundwork for other money making ventures, like more playoff games and interleague play;

b) divisional realignment could emphasize geographic rivalries like never before, which could lead to more money; aside from isolated adventurous fans traveling to watch their team play, MLB could realistically sell ticket and travel packages encouraging fans to “Road Trip With Your Team” if those road trips could be consistently regional. Mariner’s fan? Take a train down the coast for the M’s last game in Portland and, two days later, their first game in Oakland. MLB could probably find willing partners in the travel and hotel industries. Imagine being able to go to the MLB site and being able to click on any “road trip” for your favorite team. Game days, travel options (plains, trains, and buses), and hotel availabilities with to-and-from-the-ballpark shuttles would pop up, with package pricing for any budget. Or, limit the number of options, but charter a plane or train for fans. Block off a wing in a hotel. My friends did that for their wedding; MLB could probably figure something out that would be both a blast for fans and profitable for the teams.

c) though it’s been a few years since I chartered an airplane, I’m guessing a balanced, region-heavy schedule could cut down on all sort of travel costs. 2 game series would be a thing of the past. Home stands could, almost without exception, be 9, 10, or 11 games. Total travel miles could be cut by thousands: teams like the Oakland A’s would get more games against Portland, Seattle, Las Vegas, and schedule-makers could more easily group together their road games against east coast opponents. Though it would vary from team to team, of course, would a savings of $1 million a year be out of the question? Owners would like that;

d) finally—and this may be the most persuasive-to-owners argument for expanding—“giving” the union 50 new jobs may help persuade your employees to make some concessions (real or perceived) in other areas of the sport.
What are those areas? Check back tomorrow.


  1. Kansas City! Top of the list!

    "Rob lifts us up where we belong..."

  2. After I listed the teams in order of their overall awesomeness, I noticed that the listing of each set of 8 teams also just happened to be alphabetical. An amazing coincidence, to be sure, but I was worried people would assume that the list was intentionally alphabetical with no other considerations--I'm glad you picked up on the primary reason for listing the teams in the order that I did. That was very insightful of you