Many aspects of Major League Baseball are archaic.
It took a pandemic for the league to realize that fans enjoy teams scoring more runs, as opposed to pitchers trying to hit.
Moving players to where batters hit the ball more frequently is considered “new-age thinking” — and as soon as it began to impede the fabric of the beloved game, the league outlawed it.
So what’s this whole realignment thing about? How could a sport so deeply rooted in tradition rid itself of the rivalries that led to its popularity? And why are the hometown Washington Nationals thrown into this seemingly patchworked Mid-Atlantic division?
Earlier this week, Jim Bowden, a former General Manager of the Nationals and current baseball analyst for CBS Sports and The Athletic, proposed an eight-division realignment model featuring 32 franchises — two more than currently exist in the MLB.
Let’s stop there for a second. Not only are teams being shifted around into new groups; he’s also adding two new clubs.
For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced that Charlotte and Nashville (the two locations Bowden proposed) are the most likely, nor most feasible, additions that should be on the table. A city like New Orleans has always made sense to me, and it’s only a matter of time before Las Vegas gets another professional sports franchise — the powers that be have gotten this wish in the NFL and NHL in recent years.
Nonetheless, I find Bowden’s idea very compelling. His framework doesn’t tamper with traditional rivalries to a substantial degree. The Atlanta Braves seem like the only clear losers in that regard, and the sympathy I feel towards them is frankly minimal. It also makes things make more sense , which is something I’ve come to appreciate in many aspects of life.
The Balance of Power
At first glance, there’s one division that looks much stronger than the rest. The East division — which I’d label as the Northeast, for the sake of better symmetry — features both New York franchises, the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. Those are three media metropolises, and all four teams are generally very willing to spend large amounts of money.
Intuitively, that should mean all four teams should generally field strong rosters. So, is that fair? Can you really penalize the third or fourth-place team in such a dominant division?
Maybe I’m jaded, in search of a way to deconstruct the existing hierarchy. Even so, I like the idea of leveling the playing field — no pun intended.
More importantly, I’m obsessed with the idea of driving 30 minutes down the road and running into a community whose fandom is in direct competition with your own. That’s a large component of what makes the collegiate sports experience — recent realignment notwithstanding — so exhilarating.
If nothing else, shouldn’t the two teams in New York — and the pair in Los Angeles, for that matter — be forced to go toe-to-toe?
The National Impact
Consider this my State of the Union address. In addition to my stance on redistributing societal wealth, I’d like to focus on how this shuffling would affect the professional baseball team in the nation’s capital.
The aspect I enjoy above all else from Washington’s perspective is the unearthed rivalry that would be created between the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. At last, the Battle of the Beltways would mean something!
Putting Washington and Pittsburgh head-to-head is usually interesting. There is an army of Steelers fans, of which my mother is a member, in DC and northern Virginia.
This model would also awaken a baseball community in southern Virginia and North Carolina. If you’re not in those communities, you wouldn’t know it, but those two regions do not like each other when it comes to sports. Virginia Tech and North Carolina are probably each other’s biggest rivals in football, and the animosity between the institutions has grown in other sports in recent years.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the proposed Mid-Atlantic division would be one of the lesser-talented groups in the league. It would be wise to structure the playoff format to account for that dynamic, but that’s simple — it already exists as such.
Bowden suggested keeping the current 12-team playoff field, which would result in all division winners plus two at-large wild cards per conference reaching the postseason. Then again, that’s adjustable too. The NFL awards a bid to seven teams per conference, and the NBA and NHL reward eight clubs from each side with playoff berths each year.
Any way you slice it, the Mid-Atlantic appears on the surface to be at most a two-bid division. That’s not so bad, though. In some respect, it adds more intrigue between the four franchises.
Stop Dreaming, Stephen!
No thanks, it’s baseball season. I’ll enjoy this time of year no matter who the Nationals are competing with, and my enjoyment of the sport will be reflected in the amount of content you’ll start seeing from me in the upcoming weeks. Still, how cool would it be to see this team have more natural regional rivalries?