When I was a boy, I got a monthly insider newspaper called Phillies News. This was the medium through which I first learned of such things as the (then) impending uniform redesign and the prospect of something called interleague play, rumored to start in some year called 1997.
That was in 1990. 21 years later, the Phils are sporting the same basic threads (with a classy throw-back cream colored alternate home set thrown in a few years ago) and most purists say “DCAT” (don’t change a thing). When it comes to interleague play, opinions differ.
Some think the practice has run its course. Some have always thought that it diminished the novelty of the All Star Game and World Series. I think I’m in both camps on this. It’s a lot of fun to see these teams match up, and it still has some of its old shine, but I think shutting it down for a while would do everyone good. Especially if supposed realignment ideas that surfaced today come to fruition (yes, please).
The issue: The NL has 16 teams. The AL has 14. With interleague play in effect, some teams can find themselves facing off against reps of the other league whilst still in pursuit of divisional pennants or wild card births late in the season. That’s less than ideal because of screwy things like the DH (hey, let’s just get rid of that!) and possible conflicts of interests. Should an NL team in contention get to clinch from a win over a mailing-it-in AL franchise resting its stars and vice-versa? At least within the respective leagues, the spoiler factor remains across markets. Between leagues, it might only exist between big city rivals.
Speaking of playoffs. The six division and wild card model is also contentious. On one hand, it brings more parity. On another, it enables teams who didn’t win their divisions to vie for and possibly win the world championship. On one hand, a team in the AL East that can’t clinch the division but has a better record than, say, the champs from the AL Central, ought to in the mix, don’t you think? On the other hand, the wild card diminishes, however slightly, the importance of divisional crowns. That’s a bigger issue for people who remember when winning a pennant meant winning a league. And consider this: in the current model, you get a flag for winning your division, winning your league, and winning the whole big ole piece. But you don’t get anything for winning the divisional playoffs. Furthermore, the divisional playoffs aren’t really divisional playoffs if they include wild cards, which they must because of having an odd number of divisions in each league. When we just had East and West this wasn’t a problem. But it was really hard to win East and West.
ESPN is reporting today that there is some discussion between MLB and the players’ union about realigning the Bigs into two 15-team leagues, taking care of issue 1, and, perhaps, dissolving the current divisions. But don’t look for a return to East and West or the creation of a fourth division in each circuit. Instead, 15 teams in each league would compete for 5 playoff births in each. Does this mean the league champs get a bye?
The problem with the 5-spot model is that it further exposes the fact that non-champion teams can still win their leagues and the World Series. If you’re a purist, you probably don’t like that. You’re probably saying either decrease or increase the divisions to more intrinsic value. Let’s not forget that there’s something marketable about Division Champ teams, and that’s gone if the divisions go. Who, really, wants to buy generic “playoffs” gear when you could be sporting division pride over your vanquished rivals? (Mets, Braves, Marlins, I’m looking at you. Sorry, Nats.)
Moving an NL team to the AL makes sense regardless of whatever else happens. But which team should go? That’s easy: the team I’ve only just recently started to think of has having ever been in the NL in the first place: the Brewers.
If you collected baseball cards in the 80s and 90s, you know where I’m going with this. AL teams had a certain look and feel about them. The Senior Circuit had its own visual vibe, too. The old-school Brewers motif with the ingenious “it’s an M, it’s a B, it’s a glove, it’s a ball” logo would never have happened in the NL. And those yellows and blues? Those are AL colors, friend. Like Oriole Orange or Athletics Yellow and Green. If you collected back in the day, you learned leagues by sight, and Topps were your flashcards. The Brew Crew has been in the NL a mere 13 years. They’ll always be Junior Circuit riders to me.