Summer 1997: Restructuring The Majors and the Minors

Citing a popular mandate invisible to most outside observers, Acting Commissioner for Life Bud Selig is pressing for the wholesale realignment of Major League Baseball along geographic lines. These plans have been discussed:

Status quo: Current alignment, with Arizona placed in the NL West and Tampa Bay in the AL West to create three five-team divisions. Unbalanced schedule with 56 games against divisional rivals (14 each), 90 against teams in the other divisions (9 each) and 16 interleague games (3 games against each of four teams in the corresponding division and a four-game, home-and-home series against the fifth. Ideally the home-and-home series would involve a natural rivalry such as the Mets-Yankees or Cubs-White Sox

Minimal: Status quo, except with Kansas City and Houston switching leagues (Kansas City to the NL Central, Houston to the AL West), Detroit moving to the AL Central and Tampa Bay placed in the AL East. Same schedule as above.

Moderate: 16-team AL and 14-team NL, with the Reds, Expos and Giants joining the AL and the Rangers and Royals joining the NL. Three divisions with current playoff format. NL East: Atlanta, Florida, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh. NL Central: Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Kansas City, St. Louis. NL West: Arizona, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Texas. AL East: Baltimore, Boston, Montreal, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay, Toronto. AL Central: Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota. AL West: Anaheim, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle. Schedule unknown.

Extreme: Selig's preference: a 14-team American League and 16-team National League organized geographically, with more than half of all teams switching leagues. Two divisions in each league, with four-team playoff including division winners and either the runners-up or the two non-winners with the best records. AL East: Baltimore, Boston, Montreal, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia, Toronto. AL Central/South: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Florida, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay. NL Central: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, St. Louis, Texas. NL West: Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle. Unbalanced 162-game schedule: 14-team AL would feature 96 games against divisional rivals (16 each), 42 against teams in the other division (6 each), and 24 interleague games (3 against each team in one of the other league's divisions), while a club in the 16-team NL would play 93 divisional games (13 or 14 against each rival), 48 against the other division (6 each) and 21 interleague games.

Selig commissioned a poll of 801 self-described baseball fans, which found:

But the background questions revealed a number of problems with the sample group. Before the interview, 70% hadn't known that MLB was considering realignment -- which means that their responses were based entirely on information provided by the questioner. 44% didn't know the Arizona Diamondbacks or Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who were awarded franchises 2-1/2 years ago. 13% weren't familiar with the Colorado Rockies or Florida Marlins, now in their fifth seasons. 48% said they planned to attend fewer than two games in 1997. Undeterred, Bud Selig defended wholesale realignment: "Its logic is overwhelming when you think about it. Like everything in life, it has its pluses and minuses. We believes the pluses far outweigh the minuses. This is returning to our roots. This is that way it was.'' (Since MLB's "roots" have never included geographic alignment, Bud apparently believes he's running a minor league.)

Triple-A restructures. With much less fanfare or turmoil, the three AAA leagues adopted a dramatic restructuring plan which dissolves the American Association, reallocating its teams between the other two AAA leagues to create a 14-team International League and a 16-team Pacific Coast League. Buffalo, Indianapolis, Louisville and a new club in Durham, NC will join the International League, while Iowa, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Omaha, and a new Memphis club join the PCL, which will be split into four divisions.

Copyright © 1997 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Summer 1997 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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