The Milagro in the Sligo


Twenty years ago today, the Boston Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians in the 5th and deciding game of the 1999 American League Division Series.  This game became an instant classic due to the performance of the great Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez that helped clinched the series for the Red Sox.  I was reminded of this game because of this oral history compiled by Ian Browne on MLB.com.

It brought back memories of watching this game with Susan (many years before we were married and were new to living in the Boston area) at the Sligo Pub in Somerville’s Davis Square.  If I could find all the people who were in that dive bar that night and interview them for an additional oral history, I would, but I’m just going to have to rely on my own memory.  Susan and I didn’t have a tv at the time so we went looking for a bar to watch the game, but all the watering holes in Davis Square were so packed it was impossible to see the tv.  The one exception was the Sligo, a pub we’d never before entered.  The other bars were full of college kids, but the clientele of the Sligo was slanted toward middle-aged and the accents were clearly those of lifelong locals.  Nevertheless, we were welcomed to take a seat at a table and watch the game.

The Red Sox were the 81st year of their World Series drought, and lost to Cleveland in the 1998 ALDS. Pedro’s excellent season – including striking out 5 of 6 National League sluggers in the All-Star Game at Fenway Park – instilled hope among Red Sox fans that this would be the year.  But then Cleveland won the first two games, and worse, Pedro injured his pitching shoulder.  Somehow, the Red Sox came back and won the next two games in Boston, including a 23-7 drubbing in Game 4.  And so the series returned to Cleveland for the deciding game 5.  Pedro wasn’t expected to be able to pitch again and the Red Sox started the struggling Bret Saberhagen and hoped for the best.

The box score says that Pedro Martinez entered the game in the top of the 4th, but honestly those first 3 innings felt like a whole game in its own right.  The Red Sox scored 2 runs in the 1st, but the Indians came back and scored 3 in the bottom of the 1st and 2 more in the 2nd.  In the top of the 3rd, the Red Sox rallied again, and the Red Sox leftfielder Troy O’Leary came to bat with the bases loaded.  O’Leary hadn’t hit well in the series so far, but a man at the bar had faith in him.

“O’Leary is due! He’s gonna hit a homah!”

Lo and behold, O’Leary knocked the first pitch to right-center for a grand slam.

“You did it!” exclaimed several men at the bar.

“I didn’t do it, O’Leary did it.  I’m just some drunk guy at a bah!” the prognosticator demurred.

The Red Sox now had a 7-5 lead but it didn’t last long because the Indians scored another 3 runs in the bottom of the inning.  Then the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the 4th at 8-8.  It was in the bottom of the 4th when everyone was stunned to see Pedro Martinez heading to the mound to pitch.  Everyone was nervous, fearing that this slugfest was no place for an injured pitcher, hoping against hope that Pedro wouldn’t get smacked around too.

But Pedro had a calming effect on the game.  Cleveland failed to score in the bottom of the 4th – the first time they put a 0 up in any inning – and neither team scored in the 5th and 6th innings.  Things got so quiet that the barfly at the table opposite us put her head down for a rest.  At least she tried, but loquacious sportscaster Tim McCarver wouldn’t stop talking.

The woman lifted her head and shouted “Shut the feck up, McCavah!  You’re such a Chatty Cathy!” She punctuated this by putting her head back on the table. As Susan noted, there was a sense that no truer words have ever been spoken.

The Red Sox took the lead again in the 7th inning on a 3-run home run by none other than Troy O’Leary.  O’Leary tied a postseason record with 7 RBIs in a single game.  Meanwhile, Cleveland didn’t score at all.  In fact they weren’t able to get a hit off the amazing injured arm of Martinez.  The fans in the bar grew more optimistic that the Red Sox would win this game and advance to the American League Champion Series.  One guy prematurely anticipated that the Red Sox would beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS and then the  New York Mets in the World Series.

“New York, New York – DOUBLE HAMMER!!!” he repeated like a mantra.

The Red Sox did indeed win the game and the ALDS with Pedro no-hitting the Indians for the six innings he pitched.  The game went down in history as the Martinez Milagro. Susan and I pledged to return to the Sligo to watch the Red Sox if they had a chance to clinch the ALCS.  Sadly, the Red Sox lost the ALCS in five games to the Yankees, although the one game they won was another classic in which Pedro outpitched hated former Red Sox Roger Clemens.

2019 MLB Postseason Predictions and Preferences


Well, the Major League Baseball postseason is upon us again.  I’ve defied the orthodoxy about having just one favorite team and followed my beloved New York Mets since childhood and my hometown Red Sox since moving to Boston 21 years ago.  For the first time since 2014, neither one of my favorite teams will participate in the postseason.  To add insult to injury, teams that I absolutely despise – the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves – will all be in the competition to add to their massive piles of pennant flags and World Series trophies so their stuck-up fans can lord it over the rest of us peasants.

My strategy in a postseason like this is to root for underdogs and teams with long droughts of winning pennants and championships.  As a Mets fan, I’m supposed to hate the Washington Nationals, but I’ve never been able to build up the enmity since the only time the two teams were both good enough to battle for the NL East title was 2015, and Mets got the better of the Nats that season.  The Nationals have consistently been a top-notch team the past decade, but have famously never won a postseason series.  Plus, I have a lot of friends in the Washington area and it would be nice for them to see their team get of the schneid.

The other National League team I’ll be rooting for is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Like the Nationals they are a franchise dating back to 1969 (they played one season in Seattle before moving to Milwaukee in 1970) and have never won a World Series.  The Brewers have one pennant flag from 1982 when the team still played in the American League.

Over in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays are the franchise with the most futility, having won only won pennant (2008) since joining MLB in 1998.  The Oakland A’s historically have won a lot of World Series (9, with the most recent in 1989), but in recent decades they have become an underdog favorite for succeeding despite low payrolls and a decrepit stadium.  Honestly, it would be a delight to see smart, small market teams like the A’s and the Rays upset big money teams like the Yankees and Dodgers.

The remaining AL teams are the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros.  I have a soft spot for the Twins, a team that has won two World Series, most recently in 1991.  A Twins championship would also be a victory for a small-market team, albeit not quite the extent of an A’s, Rays, or even Brewers championship.  The Astros won their first and only World Series in 2017, so can’t really be viewed as an underdog, but they’ve put together a solid, likable team and I wouldn’t begrudge them a second championship.

Just out of a twisted curiosity, I’d love to see a World Series matchup between the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers, the two teams who switched leagues, to the distress of baseball purists everywhere.  Another fun matchup would be the Washington Nationals versus the Minnesota Twins, a franchise that played as the Washington Senators until 1960.

With that said, here are my preferences and predictions:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Nationals defeat Brewers
Prediction:  Brewers defeat Nationals

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Braves defeat Cardinals, Nationals defeat Dodgers
Predictions:  Braves defeat Cardinals, Dodgers defeat Brewers

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Nationals defeat Braves
Prediction: Dodgers defeat Braves

AMERICAN LEAGUE

WILD CARD GAME

Preference: Rays defeat A’s
Prediction: Rays defeat A’s

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Preferences: Twins defeat Yankees, Rays defeat Astros
Predictions: Yankees defeat Twins, Astros defeat Rays

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Preference: Twins defeat Rays
Prediction: Astros defeat Yankees

World Series:

Preference: Nationals defeat Twins
Prediction: Astros defeat Dodgers

Previous preferences and predictions:

2019 Major League Baseball Predictions


Time begins on March 28th, when a new Major League Baseball season starts and all the teams are tied for first place (well except in the AL West where Seattle and Oakland have already played two games in Japan).

Here are my predictions for how the 2019 will come to an end.

NL East

The Phillies aggressive offseason will give them the NL East title, although the Nationals will be neck-and-neck with them over the season. The Braves will regress a little after last season’s division championship.  The Mets sadly will continue to lack the offense to support the stellar pitching. And Miami will continue to be mediocre.

Philadelphia
Washington (wild card)
Atlanta
New York
Miami

NL Central

The Cubs will reclaim the NL Central and Milwaukee will capture the wild card.  I’m honestly not sure how the rest of the division will shake out, because the Reds and Pirates have the talent to surprise, but then again the Cardinals could be better than 3rd as well.

Chicago
Milwaukee (wild card)
St. Louis
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh

NL West

The boring old Dodgers will continue to dominate, while improvements in the Padres will help them snag a distant second place.  The Rockies will regress after their 2018 Wild Card season and Arizona and San Francisco will each drop down a notch.

Los Angeles
San Diego
Colorado
Arizona
San Francisco

AL East

The Red Sox won’t win as many games as last season but neither will the Yankees.  The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles will each be a little bit better than 2018, but the division will still shake out in the same order.  Excepting the Orioles, this is probably the strongest division in baseball & its a shame that only 3 teams can make the postseason.

Boston
New York (wild card)
Tampa Bay (wild card)
Toronto
Baltimore

AL Central

Cleveland will once again win the AL Central, largely for lack of competition within the division.  I expect the Twins will be the only other team to finish over .500, and the remainder of the division could shake out in any order.

Cleveland
Minnesota
Chicago
Detroit
Kansas City

AL West

The Astros, like the Dodgers, will continue to make the regular season a formality.  Oakland may challenge for the Wild Card, but I don’t expect much from the rest of the division.

Houston
Oakland
Los Angeles
Seattle
Texas

WILD CARD PLAYOFFS:

Washington defeats Milwaukee
Tampa Bay defeats New York

DIVISIONAL SERIES:

Houston defeats Tampa Bay
Boston defeats Cleveland
Washington defeat Chicago
Los Angeles defeat Philadelphia

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:

Boston defeats Houston
Washington defeats Los Angeles

WORLD SERIES:

Somehow the Miracle Mets swoop in and win it all on the 50th anniversary of their first championship!

Red Sox World Series Games Ranked


The Boston Red Sox have won four World Series championships in the past 15 seasons, becoming the most dominant team so far in the 21st century. In those four World Series, the Red Sox have played in 19 games, winning a remarkable 16 of them. While every World Series game the Red Sox play in is special to Boston fans, I’ve decided to take on the task of ranking all of the games from 19 to 1. Factors considered in devising the rankings include games that clinched a championship, dominant pitching performances, memorable big hits, victories in close games, wins after losses, wins on the road, late inning runs scored, and what I like to call the “weirdness factor” for unusual moments in World Series games.

19. 2013 World Series Game 2 – 10/24/13 – Cardinals 4, Red Sox 2

The Red Sox swept the 2004 and 2007 World Series, and won Game 1 in 2013, so this loss ended a 9-game win streak and became the Red Sox first World Series games loss since 1986.  This is also the Red Sox only loss at Fenway Park in these 19 games.  Despite the Sox looking lifeless against Cardinals’ starter Michael Wacha, David Ortiz put them up 2-1 with a home run in the 6th.  That was all squandered in the 7th inning when two errors contributed to a three-run inning for the Cardinals.

18. 2013 World Series Game 3 – 10/26/13 – Red Sox 4, Cardinals 5

The Red Sox suffered back-to-back losses and were behind in a World Series for the only time in the 21st century after the next game in St. Louis. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Dustin Pedroia made an absolutely stellar diving play and threw home to prevent Yadier Molina from scoring the winning run.  But then catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia attempted to get a double play on Allen Craig running to third and threw wide of third baseman Will Middlebrooks.  Craig tripped over Middlebrooks prone body and umpire Jim Joyce made a controversial call of interference allowing the winning run to score for the Cardinals.

17. 2007 World Series Game 1 – 10/24/07 – Rockies 1, Red Sox 13

The Rockies entered the World Series having swept the Phillies in the NLDS and the Diamondbacks in the NLCS, and had won 21 of their last 22 overall.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox had to claw themselves back from a 3-1 deficit to win the ALCS from Cleveland.  So, of course, game 1 was a blow-out for the Red Sox. Josh Becket struck out the first 4 batters he faced on his way to 9 Ks in 7 innings, and rookie Dustin Pedroia homered to lead off the game, among other highlights.

16. 2013 World Series Game 1 – 10/23/13 – Cardinals 1, Red Sox 8

Another Game 1, another blowout.  The Red Sox came out strong with 3 runs in the 1st inning and 2 runs in the 2nd, aided by multiple errors by Cardinal fielders. A great catch by Carlos Beltran at the bullpen wall robbed David Ortiz of a grand slam that would’ve made the game even more of a laugher.  Papi did get a two-run homer later in the game. Jon Lester was masterful in 7-2/3 innings of scoreless pitching for the win.

15. 2004 World Series Game 2 – 10/24/04 – Cardinals 2, Red Sox 6

Curt Schilling returned to the mound for the first time after his famous “Bloody Sock” game in the 2004 ALCS, still feeling the effects of a torn tendon in his right ankle.  Nevertheless, he still pitched 6 innings allowing one unearned run for the win.  The Sox committed four errors for the second game in a row, with 3 by Bill Mueller alone.  Orlando Cabrera, Jason Varitek, and Mark Bellhorn drove in two runs apiece for the Red Sox offense.

14. 2018 World Series Game 1 – 10/23/18 – Dodgers 4, Red Sox 8

Game 1 was touted as a matchup of ace pitchers, Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, but neither pitcher had his best stuff.  The Red Sox scored two runs in the first inning and one in the third, but the Dodgers kept chipping away to tie the game up.  The Red Sox went ahead for good in the fifth inning, but the close game felt it could go either way until finally a cathartic 3-run blast by pinch hitter Eduardo Núñez in the 7th gave the Red Sox a comfortable 4-run lead.

13. 2004 World Series Game 1 – 10/23/04 – Cardinals 9, Red Sox 11

Still giddy after coming back from being 0-3 versus the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, the first game of the World Series proved to be a sloppy one.  The Red Sox made 4 errors and the two teams combined to score 20 runs, a World Series game 1 record.  Things started well with a 4-run first inning powered by a David Ortiz 3-run homer.  But despite having lead the game by as many as 5 runs, by the top of 8th inning the game was tied 9-9. In the bottom of the 8th, Mark Belhorn hit a 2-run homer that pinged off the Pesky Pole to put the Red Sox up for good.

12. 2007 World Series Game 2 – 10/25/07 – Rockies 1, Red Sox 2

The Colorado Rockies scored a run in the first inning off of Red Sox starter Curt Schilling for what proved to be the only time they’d have a lead in the World Series.  Schilling and Red Sox relievers Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon kept the Rockies bats quiet after that.  Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell provided the offense to allow the Red Sox to eke out the win.

11. 2018 World Series Game 2 – 10/24/18 – Dodgers 2, Red Sox 4

Los Angeles was up 2-1 in the top of the 5th when Andrew Benintendi made a balletic catch the nipped a further rally by the Dodgers in the bud.  In the bottom of the 5th, the Red Sox had their own 3-run rally to take the lead for good.  David Price allowed only 3 hits in 6 innings of work, and Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi, and Craig Kimbrel kept the Dodgers hitless for the rest of the game.

10. 2018 World Series Game 3 – 10/26/18-10/27/18 – Red Sox 2, Dodgers 3

The weirdness factor plays a role in getting this Red Sox loss into the top ten.  This game was already a World Series classic after 7 innings with the Red Sox struggling against the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler, and the Red Sox starter Rick Porcello and the bullpen allowing the Dodgers only to score 1 run.  Jackie Bradley, Jr. tied the game with a home run off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen in the 8th.  What had been a briskly-moving pitchers duel then entered extra innings.  The Red Sox took the lead in the 13th, but a throwing error by Ian Kinsler allowed the Dodgers to score the tying run in the bottom of the inning.  Nathan Eovaldi, who had been scheduled to be the Game 4 starter for the Red Sox, had one of the most remarkable World Series performances as a reliever instead, throwing 97 pitches over 6 innings, allowing only 3 hits.  Unfortunately, one of those hits was a walkoff homerun by the Dodgers’ Max Muncy in the 18th inning.   The marathon game set a World Series record for longest game by innings and by time at seven hours and 20 minutes, longer than the entire 4 game World Series in 1939.

9. 2007 World Series Game 3 – 10/27/07 – Red Sox 10, Rockies 5

At four hours, 9 minutes, this game also set a World Series record for longest 9 inning game (since broken).  The first World Series game ever played at Coors Field saw plenty of offense.  Rookies Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia combined for 7 hits, 4 RBIs, and 3 runs scored.  Daisuke Matsuzaka became the first Japanese pitcher to start and win a World Series game, and even had a hit and 2 RBIs.

8. 2013 World Series Game 6 – 10/30/13 – Red Sox 6, Cardinals 1

The Red Sox were up 6-0 by the 4th inning, and John Lackey pitched masterfully for 6-2/3 innings, with the bullpen preventing the Cardinals from getting any hits for the rest of the game.  Despite being a rout, this is still a significant game for Red Sox fan as it is the only time in these four World Series victories that the Sox clinched the championship at Fenway Park. Five years later this is still the most recent time any team has clinched a World Series victory in their home ballpark.

7. 2013 World Series Game 5 – 10/28/13 – Red Sox 3, Cardinals 1

Jon Lester once again proved he was the ace, allowing 1 run on 4 hits in 7-2/3 innings.  The Red Sox scratched together 2 runs in the 7th inning to take the lead for good.  Koji Uehara took over for Lester to get a four-out save.

6. 2004 World Series Game 3 – 10/26/04 – Red Sox 4, Cardinals 1

From 1998 to 2002, Pedro Martinez was the most dominant pitcher ever to wear a Red Sox uniform.  By 2004, he’d begun to decline, but in this World Series start, Red Sox fans got a glimpse of the old Pedro. Martinez allowed only 3 hits in 7 innings pitched, with 6 strikeouts.  It was also the last time Martinez ever pitched for the Red Sox. A homerun by Manny Ramirez, and great defensive plays by Ramirez and David Ortiz helped earn Martinez his World Series victory.

5. 2007 World Series Game 4 – 10/28/07 – Red Sox 4, Rockies 3

The Red Sox had a 3-0 lead by the 7th inning, but the Rockies chipped away in the 7th and 8th inning to make this the closest of all the Red Sox World Series clinching wins.  World Series MVP Mike Lowell hit a home run and Jonathan Papelbon got the save for starter Jon Lester.

4. 2018 World Series Game 5 – 10/28/18 – Red Sox 5, Dodgers 1

David Price, who started Game 2 for the Red Sox, and faced three batters in the Game 3 marathon, started once again for Game 5.  He did not appear tired at all, but stronger than ever, allowing only 1 run on 3 hits in 7 innings.  World Series MVP Steve Pearce hit a 2-run homer in the 1st inning, and then Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Pearce again each had solo home runs in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. Joe Kelly and Chris Sale both struck out the side for the final 6 outs to clinch the Red Sox 4th championship in 15 years.

3. 2013 World Series Game 4 – 10/27/13 – Red Sox 4, Cardinals 2

Down 2 games to 1 and still smarting over the previous night’s interference call, this game felt like a must win for the Red Sox.  The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the 3rd, and Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was lifted for a pinch hitter in the 4th.  But Red Sox relievers – including remarkable performances by Felix Doubront and John Lackey – were able to hold the Cardinals to just 1 run on 3 hits the rest of the game.  Jonny Gomes’ 3-run homer in the 6th inning put the Red Sox ahead for good.  Koji Uehara got the save, memorably picking off Cardinals’ pinch runner Kolten Wong for the final out.

2. 2004 World Series Game 4 – 10/27/04 – Red Sox 3, Cardinals 0

Red Sox fans waited generations to see this game, played during a lunar eclipse that made the moon appear a deep red color.  Johnny Damon lead off the game with a home run, and David Ortiz and Trot Nixon each drove in a run in the third for all the offense the Red Sox would need.  Derek Lowe allowed only 3 hits over 7 innings of work, and the bullpen maintained the shutout, the only time in these 19 games when the Red Sox did not allow a run.  Keith Foulke got the save and all of New England celebrated the end of the 86-year World Series drought.

1. 2018 World Series Game 4 – 10/27/18 – Red Sox 9, Dodgers 6

After a disheartening loss in the 18-inning game earlier that morning, the Red Sox looked to be in a bad place having used their planned Game 4 starter Nathan Eovaldi and most of their bullpen in Game 3.  The Red Sox batters definitely looked tired as they only managed one hit off of Dodgers’ starter Rich Hill in the first six inning.  Red Sox emergency starter Eduardo Rodriguez held his own for five scoreless innings, but then allowed 4 runs in the 6th, including a devastating 3-run blast by Yasiel Puig.  It looked like the turning point in a World Series going in the Dodgers’ favor, but the Red Sox did not follow the script.  Mitch Moreland hit a 3-run homer in the top of the 7th inning.  Then Steve Pearce hit a solo home run to tie the game in the 8th.  Just as fans began to fear another extra-inning marathon, the Red Sox pounded out 5 more runs in the top of the 9th inning, including 3 runs driven in by Pearce’s base-clearing double.  With 9 runs scored in the final 3 innings, the Red Sox did not just win the game but took a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series.

Red Sox are the 2018 World Series Champions!!!


When I moved to Boston 20 years ago, the Red Sox were a team that always played well but often fell short of making the playoffs.  Or if they did make the postseason, they would lose in some horrible way.  Now they seem to win World Series Championships routinely.  Last night’s win by the Red Sox finished a 4 games-to-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They’ve added another trophy to go alongside the ones from 2004, 2007, and 2013 for 4 championships in 15 years.

Each team is special in there own way, but the 2018 team is by far the most dominant Red Sox team I’ve ever seen.  After winning a team-record 108 games in the regular season, they beat the 100-win Yankees 3-to-1 in the ALDS, the 103-win defending champion Astros 4-1 in the ALCS, and the Dodgers – returning for a second consecutive World Series – 4-1.  The team went 7-1 on the road in the postseason and clinched all three series in the opponent’s ballpark.

This team also just seems to be plain likable.  There’s the core of young killer B’s – Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts.  There are veterans brought in from other teams specifically to get the Red Sox to another World Championship – J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale, and David Price.  And there are the role players who stepped up big in the most unlikely situations – Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, Brock Holt, Eduardo Nunez, and World Series MVP Steve Pearce.

I got to see the Red Sox with my family at several games at Fenway, as well as at the White Sox ballpark in Chicago, and even game 2 of the ALCS.  Is was a fun and entertaining season.  And now the long winter of baseball emptiness begins.  But first, there’s a parade on Halloween!

MLB Postseason Preferences and Predictions


It’s that most wonderful time of year again: the baseball postseason. Here are my preferences and predictions.

My Preferences

As Bostonian and a Red Sox fan, I’m all in for the Red Sox going all the way this year. I especially want to see the core of young star players – Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Rafael Devers – win their first championship together (and Xander Bogaerts, despite his youth, winning his second). Here are the rest of my preferences from most to least:

Milwaukee Brewers – If the Red Sox fail to win, I’ll be pulling for the Brewers as they are the team that’s been around the longest without ever winning a championship.  They’d also follow the Astros as the second team to win a pennant in both leagues.

Oakland Athletics – I’ve long admired the A’s ability to play exciting, winning baseball on a tight budget, so I wouldn’t mind seeing them go all the way.

Colorado Rockies – I have no strong feelings for or against the Rockies, but since they’ve never won a World Series they rank higher rather than lower.

Chicago Cubs – After the Red Sox broke their World Series drought, it was great to see them win another  a few years later, and I suspect Cub Nation would also enjoy an overdue run of good fortune too.  Plus I have a soft spot for the team after having a good time at Wrigley Field this summer.

Houston Astros – The Astros were an exciting and deserving World Series champions last season, and I think will be the Red Sox toughest potential opposition this postseason.  Back to back championships wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

Cleveland Indians – Generally I’d root for a team that has the longest World Series drought in baseball, but I think before they win Cleveland should change their name and retire their racist logo.  Then they can win in their very first season of their new identity as the Cleveland Spiders or something.

Atlanta Braves – I still bear residual resentment against Atlanta for their 1990s-2000s dominance.  Then there’s the tomahawk chop.  Then there’s their totally unnecessary taxpayer funded ballpark in the suburbs.

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Cardinals and the Dodgers are my least favorite National League teams so really I’ll only root for the Dodgers if they end up playing my least favorite team overall, the Yankees.

New York Yankees – God forbid that the Yankees win a series, or even a game, or even score a run. Just exit early.

My Predictions

National League Wild Card Game

Chicago defeats Colorado

American League Wild Card Game

New York defeats Oakland

National League Division Series

Atlanta defeats Los Angeles, 3-1
Milwaukee defeats Chicago, 3-2

American League Division Series

Houston defeats Cleveland, 3-0
Boston defeats New York, 3-2

National League Championship Series

Atlanta defeats Milwaukee, 4-2

American League Championship Series

Boston defeats Houston, 4-2

World Series

Boston defeats Atlanta, 4-1

 

 

Major League Baseball Expansion: A 48 Team Option


Last week I wrote about the possibility of Major League Baseball adding two expansion teams and what a 32-team baseball league might look like. I proposed using expansion as an opportunity to radically change some ways that MLB is currently contested while bringing back some traditional elements.  These changes would make the regular season and postseason more fair and competitive as well as drawing more fans and increasing television ratings.

This week I will propose an even more radical change to Major League Baseball as we know it: adding 18 new teams and creating a 48-team league! In my previous post, I made a list of 25 cities that could possibly become homes to a new baseball club.  So let’s award expansion teams to Buffalo, Charlotte, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Louisville, Mexico City, Monterrey, Montreal, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, San Antonio, San Juan, and Vancouver. You may ask, how on Earth can Major League Baseball handles something as unwieldy as 48 teams in cities across North America? The answer is by creating a promotion and relegation league system.

What is a Promotion and Relegation System?

Developed in the 19th century for the English Football League, promotion and relegation originated to guarantee that the league competition by expelling the teams with worst records at the end of the season and bringing in new clubs for the next season. Eventually a pyramid of football divisions grew so that each season the top division would “relegate” its worst-performing teams the second division and “promote” the second divisions best teams to the first division. This happens between the second and third divisions, third and fourth divisions, and so on.  The promotion-relegation model is common in European sports leagues and is used in various leagues across the world except in the United States in Canada.

The reason for the lack of promotion and relegation in the United States and Canada goes back to the formation of the first professional baseball league, the National League in 1876.  While the English Football League hoped to promote competition among the best of the existing football clubs, the National League awarded franchises to a limited number of owners to create teams with exclusive territorial rights, and other sports leagues in the US and Canada have followed the same model.  No matter how poorly a team performs it will be guaranteed a spot in the league the next season (as long as the owner keeps the team financially solvent). No matter how well a team in a lower division performs, it will not gain access to the Major Leagues.

In fact, over time lower divisions became known as the Minor Leagues and were developed as a “farm system” where teams affiliated with Major League teams to develop players. Minor League games are more about watching individual players develop and on-field entertainments than winning or losing games which is rendered meaningless by the farm system. The only way Minor League cities have been able to break into the Majors is via infrequent expansions which involve hefty expansion payments to the existing teams, and little chance to develop a cohesive team before beginning play, which means expansion teams are almost universally awful in their first years. The United States is generally regarded as being the beacon of free-market capitalism, and yet while promotion-relegation leagues is a merit-based system, the closed shop of US sports leagues is akin to socialism.

Transition Period

So 18 new baseball clubs are born – and we’ll use the 18 cities I cited above in this example – now what?  To ease us into the new paradigm, lets have a five-year transition period. The current 30 MLB teams will become the MLB First Division and function pretty much as it does today with two leagues of 15 teams each arranged into 3 divisions, with a tiered playoff.  The 18 new teams would play in the MLB Second Division, likely arranged in 3 divisions of 6 teams each with their own postseason competition.

At the end of the five-year transition period, the six MLB First Division teams with the worst cumulative regular season records over those five years will be relegated to MLB Second Division. Just for this example, I determined that the six MLB teams with the worst cumulative records from the 2013 to 2017 regular seasons are the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and San Diego.  These teams will be relegated to MLB Second Division in the example below.

How a MLB Will Work With Two Divisions

We now have two divisions of 24 teams each.  Much like I proposed for the 32 team option, these teams would be aligned regionally into three leagues of 8 teams each in both divisions.  The 8 team leagues would be a shorter 154-game schedule with no interleague play.  The regional proximity within the leagues would help reduce the wear and tear of travel, encourage rivalries, increase attendance with fans of the away team able to travel to more games, improve broadcast ratings by having most games in the same time zone and starting at consistent times, and playing a balanced schedule that most fairly judges which teams are the best teams.

After the regular season ends, the top team in each league would be awarded the pennant and 8 teams would advance to a postseason tournament. This would be the top two teams from each of the two leagues, and two wild card teams from among the third place finishers.  The teams would be seeded to play in a best-of-5 quarterfinal series, with the winners advancing to a best-of-7 semifinal series, and a best-of-7 World Series.  MLB Second Division would also play a similar postseason tournament.

Here is what the two divisions would like in the first season of the promotion and relegation model:

MLB First Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Atlanta Chicago Cubs Arizona
Baltimore Cleveland Houston
Boston Colorado Los Angeles Angels
New York Mets Detroit Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees Kansas City Oakland
Toronto Milwaukee San Francisco
Tampa Bay Pittsburgh Seattle
Washington St. Louis Texas

MLB Second Division

EAST CENTRAL WEST
Buffalo Chicago White Sox Las Vegas
Charlotte Cincinnati Mexico City
Miami Columbus Monterrey
Montreal Indianapolis Oklahoma City
Norfolk Louisville Portland
Orlando Minnesota San Antonio
Philadelphia Nashville San Diego
San Juan New Orleans Vancouver

Promotion and Relegation

Most people are most familiar with promotion and relegation from the English football league system.  Each season, the three worst teams from the Premier League (the first division) are relegated to the EFL Championship (the second division), and three teams from the EFL Championship are promoted to the premier league (in this case, the top two teams from the regular season and the winner of a playoff among the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams). Across the world’s sports leagues there are different models of how many teams are promoted and relegated, and what determines which teams will be promoted and relegated.

My plan would have three teams promoted and three teams relegated each season.  1 team from each league in MLB First Division – East, Central, and West – is relegated and replaced by a team from the respective leagues in MLB Second Division. Instead of simply relegating the team with the worst regular season record from each league, instead the teams relegated would have the worst cumulative record over two seasons.  I propose this rule for three reasons:

  1. No team will end up being relegated for having just one bad season. They’ll have a chance to prove themselves the next season.
  2. Since every team will want avoid relegation by having a strong 2-year cumulative record, a team will have the incentive to try to win every game possible, even late in the season when the team’s been eliminated from postseason contention.
  3. A team promoted from the lower division will have a minimum of two seasons at the higher division, giving them a year to find their footing in the new division, and avoid teams popping back and forth between divisions each year.

Promotion would involve simply advancing the pennant winner from each second division league to the first division league.  I tried to come up with a way that the second division playoffs could be used to determine some or all of the teams promoted, but strictly basing it on the best performances in the regular season seems most fair to me.

Minor Leagues

Even with 48 teams playing in the Major Leagues, there would still be a lot of Minor League teams and each MLB team could affiliate with at least 4 MiLB teams.  Ultimately though, I think it would be imperative to rethink the farm system and expand the promotion and relegation system.  There are enough cities currently at the Triple A and Double A levels of Minor League Baseball that could create a 3rd and 4th division of 24 teams each.  Expanding the promotion and relegation system would make competitive professional baseball available in cities across America. The Minor Leagues could be streamlined then to just two affiliated teams per MLB team: one for development, and one as reserves.

With 48 (or 96) teams, obviously the best players will cluster in the MLB First Division. Teams in lower divisions will try to scout and acquire players to improve themselves and get promoted to a higher division. But there would also be opportunities for teams in the lower division to improve their team and/or financial status by trading their best players or selling their contracts to top division teams.  I would also suggest that MLB adopt player loans, where teams that have a player under contract can temporarily have that player play for a team in another division.  This would be a benefit for top division teams who have young talent that they want to get more playing time, but a team in a lower division going through a rebuilding period may also keep their best players happy by allowing them to play for a more competitive team.

 ***

I won’t go into in this post, but for this new model to work, other things that will need to be adjusted include free agency eligibility rules, the amateur draft, territorial rights, and even MLBs antitrust exemption.  And I’m sure that there are hundreds of little things I’ve overlooked.  Nevertheless, I think this would be an effective approach for MLB to consider in growing baseball and making it more competitive in more cities throughout the continent, while establishing a means to continue to grow into the future.

Major League Baseball Expansion: A 32 Team Option


The prospect of expanding Major League Baseball from 30 to 32 teams has become increasingly likely in recent years, with even MLB Commisioner Rob Manfred suggesting  potential expansion cities.  Baseball writers such as Jayson Stark for the Athletic (the article is behind a paywall, but is outlined on SBNation) and Tracy Ringolsby for Baseball America have written about what a 32-team baseball league might look like.  Since I like thinking about these things, I figured I’d take a stab at where MLB may expand, and how that could change MLB for the better through realignment.

A History of Growth and Change in Major League Baseball

Baseball historians recognize the National League – founded in 1876 with 8 teams – as the first true Major League.  For its first quarter century, the National League fluctuated between 6 and 12 teams, with many teams relocating, folding, or being expelled over time.  The NL faced competition from three competing Major Leagues during that time, but was able to survive while other leagues collapsed until the birth of the American League in 1901. The NL and AL champions met in the first World Series in 1903, but perhaps even more remarkable is that year was the first in an incredible string of consistency where the two leagues operated with 8 teams each with no relocations, withdrawals, or expansion.

For 50 years the same 16 teams played in the same 10 cities in the Northeast and Midwest.  By the 1950s, growing cities – especially in the West – were frustrated by their inability to crack the MLB hegemony, while the teams in the older cities found themselves struggling with attendance. The Boston Braves finally broke the seal, moving to Milwaukee to start the 1953 season. The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1954, and the Philadelphia Athletics ventured west to Kansas City in 1955.  The biggest shocker came in 1958 when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers – two of the National Leagues most popular and successful teams in America’s most populous city – packed up for San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.

The desire for New York to have another team alongside the Yankees, and for cities like Minneapolis, Denver, and Toronto to get their first major league teams, lead to the announcement of the Continental League in 1959.  This third league never played a game, but convinced the National and American Leagues to create 8 expansion teams over the next decade.  The American League expanded first in 1961, putting a team in the Los Angeles market, and new Senators team in Washington, to replace the old Senators who were simultaneously moving to Minnesota to become the Twins.  The National League followed suit in 1962 with expansion teams in Houston and New York.

The peripatetic Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1966, and the Athletics completed their trip across the continent by moving from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968.  Each league expanded by two teams again in 1969.  The National Leagued added teams in San Diego, and the first Canadian franchise in Montreal.  Meanwhile, the American League returned baseball to Kansas City and a new team in Seattle.  In 1969, the two leagues were also split into two divisions each with a playoff series added before the World Series.

The Seattle Pilots lasted only one year before packing up to fill the baseball gap in Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers.  Washington once again lost their Senators who resurfaced in Texas as the Rangers in 1972.  The American League expanded once again in 1977 to 14 teams, giving Seattle a second chance and breaking into the Canadian market in Toronto.  The National League chose not to expand, and the leagues remained unbalanced for the next 16 seasons.

In 1993, the National League finally grew to 14 teams by expanding to Miami and Denver.  The following season the leagues were split into three divisions adding a Wild Card and another round of playoffs, albeit a player’s strike canceled the 1994 postseason, so the expanded playoffs would debut until 1995.  In 1997, Major League Baseball scheduled interleague games between American and National league teams for the first time.  The following season, MLB decided to add two more teams, one to each league, with the NL getting a team in Phoenix and the AL entering Tampa Bay.  This would mean that each league would have an odd number of teams – 15 each – but since MLB wasn’t ready to schedule interleague games every day of the season, Commissioner Bud Selig moved his team, the Milwaukee Brewers, from the AL to the NL.

The Montreal Expos struggled financially and with attendance after the 1994 strike, and MLB even took over the franchise.  In 2005, for the first time in 33 years a MLB team relocated,  coincidentally returning to the last city that lost a franchise, and the Expos became the Washington Nationals. In 2012, MLB allowed a second Wild Card team to qualify for the postseason, adding another round to the playoffs.  And in 2013, MLB decided that they were ready to schedule interleague games every day and balance the two leagues at 15 teams apiece.  But instead of returning Milwaukee to the American League, they moved the Houston Astros from the NL to the AL.

And that is where we stand today…

25 North American Cities That Could Host an Expansion Team

Here are 25 potential candidates for MLB expansion.  For each city listed, I took into account the city and surround region’s population, the history of baseball in that city, and other big sports teams currently based in those cities.

  • Buffalo -The home to the NFL Bills and NHL Sabres for decades, Buffalo is still without a MLB team. The city was home to three different major league baseball teams – all named the Bisons – in the early days of pro baseball, most recently in the Federal League in 1915-15. Even in the minor leagues, the Bisons have been enormously popular. In the late 80s the team outdrew some major league teams, and their ballpark built at that time remains the largest in the minors. The ballpark was built to be enlarged if Buffalo got an expansion team, but the 1993 expansion passed over Buffalo and the city received even less consideration in 1998. With other markets growing more swiftly, Buffalo’s best chance for an expansion team seems to have passed but it remains a dark horse candidate.
  • Charlotte – A growing market that is already the nation’s 17th largest city, Charlotte is home to the NFL’s Panthers, NBA’s Hornets, and NHL’s Hurricanes.  The Charlotte Knights have been a successful Triple-A team since 1993 and recently moved into a new ballpark (albeit one too small to expand to MLB size).  Charlotte is also located in a part of the country that’s quite a distance from existing MLB markets.  Assuming that a location for a new ballpark could be found, Charlotte would be a front-runner for MLB expansion.
  • Columbus – The 14th largest city in the United States (and the largest city in Ohio) is home to the NHL’s Blue Jackets and charter MLS club Crew SC, not to mention the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football team.  The Columbus Clippers have been a successful Triple-A team since 1977. The biggest challenge for Columbus is that Ohio is already divided between two baseball fan bases that were established over a century ago.
  • Havana – This one is a long shot due to political realities, but more plausible since the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.  Havana is home to more than 2 million baseball-loving sports fans and the 55,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericano has a larger capacity than any MLB ballpark except Dodger Stadium.  The Havana Sugar Kings were a successful minor league team in the 1940s and 1950s prior to the Cuban Revolution.  Perhaps sometime in the distant future, Havana will have a place among North American ballclubs once again.
  • Indianapolis – The capital of Indiana has been home to the Indianapolis Indians, the second oldest minor league franchise, since 1902. Major League teams played there in the 19th century, and today the city is home to the NFL’s Colts, the Pacers and Fever basketball teams, and the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. An Indy MLB club would slot into natural rivalries with teams in neighboring Ohio and Illinois. Indianapolis is the 16th most populous city in the US, so really it would come down to the ability to finance a major league stadium.
  • Las Vegas – Once considered a tourist destination, Las Vegas is one of the most rapidly growing American cities. The NHL’s Golden Knights were an immediate success in their first season, and the NFL’s Raiders are scheduled to move to Vegas in 2020. The big question is if there’s enough of a permanent population to come out and support a MLB team over 162 games. A new ballpark is under construction for the city’s AAA team meaning the money to build or expand a ballpark to MLB standards (which almost certainly would need to be in a climate-controlled building with a movable roof) will not be available in the near future. Legalized gambling is obviously no longer scaring away sports teams from Las Vegas, but MLB tends to be more conservative in regards to gambling.
  • Louisville – Hillerich & Bradsby have been producing the famous Louisville Slugger but the city hasn’t had a major league team since the NL contracted after the 1899 season. Louisville is the 29th largest city in the US and the fourth largest city with no big league teams. Louisville could develop a swift rivalry with the Cincinnati Reds if they gained an expansion team.
  • Mexico City – The largest city in North America looks like an obvious market for MLB to want to break into. The problem is, Mexico City doesn’t have a lot of history of supporting baseball where fútbol is king. The city would also be a long road trip away from existing MLB cities, and the value of the peso to the dollar could make it challenging to compete financially. MLB still might want see if can find a fan base in the city (and be Mexico’s team by proxy) but it’s not a slam dunk.
  • Monterrey – This Northern Mexican city is less populous than the capital, but it has the advantage of being closer to MLB teams in the US, and in the heart of the Mexican region that most actively supports baseball. The Sultanes are one of the most successful teams in the Mexican League, and their home, the 22,000-seat Estadio de Baseball, has hosted regular season MLB games. The city tried to purchase the Expos in 2003, so it may be time for Monterrey to get a MLB franchise.
  • Montreal – The city in Quebec was home to successful minor league franchises dating back to the 1800s, and in 1969 became home to MLB’s first team in Canada. Since the Expos left for Washington after the 2004 season, there have been calls to return baseball to Montreal. An expansion team would face the same problems as the Expos, though. Stade Olympique is a money pit that was never a good ballpark and hasn’t aged well, so financing a new stadium would be key. The exchange rates of the Canadian dollar also make it a challenge for a Montreal team to compete for the best players. Still, every other city that lost an MLB team after 1900 has been able to return to MLB, so Montreal has to be in the running as an expansion favorite.
  • Nashville – The Music City is another rapidly growing city, and its right in a part of the country where there isn’t an existing big league baseball team nearby, so it could be a good place for MLB to break ground.  The city is currently home to the Tennessee Titans of the NFL and the Predators of the NHL, with a MLS team coming soon.  The Nashville Sounds have been the city’s minor league team since 1978, playing at the Triple A level since 1985.  The team recently moved into a new stadium with a capacity of 10,000 which may be a roadblock to building a MLB stadium in the city in the near future.
  • New Orleans – This historic and unique port city is home to two big league teams: NFL’s Saints and NBA’s Pelicans. It’s also the largest city along the Gulf Coast in a big gap between MLB teams in Tampa Bay and Houston. New Orleans has been home to a Triple-A team since 1993, but would fans come out on soupy summer nights to support a MLB team? The Superdome would be inappropriate to retrofit for baseball so the biggest obstacle would be funding and finding a place for a retractable roof ballpark.
  • New York City – Wait, you may be thinking, New York already has two teams! This is true, but in the past it was home to three teams and could host more. Consider London, England, a city with a similar population to New York currently has six football clubs in the Premier League. NBA’s Nets have put Brooklyn back on the sporting map, so maybe it’s time to bring baseball back to Brooklyn? Another possibility in the New York metropolitan area is Northern New Jersey, a densely populated region that is already home to the two “New York” football teams and the NHL Devils.
  • Norfolk – The Hampton Roads area of Virginia is the largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States that does not already have a big league team in any sport.  Norfolk and Virginia Beach are close enough to Washington and Baltimore to build a rivalry, but far enough away to establish their own fanbase.  On the downside, the population is spread out over a wide area and a large military presence may mean that people are too transient to establish a longtime fandom.
  • Oklahoma City – America’s 27th largest city recently entered into big league sports when the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA relocated and began playing as the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.  The city has been home to a Triple-A team since the 1960s and also hosts several annual collegiate tournaments.  Like Charlotte and Nashville, Oklahoma City is distant from existing MLB cities presenting the opportunity to tap a fresh market of fans.
  • Orlando – Like Las Vegas, Orlando was once only thought of as a tourist resort, but has rapidly grown into a major city. The city is home to the Magic of the NBA and has the Orlando City SC MLS team has quickly gained a devoted following.  Orlando also hosts college bowl games and the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  Florida’s other two baseball teams have struggled at attracting fans, and with transient populations and blistering hot summers, a third Florida team may be a tough sell. On the other hand, if the Rays can’t find a good place for a new stadium in Tampa Bay, Orlando might be an inviting alternative.
  • Portland – The Rose City is growing in population and prestige and seems a natural destination for a new MLB club. The MLB’s current most isolated team, the Seattle Mariners, would be an automatic natural rival. The NBA’s Trailblazers have called Portland home since the 1970s and the MLS Timbers and NWSL Thorns soccer teams are among the top draws in their respective leagues. Soccer is so popular in fact that the long-time home of the city’s Triple A team was converted to soccer specifications.  There hasn’t been a minor league team in Portland since 2010, although a Single A team plays in the suburbs.  The question is, will Portland welcome a new baseball team at the major league level, and where would they play?
  • Sacramento – The capital of California is overshadowed by the Golden State’s other large cities, but ranking as the 35th largest city in the U.S. it is more populous than almost half of the existing MLB cities.  The Kings have played in the NBA since 1985 and the city has hosted a Triple A team since 2000. The biggest obstacle to Sacramento as an expansion city is that two teams already play in the Bay Area just two hours away.  But if the Athletics continue to struggle in Oakland, Sacramento could become their new home.
  • Salt Lake City – This is the smallest city to make this list, but the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area has the advantage of no competing markets being anywhere remotely close to it.  Thus Salt Lake City has been able to be be to the Jazz in the NBA and Real Salt Lake in MLS.  Salt Lake City have had several teams in the Pacific Coast League over the past century, the most recent playing since 1994.  The Bees play in the largest stadium in the PCL and have set attendance records for that league.  Still, I’d consider Salt Lake City a longshot for MLB expansion.
  • San Antonio – America’s 7th largest city is home to a successful NBA franchise, the Spurs.  Surprisingly, despite the city’s size, San Antonio does not have a top level minor league team, with the Missions currently operating in Double-A baseball.  That will change in 2019 when the Triple-A Colorado Springs franchise will relocate to San Antonio and adopt the Missions nickname.  This means it may take some time for San Antonio to ready to make another jump to MLB level.  Austin, Texas, while not as large as San Antonio, is the 11th largest city in the United States, and the largest city without a big league team in any sport, so it may get the jump on San Antonio.
  • San Jose – Much like Sacramento, San Jose is a large city attempting to define it’s own sporting identity in a state that already has five major league baseball teams. The NHL Sharks and the MLS Earthquakes already call the tenth largest city in the U.S. home, and the NFL’s “San Francisco” 49ers play a few minutes away in Santa Clara. The Athletics tried to move to San Jose but were legally blocked by the San Francisco Giants.  If they won’t give the A’s permission to move into San Jose, it’s unlikely that the city would get approval for an expansion team.
  • San Juan – The capital of Puerto Rico is home to nearly 400,000 people and the center of an urban area of over 2 million.  Puerto Rican players have excelled in Major League Baseball and the island’s World Baseball Classic team has also performed well.  Major League Baseball has expressed a lot of interest in San Juan, hosting regular season games there, including several “home” games for the Montreal Expos in 2003 and 2004.  The Expos ended up moving to Washington instead of San Juan. The economic realities of Puerto Rico – especially as it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria – will mean that a MLB franchise will not be a priority for San Juan for the foreseeable future.
  • Santo Domingo – Baseball is the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic, and many Dominicans have become major league stars. The nation’s capital and largest city – which also the largest city in the Caribbean – is home to nearly a million people.  But much like Puerto Rico, the economic realities of the Dominican Republic and competing financially with teams in the United states would seem to make expansion to Santo Domingo to be frivolous at this time.
  • Vancouver – Canada’s third largest city, and only major city on the West Coast, is also the fifth most densely populated major city in North America.  Vancouver is home to the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions, the NHL’s Canucks, and the Whitecaps FC in MLS. The city also hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 and the Women’s World Cup final in 2015.  While home to a Single Season A team in minor league baseball now, Vancouver was home to a Triple-A team from 1978 to 1999. Like Portland, Vancouver would be a natural rival to the Seattle Mariners.

Realignment and scheduling

Once two more cities are selected, then Major League Baseball would have to decide where to fit them in the existing league structure and how to adjust the season schedule for the new teams.  Most likely each league would get one new team to bring them up to 16 teams each, and then those 16 teams would be aligned in four regional divisions of four teams each.

But I hope not.  The tiny divisions of four teams will inevitably increase the number mediocre teams winning their and going to the postseason while more talented second place teams in other divisions will stay home.  The necessity of an unbalanced schedule in divisional play will also increase the uncertainty of what teams are really the best and which ones just have easier schedules.

What I would propose instead is to bring an end to the American and National Leagues as we know them.  They’d be replaced by four leagues of eight teams aligned by regional proximity.  Interleague play would end and the eight teams would face one another 22 games each over a 154-game season.

There would be several advantages to this realignment:

  1. Long road trips over multiple time zones cause a lot of wear and tear for the players contributing to reduced performance and injury.  Regional leagues would reduce traveling and make for happier and healthier ballplayers.
  2. Regional rivalries (such as Red Sox-Yankees, Cubs-Cardinals, and Giants-Dodgers) are among the biggest draws in MLB.  The regionally aligned leagues would allow for more of games of these existing rivalries while also creating new rivalries among teams that share a city, state, or region.
  3. The closer proximity of all the teams in the league means that fans who follow their teams to road games will have the opportunity to go to more games close by, increasing overall attendance.
  4. There would no longer be road trips to distant time zones, meaning East Coast fans would no longer have to stay up past midnight watching their team play West Coast teams, and West Coast fans won’t have their team’s road games starting before they leave work. More consistent start times would improve broadcast ratings.
  5. The balanced schedule would make it far more clear to judge which teams are the best in each league while maintaining some mystery of how they’ll match up in the postseason.

Abandoning the league structure seems like a radical break from tradition but I’d argue that the National and American League differences have been eroding for some time. The advent of interleague play in 1997 ended the separation of the two leagues for good, and now interleague games are played everyday of the season. The movement of the Brewers and Astros between leagues also chipped away at that history. In fact, the two leagues ceased to exist as separate entities in 1999. The only difference now is that the AL has a designated hitter and the NL doesn’t. It’s long past time to adopt a consistent rule that all pitchers must hit or all teams may use a DH (although there is another alternative).

My proposal offers a lot for traditionalists. Eight team leagues playing a 154-game schedule was the standard until 1960. No interleague games in the regular season is also tradition and my realignment would preserve the best of interleague play (Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, et al) while eliminating yawners like Twins-Padres or Mariners-Pirates. But mostly I think this alignment sets up the future of Major League Baseball for new traditions, new rivalries, and new pennant races that will make baseball history.

Here’s how I’d align the teams in the four new leagues, using Montreal and Charlotte as the expansion teams. Different expansion teams would require tweaking the leagues a bit, but it would be the same basic structure.  In order to preserve the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, I placed St. Louis in the Lakes League even though Cincinnati would fit better geographically, but I think the Cardinals and the Reds would not be adversely affected by this alignment.

Northeastern League
(3 AL, 4 NL, 1 expansion)

Baltimore
Boston
Montreal
New York
New York
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Washington

Lakes League
(5 AL, 3 NL)

Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland
Detroit
Milwaukee
Minnesota
St. Louis
Toronto

Southern League
(4 AL, 3 NL, 1 expansion)

Atlanta
Charlotte
Cincinnati
Houston
Kansas City
Miami
Tampa Bay
Texas

Western League
(3 AL, 5 NL)

Arizona
Colorado
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
Oakland
San Diego
San Francisco
Seattle

Postseason

A purist would insist that only the four league champions qualify for the postseason or maybe the top eight teams, but the larger postseason tournament has been a trend for some time and I don’t think it’s going away. So, I propose that the top 3 teams of each league advance to the playoffs for a total of 12 teams. This would be 2 more teams than are in the playoffs now, while the number of teams that don’t get into the postseason remains the same at 20.

The first place teams are seeded 1-4 by regular season record, second place teams are seeded 5-8, and third place teams are seeded 9-12. By virtue of having the best record over a grueling 154 game season, the first place teams will be awarded their league’s pennant, reviving the tradition practiced from 1876 to 1968. The pennant winners will also be rewarded with a bye in the opening round of the playoffs.

So the playoffs would go as follows:

  • Opening round, best of five series (5 v 12, 6 v 11, 7 v 10, and 8 v 9)
  • Quarterfinals, best of five series (survivors of opening round reseeded so it’s 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6, and 4 v 5)
  • Semifinals, best of seven series
  • World Series, best of seven series

So that’s my plan for expanding Major League Baseball to 32 teams and rethinking the paradigm of how top-level baseball is contested. But I have another plan in which baseball would expand to 48 teams, with the possibility to grow even further. But for that, you will have to wait until next week.

Photopost: A Mismatched Pair of Sox


Our family visited our second Chicago ballpark in as many days with a visit to see our Boston Red Sox play their Chicago White Sox.  The game took place at Guaranteed Rate Field, possibly the saddest corporate naming rights ever awarded to a sports venue.  This was my second visit having previously seen the White Sox play the Rays in 2004 at what was then called U.S. Cellular Field. For that game I sat in the bleachers and remember having a generally favorable impression of the ballpark.

For this game, I made the mistake of buying cheap seats in the 500 level thinking we would enjoy having seats near the front of the upper rather than the back of a lower section.  Turns out the 500 level was eerily empty for a close-to-elimination White Sox game on a Thursday night. The section also has a vertiginously steep rake.  I grew up going to games at Shea Stadium so I had no problem with this, but my son has gone to most of his games at Fenway Park, so being close to the edge made him uneasy.

The game started well for the White Sox as Rick Porcello once again struggled while pitching in the early innings and Lucas Giolito shutdown the Red Sox potent offense. Avisail Garcia lit up the exploding scoreboard with a homer in the first inning and the Pale Hose were up 4-0 after two innings.  Pitching dominated for the next 4 innings until the Red Sox were able to tie up the game with a 4-run rally in the 7th capped by Mookie Betts 2-run home run.

The Red Sox scored another five runs in a 9th inning rally, including a J.D. Martinez blast,  but that time I was heading home with my punchy little girl.  We cheered from the Red Line platform as we saw the Red Sox take the lead on the scoreboard alongside the highway.  Meanwhile, Susan and Peter had snuck down to the field level seats for the final inning where Peter secured another baseball from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel by way of a security guard.  All because Peter said “please.”

Guaranteed Rate Field is a tough ballpark to judge, especially compared with Wrigley Field across town which has all the advantages.  The White Sox ballpark was built right at the end of the “Modern” era when jewel boxes like Comiskey Park were still considered “old and outdated” rather than a classic ballpark that should be preserved, but just too early for the Retro ballpark boom of the 1990s which may have recreated Comiskey’s charms with modern ammenities.  The baseball-only facility fortunately avoided the problems of the multi-purpose stadiums and domes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but didn’t quite achieve the elegance of Dodger Stadium or Kauffman Stadium. While Wrigley Field feels part and parcel of its Chicago neighborhood, Guaranteed Rate Field is set apart by a massive 16-lane freeway and acres of parking (where Comiskey Park used to stand), with the South Side neighborhood basically invisible and the Chicago skyline an attractive – but distant – vista on the horizon.  Ultimately it’s a tale of levels with the field level and bleachers being and enjoyable place to watch a ballgame while the distant upper levels are much less so.

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Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

Photopost: Wrigley Field


Last week I returned to the best ballpark in Major League Baseball (sorry Fenway Park, you’re a close second) for a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. I previously attended a full Cubs-Mets series at Wrigley Field in 2004. This was the first time my wife, Susan, and kids, Peter and Kay, would visit this baseball cathedral. We only intended to attend one game, but the previous night’s game was suspended due to thunderstorms in the 10th inning, so we ended up seeing the last two innings of that game as well.

We got tickets for the bleachers with hopes of catching some home runs.  Renovations have significantly changed Wrigley Field since my previous visit when the area under the bleachers was a no-frills area with chain link fences, bare bone concessions, and an ambiance unchanged from 1914.  Now everything is beautiful red brick with Cubs memorabilia exhibits and fancy concession stands.  Even the restrooms have been modernized, albeit they’ve kept the notorious urinal trenches. The bullpens – once in foul territory right along the baselines – are now hidden under the bleachers (something that will become significant to us later).

Our early arrival meant that we could snag seats in the front row right behind the ivy-covered wall.  A light rain fell before the resumption of Tuesday night’s game, but stopped as Michael Conforto came to bat with a count of 2 balls and no strike. Two innings later, the Cubs walked-off the first game on an error by Mets reliever Paul Sewald.  Another light rain fell between games.

The official Wednesday afternoon game was an exciting game featuring:

The kids didn’t catch any homeruns but Peter did get 2 balls from the outfielders and Kay also got one.  The most exciting encounter, though, happened deep under the bleachers when we were getting french fries from the concessions stand.  A security guard approached us and said “C.J. Edwards has a ball for the girl.” We approached the back door of the hidden bullpen and saw the Cubs reliever peeking out the crack of the door. His arm shot out and tossed a ball to Kay, and he quickly disappeared behind the closed door.  “He likes to do that for the kids sometimes,” said the security guard.

 

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It was a wonderful afternoon at a brilliant ballpark, and the Cubs organization made it a fun experience for the family.

Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium