Major League Baseball hasn’t been afraid recently to change things up in order to make the game more appealing for fans.
That’s unusual to see in a sport that prides itself on protecting and projecting its history. It’s also necessary as the sports landscape gets more and more crowded. Beyond that, our attention is as divided as ever with the multitude of multimedia outlets at our disposal.
So what does any of that have to do with baseball?
Well, there’s another change that could have a dramatic impact on the game, maintain interest, and also reflect baseball’s past.
In 1969, expansion resulted in the creation of Eastern and Western divisions in each league and the invention of the League Championship Series. Since then the wild card (1994), the divisional series (1995), the wild card game (2012), have brought us to where we are today…a system that works, but could be better.
It’s time to go back to the future.
Let’s keep the two-league format. There’s no need to get rid of that. It works. There’s no discussion about realignment.
What baseball needs to do is get rid of divisions. And shorten the season. Slightly.
The divisional format and the unbalanced schedule are both no longer needed and don’t help determine the best teams in either league.
If baseball decided to go to a format where the teams in each league played eight games against intraleague opponents (112 total games) and three games against all 15 interleague opponents (45 total games) which would create a 157-game regular season schedule.
Baseball could still maintain the one-game tiebreaker, if necessary.
Intraleague games would be broken into two, four-game, home and away series. The interleague opponents would alternate hosting their home series each year.
The top six teams from each league would then make the playoffs, allowing for the top two teams to receive a bye.
There would be a four-team, three-game, wild card round. That would be followed by a seven-game divisional series, a seven-game championship series, and ultimately the World Series.
This modest proposal improves baseball’s regular season by protecting it from the fluctuations within divisions.
Teams wouldn’t fatten themselves up against weaker divisional opponents or have to face losing out on a playoff spot simply because a division champion has to go to the postseason.
It’s more fair. It’s impossible to completely level the playing field in sports, but making the schedule more uniform is one way of doing that (It could also make assessing award winners a bit easier, but that’s a side benefit).
The six best teams from each making the playoffs. No debate. No discussion.
We live in a world where divisional banners don’t mean anything at all. Coaches don’t keep their jobs for winning the division. Fans don’t buy tickets in the hopes of winning the division. The storied franchises in sports don’t even hang division banners.
The culture of American sport is centered on championships. For better or for worse. Embracing that would allow baseball to continue its connection to the past while improving the sport for the future.