The MLB schedule is a mess. For several years now, teams have been playing roughly half their schedules within their divisions. In 2015, the pattern will continue, as most clubs play each of their four division rivals 19 times—for a total of 76 intradivisional games. Then, each team plays about 20 interleague games, leaving six or seven contests apiece between each club and each of its non-divisional leaguemates. That’s a problem, because teams are, increasingly, competing for common playoff berths, and it’s also a problem because it distorts our ability, as fans and analysts, to suss out true talent levels and differences across divisions and leagues. Besides which, it means that some kid in San Diego or Milwaukee or St. Louis might really love Giancarlo Stanton, but gets exactly one chance every year to see Stanton play live.
Schedule imbalance is a difficult problem to solve, though, because there’s an awful lot of money in loading up the national slate with Red Sox-Yankees, Dodgers-Giants and Cubs-Cardinals games. The ratings for these games are exceptional, relative even to games between excellent and interesting or exciting teams (say, the Angels and Rays). Baseball fandom is much more provincial than football or basketball fandom, as we well know, and that makes rivalries big deals. A large percentage of baseball’s casual fans, the ones whose eyes the league most needs to attract in order to make huge money, are extreme partisans with football mentalities, unimpressed by the day-to-day of the game, starving for the atmosphere and pageantry they can get from college sports or the NFL. Money talks. We’re not going to convince teams to stop making buckets of money just because it marginally lessens the joy we hardcore fans get from the game.
For the solution to that problem, I direct you to the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, who (as designated regional interleague rivals) play every year, and who have competed for the BP (British Petroleum, though Baseball Prospectus could jump in anytime, I suppose) Crosstown Cup since 2010.
Well, there you go.
What baseball needs aren’t a wearisome 19 games between each pair of divisional rivals every season, but a better, more aggressive way to promote and monetize the games those teams play. A corporate sponsor, a trophy that generates bragging rights about which the fans care, and a heightened sense of elevation can make 13 such games as valuable as the 19 teams play now, and might even allow clubs to raise the profile of some other, would-be rivals whom they hardly ever see under the current format. Here are my early recommendations. (I’m not choosing sponsors for these things. If I were good at that sort of thing, I’d be in marketing, and you wouldn’t have to put up with my blather.)
Minnesota Twins v. Texas Rangers: The Senator’s Cup
Both of these teams were once the Washington Senators. The Twins were moved and renamed in 1961, at which point a wholly new Washington Senators franchise popped up to replace it, but within a decade, that team had bolted to Texas. Right off the bat, we have an interdivisional pairing of teams whose fans have a historical reason to feel some competition, and who are geographically disparate enough to do a North-South thing, too.
Milwaukee Brewers v. St. Louis Cardinals: The Keg
Not my most brilliant stroke, I know, but the two towns in question identify closely enough with their chief export to make pretending anything else seem self-defeating. This rivalry is already pretty intense, in truth, and something tangible to play for—something to set out for fans to touch at the winter Fan Fest, something to put on a T-shirt—could ignite that intensity anew each year, keeping the fire alive.
Cincinnati Reds v. Chicago Cubs: The Spalding Trophy
For some strange reason, these two organizations have often tugged over the honor of calling themselves the oldest extant franchise. Obviously, there had to be two founding members in the National League, and there’s ample evidence that neither team meaningfully predates the other, but so it is. Again, this rivalry sometimes gets plenty heated on its own. It would be fun to make it an annual occurrence.
Houston Astros v. Texas Rangers: The Heart of Texas
I mostly want to see this so that, someday, someone can hit a walk-off home run to win this thing, and the headline can read, “Big and Bright, Correa Goes Deep to Win the Heart of Texas,” or something. Yes, it will be terrible.
Cleveland Indians v. Detroit Tigers: The Rust Belt
Get it? Like, it’d be an actual belt. The Orioles and the Nationals could play for the Beltway Belt, too. Baseball players love pro wrestling. Put a championship belt up for grabs, and see what happens.
This obviously doesn’t solve everything, but it’d be an interesting and engaging way for the team to court a younger, more ardent demographic, and it would even make the ends of miserable seasons more interesting. There would, no doubt, be a team or two playing for nothing in late September, but who could draw a few extra fans and get up a little bit for a season-ending series that determines the winner of Carlton Fisk’s Socks (Red Sox versus White Sox), or something. Instead of the current, hideous divvying up of games, we could one day attain:
- 13 games against each divisional rival
- 9 games against each of the 10 other teams in one’s league
- 20 interleague contests
It’s something for which to aim, even if this silly suggestion isn’t the best way to get there.Next post: Murphy and Flores and Tejada, Oh My! The Mets’ Middle Infield Conundrum
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