I don’t know why it came up now, maybe because we’re less than a week away from interleague play, but there talk of baseball realignment.
Trib baseball colleague Phil Rogers details a lot of it here, but the general idea is to create two 15-team leagues, blow up the divisions, and let the top five teams in each league make the playoffs. The simplest way to get to baseball’s magic number is to move the Astros to the American League, and voila, two 15-team leagues.
For one thing, while the idea of two 15-team leagues seems fair, it actually stinks because you’d be forced to endure interleague play all season, all six months, all the way through division races, and I’m tired of it after the two staggered months now. Way tired of. Stop it already.
The other realignment idea is based on geography, pure, straight and unforgiving. The leagues would be retained so winning a division would mean more than a wild card, but you might have the Cubs and White Sox in the American Midwest, Pittsburgh in the American Central even though it’s in the Eastern time zone, and the Angels and A’s in a National California division.
Either way, realignment turns into a bloodbath in every league everywhere everytime. Nobody wants to give up rivalries. Nobody wants to change time zones unless you’re Texas or any team that has a chance to move east to improve broadcast times.
But wait. There’s more. Baseball being baseball, it turns out baseball can’t make a move until it makes the designated hitter either universal or history.
I’m all for killing it. But I also know it’ll never happen because the players association will never let the big cash cow die. The DH is for baseball players who can’t play baseball anymore, or maybe never could. It’s for guys who are good at batting practice.
The DH also is one of the most expensive parts of a team’s payroll, but only American League teams. The players will never let AL teams give it up, and the owners will never add it to the National League because it will cost them more money, and who would want to let Jim Hendry spend more money after Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley?
Realignment, then, is just idle talk, just something to imagine have fun with, all the while understanding it’ll never happen. You know, like a Cubs World Series title.
But the realignment discussion involving the DH puts baseball at a bit of a crossroads. Baseball refused to worry about steroids or human growth hormone because the home run was saving the game. Baseball gave fans more home runs. Baseball created a nation ofr crack-of-the-bat addicts. Then Congres stepped in, and baseball had to act like adults, which is not something those people are ever good at.
All of a sudden, championship players are busted all over the place, everything we thought we knew about the cheaters was becoming fact, ‘roiders were suddenly svelte, home runs are down, and pitchers were throwing no-hitters every month.
And attendance is down. Way down in some places.
Well, crud, baseball is thinking. There’s nothing fun about being clean. Nobody was liking this kind of pitching-dominated, hitting-challenged baseball before MLB turned its head to obvious drug use. And now, that kind of old-school baseball has replaced the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire live-action version of a video game, which means baseball is at a crossroads if it moves ahead with realignment and if that discussion involves teams wanting the DH or fighting it.
The argument could be made that baseball can’t afford to drop the DH when pitching is more dominant. The argument could be made that National League teams ought to be forced to embrace the DH as a way of increasing the home runs the public loves.
That would cost the owners money. But it also might be the only way to save the endangered species known as the homer unless players discover some other way to cheat that owners can happily avoid confronting.