Today is Memorial Day. It is a day when remember the people in the Armed Forces who gave their lives in defense of the country. When I think of Memorial Day the way it was when I was a kid, the first thing that comes to mind is:
- Doubleheader baseball games in the daytime
Those events are an extinct species in 2017 having succumbed to maximizing revenue streams and all that comes with that. However, when thinking about MLB and its scheduling, it comes to mind that thirty teams split into two 15-team leagues makes for awkward schedules. Not the least bit of awkwardness is the fact that there must always be an inter-league game going on. The first thing that comes to mind is for MLB to expand to 32 teams; the second thing that comes to mind is for MLB to contract to 24 teams. That got me thinking about the pros and cons for each scenario.
I’ll start with “Expansion to 32 teams”. Here are some of the pros:
- Current owners will get two fat checks in the name of “expansion fees”.
- MLBPA will like this since it “creates more jobs” for members.
- Allows inter-league play to be condensed into a fixed time slot on the schedule making it “special” again.
Here are some of the cons to expansion:
- Are there two viable baseball markets that are not yet filled? With the NHL and the NFL going to Las Vegas, that might be one site and putting a team back in Montreal might make sense. Perhaps Vancouver? Remember, there are several existing MLB teams that are not hugely supported too.
- Are there enough pitchers? MLB rosters are pitching dominated – probably because in these days of “pitch counts” and “working the count”, teams need lots of arms in the bullpen. Are the two dozen best pitchers in the minors ready to pitch regularly at the major league level? I am not so sure…
Let me be clear; MLB is not going to contract absent some sort of cataclysmic set of circumstances. This is purely a gedanken experiment; so, here are some of the pros for “Contraction to 24 teams”:
- It weeds out 6 of the franchises that are not well supported.
- It concentrates the existing MLB-level talent thereby increasing the average level of play.
- It would allow scheduling to concentrate games within divisions thereby increasing/generating rivalries. Rivalries tend to increase interest and increased interest produces increased revenues.
Here are some of the cons to contraction:
- Current owners will have to write some hefty checks to buy out 20% of the franchises or perhaps forego some portion of the current revenue streams for a while. This is the main reason contraction will never happen.
- The MLBPA will hate this because 20% of its members will be out of work.
To take the gedanken experiment to some sort of conclusion, I now have to consider which 6 MLB franchises I would terminate. The first three are pretty easy for me; these teams always have low attendance numbers:
- Miami Marlins
- Oakland A’s
- Tampa Bay Rays
The next three are much more difficult but here goes:
- Chicago White Sox. They are the “poor relative” in Chicago in terms of attendance and fan interest by a wide margin. Over the last two seasons, the Sox average 20,000 fans per game; they ranked 27th in MLB last year and in 2017 they are currently 28th in attendance per game.
- Cleveland Indians. This is a team that was in the World Series last year; in that season-long run to glory, the Indians’ average home attendance was the lowest in MLB. This season in the afterglow of a World Series appearance, the Indians’ average attendance is 25th in MLB standing at 21,749 over 278 home games. It surely looks as if most of greater Cleveland does not care about the Indians.
- Minnesota Twins. I know this looks like I am picking on the American League but that is really not the case. The Twins were in the bottom third of MLB in attendance in 2016 and rank 24th in attendance this year with attendance down more than 3,000 fans per game.
Looking at the results of my mental musings here, you can add one more “con” to the list under “Contraction to 24 teams”:
- Follow my plan and you also have to realign the leagues since the AL would lose 5 teams and the NL only 1 team.
Finally, since I mentioned the possible lack of major-league level pitchers above, here is an item related to one minor league pitcher from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:
During the [Omaha] Storm Chasers-Salt Lake game in Utah, [Salt Lake City] Bees’ pitcher Troy Scribner was called for a balk after he was knocked off the mound by a gust of wind. OK, I’m thinking there’s no need to test this guy for performance enhancers.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………