Major League Baseball May Realign Leagues
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Here's a little baseball quiz. Why does an American League baseball team have a better chance of making it to the playoffs than a National League team? The answer is simple math. The National League has more teams. And if you knew that, you might know that Major League Baseball is talking about realignment - that is, changing how the sport's 30 teams are grouped into leagues and divisions. It is not as simple as it sounds. There's a lot of tradition and a lot of money involved.
Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays, to talk about this.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And first, explain the basic inequity here.
FATSIS: Well, since the mid-1990s, there have been 16 teams in the National League and only 14 in the American League, so American League teams simply have a better mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs. There are three divisions in each league, but, again, six teams in the National League Central, only four in the American League West. So the math isn't fair there, either.
And finally, you've got these two money giants in the American League East: the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. It's put the other teams in that division at a perennial disadvantage.
So if you can fix at least some of these issues, you give more teams a better chance of making the playoffs, which will generate more interest among their fans and more revenue.
SIEGEL: So what's being discussed, actually? What are the possible solutions?
FATSIS: Well, the main ones seems to be a tweak more than an overhaul -put 15 teams in each league, five teams in each division - and that would take care of the probability stuff. One National League team would have to move to the American League, and reports say the most likely candidate is the Houston Astros, who will then get a geographic rival in the Texas Rangers.
A more radical idea that's being floated is just two leagues of 15 teams with no divisions, kind of like European soccer. The teams with the five best records in each league would make the playoffs, and that would reduce the New York-Boston problem for its current divisional rivals. That seems less likely, though, because it would hurt these rivalries. It would reduce the number of late-season playoff races, and it would mean the end of the unbalanced schedule, where teams play more games in their division than against other teams. And the consequences of that would be pretty big - travel issues, TV issues among them.
SIEGEL: But one virtue of leagues of 14 and 16 as opposed to two leagues of 15 is 14 and 16 are even numbers, so all the teams could play within their league, and all play on one day.
FATSIS: Yeah. And that's one of the big issues, Robert. If you have an odd number of teams in each league, you're always going to have an interleague game or games going on, and a lot of people in baseball don't like that. Ultimately, though, I think Commissioner Bud Selig really wants to push some realignment through. I think it's inevitable.
SIEGEL: But since this has been the case, as you say since the 1990s, why is it on the table right now?
FATSIS: Because we're in the middle of labor negotiations, and this has to be agreed upon by the owners and the players.
SIEGEL: OK. Let's talk about some possibly future Major Leaguers, college baseball players. The College World Series begins tomorrow in Omaha, Nebraska, with eight teams competing for the NCAA title, and a big change in college baseball this year has been a big drop-off in hitting.
FATSIS: Yeah. The NCAA adopted a new standard for its bats, which, of course, aren't made of wood like in professional baseball made of various metals. It's been a big issue for 15 years. The ball rebounds faster off of metal bats than it does off of wood. That's been a danger for players, especially pitchers. It's also made hitting easier.
These composite bats or metal bats have bigger sweet spots. So the NCAA has barred certain composite metals and applied a new testing standard that is designed to make metal bats act more like wooden ones. It's had a big impact, as you said, Robert.
The overall NCAA Division I batting average fell to .281 from .305 this season. The number of home runs per game fell by 45 percent, and the pitchers' earned run average has dropped by more than a run per game.
SIEGEL: And one other thing about the College World Series, it's not being played anymore in Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.
FATSIS: Yeah. It had been the home to the College World Series for 60 years, named for a former Omaha mayor who helped bring the event to the city, and really one of the last stadiums named for a person. And now, the College World Series teams are going at it in TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: It doesn't have quite the same ring, though.
FATSIS: It doesn't have quite the same ring.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis, who talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports.
Have a great weekend, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
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