MLB Realignment: A Look Back At A Previous, Horrible Proposal

ATLANTA, GA - MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks at the MLB Beacon Awards Banquet at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Bud Selig has had a hankerin’ for realignment in the past. The leagues split into their current format when the Rockies and Marlins joined the league in 1993, and that made sense -- the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds residing in the NL West was as silly as it was a travel nightmare. In 1997, though, Selig pushed for radical realignment, but only because tubular realignment and bitchin’ realignment weren’t as alliterative. Radical realignment was (with teams switching leagues in italics) ... :

AL East AL Midwest NL Central NL West
Baltimore Orioles Atlanta Braves Chicago Cubs Anaheim Angels
Boston Red Sox Cincinnati Reds Chicago White Sox Arizona Diamondbacks
Montreal Expos Cleveland Indians Houston Astros Colorado Rockies
New York Mets Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Yankees Florida Marlins Milwaukee Brewers Oakland A's
Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates Minnesota Twins San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays Tampa Bay Devil Rays St. Louis Cardinals San Francisco Giants
Texas Rangers Seattle Mariners

 

The pros were supposed to be:

  • Teams were organized by geography, which would make for less travel
  • The manufactured geographical rivalries of interleague play would be replaced with real, your-team-is-in-the-way-of-my-team’s-division-title rivalries
  • Selig got to sit back and listen to baseball purists moan. That’s actually his ringtone now.

The cons were:

  • Yuck.
  • Just look at that.
  • No.

There were logical disagreements too. The two-team markets were concerned about television money -- 16 or more games against a team in the same market would cut into the number of exclusive broadcasts. Oh, and what about a dreadful team coming into town twice as often? From a 1997 New York Times story:

(Teams) also have wondered what would happen to ticket sales for games against the same opponent, if that team is having a poor season. Would fans, for example, have gone to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium this season to see the last-place Philadelphia Phillies play eight games at each site?

Those terrible, small-market Phillies. Always ruining everything.

The biggest and best argument, though, was the destruction of the American and National Leagues as fans knew them. Some of the oldest teams in the game, like the Reds and the Braves, would hop over to the junior circuit. Fans hated the idea. Owners were mostly non-committal at first, but once the fans started barking, more than a few came out to oppose the move.

The long national nightmare ended with two compromises. In order to fit in the Diamondbacks and Rays, the Tigers moved out of the AL East. This was right before the Yankees and the Red Sox became THE YANKEES and THE RED SOX -- today, the Blue Jays and Orioles would peck the crap out of each other trying to move out of he AL East.

The second compromise was that the Brewers switched from the AL Central to the NL Central. The big loss was that Brewers DH Julio Franco was already 38, and wouldn't be able to make the switch. He would never play again.

There aren't a lot of details about what the divisions would look like in these new alignment schemes -- rumblings have put the Astros in the AL, and instead of divisions there would be two shapeless leagues in which the greatest pennant races would come between fifth and sixth place teams. Sounds, uh, interesting. But the plans can't be as bad as radical realignment was. That was a scary, scary time to be a baseball fan.

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