Since the suggestion of floating realignment was dangled in front of
Selig’s commission, everybody has come up with a solution to this “problem” more commonly referred to as the AL East. ESPN’s Buster Olney is the latest to weigh in (Insiders only article), and he says that realignment is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ Which makes me wonder why realignment has to happen at all.
How quickly do people forget that two years ago the Rays won 97 games and the Yankees only appointment in October was shopping for Halloween costumes. What happened to the 2008 Rays? The 2007 White Sox? The 2003 Marlins? The 2001 Diamondbacks? I won’t mention who won in 2002, but I still intend to one day burn a rally monkey in effigy.
Despite these success stories, there are still some problems, and the ones more commonly cited. The Pirates. The Royals. The Reds. The Orioles, the Jays, the Rays. Teams that can’t hope to compete, and have to suffer the Phillies and Mets or Yankees and Red Sox 38 times a year. Teams of superior means and superior skill (usually). And so people ramble on about how we need a premier league, or floating realignment, or doing away with divisions entirely. They say the system is unfair.
But I will be the first to say that I love the system, despite its flaws. I love it. I love sneering at the Cardinals for coasting through the central division. I love knowing that a big, mean, DH-using team is waiting on the other side for whatever NL team emerges with the pennant. But most of all, I love hating my division foes. I love wishing we could somehow steal Adrian Gonzales from the Padres. I love watching the Diamondbacks’ misfortune, I love watching Troy Tulowitzki choke, and I love hating each and every Dodger and every last crass and classless fan. That rivalry is part of what makes the game so great. It’s something I don’t find in any of the other major sports, and I am not the least bit inclined to give it up under the auspices of “parity.” What it really is is catering to a small handful of teams that, by and large, are the ones perpetuating competitive imbalance in the first place.
It’s not alignment that needs fixing. What need fixing are poorly run teams that can’t sell tickets. Or, if you like, the financial juggernauts that by their nature encourage this imbalance. And I think as long as we stay tethered to solutions starting with a dollar sign, we won’t find what we’re looking for. Instead of yearning for a salary cap, plunder the farm systems of teams that want to win now by overspending. Encourage a culture of smart spending, like the path that the Rays and Twins or forging. Help the Pirates and Royals find ways to be competitive, instead of locking themselves into this fire sale mentality.
I want people to start thinking outside the box a little more. Rather than finding ways to make the game “less bad,” let’s look at ways to make the game better.