MLB’s Need for Expansion or Contraction of Teams and Interleague Play
Major League Baseball sits in an interesting situation. With 30 teams and 15 teams in both the American and National League in 2013, due to the Houston Astros move to the AL West, there will be interleague play every night of the season. Interleague play was introduced in 1997. Prior to 1997, American League and National League players and teams only met at the All-Star game or in the World Series. Interleague play helped boom attendance for a while, as fans in Cincinnati got to see the Red Sox or Yankees, and the fans in Chicago got to see the White Sox battle the Cubs, but the newness has worn off.
After 15 years of interleague play, where games now begin within the first two months of the season, MLB is becoming more like the NBA and NFL, as teams will just be playing a revolving schedule. It takes away the unique moments of Cleveland playing Cincinnati, and makes the interleague series just another game in your team’s 81 home games.
When Houston is in the AL West in 2013, each division in baseball will have five teams, and each league will have 15. If you were to add a team to each league, there wouldn’t be a need for interleague play all season, but you could get rid of the nightly battles between leagues and get back to the league roots.
Beyond the nightly battles, interleague play isn’t really all that exciting anymore. The American League leads the interleague play standings with a 1,963-1,791 (.523). The AL rules interleague due to the DH. National League clubs aren’t able to compete in American League parks due to how rosters are put together. The typical bench player in the National League isn’t going to be capable of out-hitting most AL second basemen, let alone a monster like David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, or Billy Butler. If the NL can’t compete, is it worth having?
So, can you add teams? If you added one team to each league, which would make one division in each league have six teams, you could eliminate the nightly interleague series. Where would you add a team? Las Vegas? San Jose (if the Oakland A’s don’t move there)? Portland? Vancouver? Can New York support a third team?
What about eliminating a team? The Marlins and Twins were up for discussion several years ago, but with both teams having new stadiums, they aren’t going to be going anywhere. Tampa Bay would probably be moved before being contracted, as their stadium and attendance has left them vulnerable.
MLB should do something to make things right. Fans loved the postseason of 2011 and MLB needs to build on the excitement in some way. Taking over new markets would be a good way of doing that. Contraction would upset fans, regardless of financial and attendance woes in other markets. Bud Selig has had a few good ideas, outside of his hideous wardrobe choices in his tenure, and now is the time for another.