By Matthew Ross
IT'S TIME THAT MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL EXPAND
EXPANSION. It’s a word that gives hope to some and elicits dread from others. The business of sports franchise expansion is lucrative, at least for the leagues that grant the new entries. To the cities and fans of the sport, it can be quite costly.
That said, after going through this season’s Major League Baseball calendar, I can conclude only one thing: baseball must expand in a hurry!
My sentiment wasn’t quite there last year, but it is certainly there now. The folks at MLB’s head offices must now seriously contemplate expanding into two new markets. Before this season, an article like this might have focused on the specific cities that deserve a baseball franchise. However, the arguments for adding baseball teams are starting to mount. No longer is this merely about lobbying for untapped markets to join the MLB fraternity. No, this is now about the overall appeal and integrity of the product, as well.
Widely regarded as one of the more old-fashioned (sometimes another way of saying stubborn) professional sports in North America, Major League Baseball has finally caught up with the times. This is no small feat when you consider that they were once the league that wanted to put an end to fantasy sports sites using their players’ likenesses. Forget about the fact that fantasy sports actually attracts more casual fans to the sport. But let’s not dwell on the mistakes that MLB has made. Rather, let’s look at what has been done right. How about the institution of instant replay into games? How about the expansion of instant replay for next year, including offering managers the option to challenge calls made? I never thought that we’d see the day. No one did. How about adding additional playoffs spots? The one-game playoff games that were added last year have injected even more excitement into September playoff spot races, not to mention the drama of these one-game, winner-take-all tilts. Next, the league thought that it was evening the playing field by moving the Astros to the American League West, giving us six divisions of five teams. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Not at the price that it’s currently paying. Due to the move of Houston to the American League, we are now left with 15 teams in each league. Simply put, if you want all 30 teams to be in action at the same time, it requires at least one interleague matchup EVERY night of the week. I know that the cachet of playing a team from the other league has lost its luster over the years, but this is now ridiculous. No one wants to see the two leagues competing against one another every night. It dilutes the appeal of interleague play, of the all-star game and even the world series. It used to be that interleague play was only during a portion of the schedule, that you were done playing against teams from the other league by late summer, free to concentrate on beating the teams that stand in your way of a playoff spot. Now, we have these odd matchups late into the year. For example, the Tigers finished the season this year against the Marlins. What? Are you kidding me? It just makes no sense. While Detroit had the division locked by then, what if they didn’t? Or, what if Miguel Cabrera was battling for the triple crown versus a National League team, with potentially less at bats due to the pitcher having to bat? Moreover, think about the individual awards that are now being decided by games against the other league late in the season. Do you want to see Miguel Cabrera battling for the triple crown when his Tigers end the regular season in San Diego? Of course not. It makes no sense.
So here is what the league has to do. They have to expand to 32 teams, adding both new squads to the National League. This way, we get back to interleague play in the middle of the summer, and meaningful and rivalry-focused games at the end of the season, the way it should be. With pitching now ahead of hitting overall (team batting averages have slowly declined over the last few years), it means that there are enough quality arms to go around if two more clubs were added, further strengthening the expansion argument.
As for where MLB should expand to? It would appear that Montreal is a no-brainer. They have effectively sold out two preseason Jays versus Mets games for next March. The city also has a long tradition of baseball, including being the city where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier (in 1946, Robinson played for the AAA Montreal Royals). The Expos moved after the 2004 season to Washington, D.C., itself, a city that had previously lost a baseball franchise twice. While getting a new stadium would seem to be Montreal’s biggest obstacle, the city size is the largest on the continent without an MLB team. The other market that baseball should expand to is less certain. Both Portland, Oregon, and Charlotte, North Carolina, make compelling arguments. Of course, some will argue that Las Vegas should be on the list for consideration, but we all know that baseball isn’t progressive enough to seriously think about expanding to Sin City. Regardless of which cities would be in the running, Major League Baseball has to expand in the near future. With outgoing Commissioner, Bud Selig, dead set against expansion, we can only hope that his successor will put it on the agenda once he assumes power prior to the 2015 season. And if he doesn’t? Well, then perhaps someone like David Ortiz will eventually end his regular season career for Boston one day in a non-DH city like in Colorado. Wouldn’t that be magical?...
Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host.