November 19, 2011
On Thursday, Commissioner Bud Selig formally announced what has been rumored since at least September: the Houston Astros will move to the American League, effective with the 2013 season. Only one team has ever changed leagues before: the Milwaukee Brewers, who joined the National League in 1998. Thus, both leagues will have the same number of teams for the first time since 1997, when both leagues had 14 teams. The Astros will be part of the AL Western Division, along with the Texas Rangers, so all six divisions will have five teams each. See MLB.com. These changes were made possible by two events: the sale of the Houston Astors to Jim Crane, who is getting a $70 million "discount" in exchange for agreeing to move the Astros to the AL, and a tentative agreement on a new labor deal with the players' association. (Meanwhile, the NBA lockout continues with no hope in sight for any resolution; that's just fine with me.)
Another aspect of the realignment is that there will be two wild card teams beginning in 2013, forcing the top two non-division-winners to slug it out prior to advancing to the divisional playoff series. I think that's a healthy development, but as the Washington Post noted:
Had such a format been in place in 2011, it would have rendered meaningless the dramatic, four-city, last-day-of-the-season finish that some have called the greatest day of regular season baseball in history. But the new format undoubtedly will provide a greater incentive for teams to win their division and avoid the somewhat arbitrary one-game "play-in."
Indeed, all the nail-biting drama of September 28, 2011 would have been nullified.
As a result, for the first time ever, the two leagues will have an odd number of teams, meaning that on every "full-slate" day during the regular season, there will be a "leftover" team in each league. That, in turn, means that there will have to be interleague games throughout the season. That will make some traditionalists cringe, and I too fear too much blurring of the distinction between the two leagues, but I don't see a big problem in this. Another change they should consider is extending the divisional series from best-of-five to best-of-seven, to make sure the better team wins. I suggested that one month ago, as long as they also cut back on all the "travel/rest" days in October.
I have mixed feelings about the realignment. On one hand, I agree that the two leagues needed to be brought into parity in terms of the number of clubs, but as I have long argued, the Arizona Diamondbacks would have been a much more logical choice in terms of geographical distribution. At present, four of the six teams in the far southwest (California and Arizona) are in the National League, an easy opportunity to even things out. Besides, the Astros have a much longer franchise history (half a century) -- and therefore a more well-established identity -- than the D-Backs (14 years). And why put both Texas teams in the same league? Only one of the eight current states that are home to multiple Major League franchises does not have at least one team in each league: Pennsylvania. And in that case, the two teams (Phillies and Pirates) are in separate divisions. I suspect the reason has something to do with the reluctance of the Diamondbacks' owner to go along with switching leagues.
Be all that as it may, I have updated the MLB Franchises page [link fixed], with a new "Historical summary timeline" (shown below) at the top, and text revisions where appropriate. That page also includes updated 2011 annual attendance figures, from baseball-reference.com. I will also need to update my "If I were commissioner" list on the Baseball blog page, since moving Arizona to the American League is no longer in the cards.
|National League||8 teams||8||10||12||12||14||16||15|
|American League||8 teams||10||10||12||14||14||14||15|
Wouldn't you know it, I just updated the diagram(s) of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington less than one month ago, and now I learn they have begun making renovations on it. (See www.dallasnews.com; hat tips to Mike Zurawski and Terry Wallace.) All that nice green grass has been taken out from the plaza beyond center field, where a large "batter's eye" restaurant and new concession stands are being built. Too bad. In addition, the visiting team bullpen will be rotated 90 degrees, paralleling the outfield fence. That's fine; in fact, the difficulty in seeing that bullpen from the visitor's dugout led to a big communication breakdown in World Series Game 5. That bullpen will eliminate most of the bleacher rows that used to be in deep left center field, and the last few rows of bleachers to the right of center field will be removed as well. As a result, bleacher capacity will be less than half of what it was before, an unfortunate squeeze on budget-minded fans.
And so, I have updated the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington diagrams, yet another sudden change in my plans. I added an original (1994) version diagram for the first time. Also, I noticed a couple small errors with the "old" diagram: the deep corner to the right of center field has been moved a bit to the right, and right left field fence (and the double-decked grandstand in back) is a little closer than before. The old diagram indicated a distance of about 355 feet to the bend near the right field corner where the "349" sign is. (That sign and the "354" sign at the corresponding bend near the left field corner are displayed in the full-size diagram version, which shows the stadium as it was in 2009. As a general rule, I try to avoid excess clutter in stadiums which have many outfield distance markers.) As a result of the changes, the jog in the fence where the Rangers' bullpen is located is smaller than before.
According to the NBC affiliate in Kansas City, KSHB-TV, the Royals have sold the naming rights to Kauffman Stadium (see nbcactionnews.com), but if so, it's not official yet. David Glass, owner of the Royals, says that no such agreement has been reached. See MLB.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The original name was "Royals Stadium," and was changed to "Kauffman Stadium" in 1993, just before the franchise's original owner Ewing Kauffman passed away.
On the subject of stadium names, what I'd like to know is when the Miami (not Florida!) Marlins are going to announce the name of their new stadium? Hopefully, it will last longer than did the various names of the stadium (Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphin, Sun Life, etc., etc.) which they have called home for the last 18 years.
Four teams will be getting new uniforms and/or logos next year: the Toronto Blue Jays (logo only), the Miami Marlins (both), the Baltimore Orioles (logo only), and the San Diego Padres (both). There was a rumor about the Marlins' new logo being rather garish, and that indeed seems to be the case. See ballparkdigest.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos paid a brief visit to Washington, just nine days after being rescued in a dramatic shoot-out. He talked with General Manager Mike Rizzo for a while, and later joined Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman at news conference. Rizzo praised the government of Venezuela for taking extraordinary measures to make sure Ramos was returned safely. See MLB.com.
Welcome home, Wilson!