|The Unbalanced Schedule: Why it is bad for baseball|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on June 09, 2003
Proponents of the idea tell you that it keeps a team much more regional and allows them to play more games against division rivals. Supposedly this generates a large amount of local interest and increases ticket sales and viewership. This may in fact be true in a few cases: the Giants-Dodgers, Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Cardinals but for most teams without that kind of longstanding rivalry does it really increase interest in the game?
Overall probably not. I mean how excited are the fans of the Indians or the Royals that they face Detroit 19 games each year? And then they meet each other 19 times? Or how about those lucky fans that get to watch the Orioles and Devil Rays 19 times a season? Those in the NL have their terrible teams too - the Brewers and Padres to name a few. Many people feel that the unbalanced schedule really only has two benefits - to save the owners money on travel expenses and to make sure that lesser teams are still capable of making the playoffs.
Another issue to consider is when in the season that the teams meet each other. The current schedule has some teams not meeting each other until September and others not at all after June. Every team faces 19 different opponents, more or less. Take the Rangers for example – they played 6 of their first 8 series against Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim, with the Yankees and the Redsox to round it out. What a way to start off the season - talk about having the odds stacked against you.
Even when the good teams are playing is there a benefit? Instead of producing a more exciting pennant race, the unbalanced schedule merely helps good teams rack up artificially high records and forces weaker divisions to crown a champion that barely has a .500 win percentage. Last year’s battles in the playoffs showed how deceiving records can be - after all the Yankees played the Orioles and Devil Rays in divisional play and then they were matched up with the Mets, Rockies, and Padres in interleague play. It pumped their record by a huge margin – they were only 46-29 against the east but were 29-7 against the weaker AL central and 11-7 in interleague play. While teams in other divisions played against better opponents who actually could beat them.
Looking at the difference in divisional quality it’s fairly clear that the American League East and Central winners all had fairly pumped up numbers last year which allowed them to finish much higher in the standings than they actually deserved. (It also appears in the National league as well but is less pronounced) If the true numbers were used neither the Central division Minnesota Twins nor the Eastern Champion New York Yankees would have finished in the top 3 American League teams.
What this means is that undeserving teams are making the playoffs due to poor scheduling and unfair match-ups. It is time for MLB to end this unbalanced schedule and return us to an era of true baseball - where a division winner, or even a wild card legitimately deserves to win a playoff spot, not by being the best team in their division or even a good team in a weak division, but by having the very best records in an equal number of games against the same opponents.
This means either doing away with interleague play or greatly expanding it in order to return balance and fair play to baseball so that every team plays the same teams the same number of times. Some may say that would be a bad thing but interleague play as it is right now just skews the numbers even more when good teams get to feast not only on the weak teams in their division but on weak teams from the other league.
The bottom line is that teams are competing for the same playoff slot but are not playing the same schedules. It does not make sense. The soundness and competitive fairness of baseball is gone and the quality of the game that we know and love is declining. MLB must restore balance and integrity to the schedule before further damage is done.