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2nd inning: Expansion

Editor’s Note: Doug believes baseball is broken and would like to fix it. He plans to discuss an issue a week for the coming weeks. Read here for the topics he plans to help baseball fix.

There are 16 teams in the National League. There are 14 teams in the American League.

Just let that hang for a second. The NBA and NHL have 30 teams but they go with 15 in each conference. The NFL figured it out by going with 32 teams and everything fits perfectly into divisions. As a general rule, I think anything the NFL does, every league should look into doing the same. It doesn’t make it right but it should be explored.

32 teams would actually improve the game. The old adage has always been baseball gets watered down with expansion. I won’t dismiss the argument entirely but it can be overblown. Obviously, through simple math, a number five pitcher in a 32 team league would not even be in the majors when MLB was at 16 teams. I understand the logic but I think it’s a short-sited indictment of expansion.

For years black players were barred from the game. Although Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier in 1947, there wasn’t a sudden influx of blacks into MLB. The Boston Red Sox—embarrassingly—almost made it to the 1960’s without blacks on their team (with 3 months left in the ’59 season Boston debuted Pumpsie Green who was mostly used to pinch run).

Only the best blacks were accepted into MLB. The injustice there was good black ball players were still left in the Negro Leagues. The thought process was why bring in an average or good player who’s black when you already have a white one. Early on it was only the Aaron’s and Mays’ that were getting the invitations. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that teams were actually filling their roster with the best overall players regardless of race (Some will dispute that fact since black pitchers and catchers were strongly pushed to other positions).

If an entire part of the population is blocked from entry, you lack the quality of baseball that could have been achieved. If there were 16 teams of only the top 25 players on a team, there would be a reason to cry foul for baseball to expand. I don’t think the quality of baseball declined in the 60’s because blacks were able to make up the difference. If you were an average white pitcher in the 50’s, you had a job but if you were black you didn’t. Due to the addition of 8 teams through the course of the 1960’s, if you were an average white pitcher, you still had a job. The difference was now there were average black pitchers, too. Since average is unaffected by skin color, I’ve never believed there was a considerable drop in the quality of the game.

With the expansion in ’77, there were more jobs but the same effect happened. The 70’s marked a new population influx. The game of baseball spread to all of Central and South America. Even though the Mariners and Blue Jays added 50 new MLB jobs, the game didn’t change because the population boom of post-WWII and the new avenues to the Latino ball player more than supplied enough major league talent.

MLB is in a very similar situation now. Baseball is becoming a much more global game. Asia and Australia are producing Major League talent. Central and South America are being mined like it’s a gold rush for talent. There’s easily enough of a population surge and growth internationally of the game to support 2 more teams. It’s time to expand into two new cities.

The first city is easy. Bring baseball back to Brooklyn. I brought to the table a litany of reasons in my last column of how a Brooklyn baseball team would significantly help control the revenue streams of the Yankees and Mets without hurting the other teams. I’m not advocating moving a team to Brooklyn. Expand there.

This brings up the easy question. Where does the other team go to make it 32 teams? I give you four options: Charlotte, Portland, San Antonio and Las Vegas.

Charlotte

This has long been a rumored spot for baseball. The Charlotte Knights were always one of the top grossing minor league franchises. There was strong sentiment to go to Charlotte for years. It would have been a good move at the time. The Knights aren’t as well supported with the Panthers and Bobcats in town now. The textile industry collapse has made things difficult in the Carolinas. Charlotte is the best choice for simplicity of scheduling and re-alignment but baseball missed their window here.

Portland

There are four smaller cities in America with a Major League team. The population is there. What’s great about Portland is the lack of competition for the entertainment dollar among other teams. Portland also creates a natural rivalry with Seattle and would significantly lower Seattle’s travel costs and make west coast road trips easier on other teams. Obviously you hope some Microsoft and Nike money comes into play in any ownership group, as well.

San Antonio

Barely smaller than Kansas City and bigger than Milwaukee, SA makes great sense for “Texas three-step” rivalry it creates for the Rangers and Astros. It also has the same benefit as Portland. MLB is competing against only one other pro franchise. A huge advantage over Portland is that San Antonio is boring. There’s so much to do in Portland that you’d always be competing against the great outdoors in Portland. In San Antonio, what else are the citizens going to do?

Las Vegas

There will be a pro sports team in Vegas, the only question is which league has the guts to go here first. Although cities like Columbus, OH, and Providence, RI, are actually larger in population, the buzz would be great. The money would be there because all of the casinos would have to buy tickets to make sure they had “comps” for patrons to earn. I think out-of-town fans would come in to cheer on their team and then hit the casinos. There’s also a lot of townies that have nothing to do. It’s a “well-known secret” Las Vegas citizens don’t gamble much. How many people do you know that live there that go to the strip often? Bring those people an actual professional sports team and they would flock in support of something to finally call their own.

I realize the Pete Rose issue would come up. I know there would be fear of players’ gambling on games at the sports books. Well, tell the critics to wake up. Every stadium is sponsored by a casino. There’s nothing stopping players from illegally gambling except their own conscience so nothing’s going to change if it’s legal. If baseball keeps in place the rule that is currently keeping Rose banned, they’ll have no problem with Vegas.

And the envelope please

Congratulations Brooklyn and Portland. You will begin play in three years. Brooklyn and Portland will begin the amateur draft in 2011 with minor league teams beginning in July of 2011. In 2012, both franchises will have the amateur draft and an expansion draft.

There will be an expansion draft every year for the next three years. Every year each franchise can protect three players. Next year, Brooklyn and Portland can only select players not on the 40 man roster who are not on the other 30 teams’ list of three protected. Lose a player, you get to protect another.

2013 opens up the 40-man roster to the expansion draft but not the 25-man roster. Same rules apply as the 2012 expansion draft. In December of 2014, the final expansion draft takes place with the same rules but now a team’s entire roster at every level is available. It’s important to give each team the best chance to succeed quickly but still build through a solid foundation.

Improve the game by expanding to two new markets that have the ability to support the game. Every owner will be thrilled with the expansion fee. Fans in the cities of the new teams will stay with the teams because of the limited competition for the dollar.

32 teams fixes another major problem. Baseball’s main problem is the assumption by fans their team has no chance to win a World Series. With 32 teams, radical realignment actually forces teams to compete against cities of equal size. That’s the lead-off hitter for the third inning next Wednesday.

Welcome the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Portland Lumberjacks to MLB!!