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Thursday, August 28, 2014

How might a tournament have worked 50 years ago? Was it better then or now? And combining the best of both.

In 1961 the American League expanded from 8 teams to 10 adding the Angels and a new team of Senators in Washington as the original Senators moved to Minneapolis and morphed into the Minnesota Twins.

Bob Aspromonte, Houston Colt .45s
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1962 the National League added the Mets and Houston Colt 45s, later the Astros with the domed stadium and space program moved to Texas.  But it wasn't until 1969 with the expansion from 10 to 12 teams that divisions were first introduced into the modern major leagues and the start of a playoff system, which really became a tournament when the two leagues merged in the 1990s.  Yeah, they merged.

Today there are 30 teams, 50% more than in 1964.  One third of teams now can qualify for the tournament.  In 1964 it was straight competition: the two pennant winners played in the old World Series.  In the regular season all teams in a league played all others the same number of games: 18.  It was actually fair back then.  It actually made sense.  To make a 1964 playoff system somewhat like today, let's have three of the ten qualify.  The one seed waits while 2 hosts 3 in a do or die elimination game to play one in a 5 or 7 game series to reach the finals.  That seems to be a reasonable approximation of what we have today, doesn't it?  Now let's compare teams within five games of qualifying.

2014, through August 26:

American Conference division leads:
Baltimore 7
Kansas City Royals 1.5
Angels 1  one seed

National Conference division leads:
Washington Nationals 7.5  one seed
Milwaukee Brewers 1.5
Dodgers 5

American Conference wild card:
Oakland As +5
Seattle
Detroit -.5
Yankees -3.5
Cleveland -4.5

National Conference wild card:
St. Louis +2
San Francisco
Atlanta Braves -1.5
Pittsburgh -1.5
Miami -4

In each conference there are three division leaders, plus wild card one and then teams on the bubble for the second wild card.  Each conference happens to have four bubble teams.  So that's 8 of 15 teams in contention.  About half.

1964:

American League wins:
Yankees 99
White Sox 98
Baltimore 97
Detroit 85

National League wins:
St. Louis 93
Philadelphia 92
Cincinnati 92
San Francisco 90
Milwaukee Braves 88
Pittsburgh 80
Dodgers 80

Three of ten were in contention in the American League.  But half of the ten National League teams contended and the final week was frantic and exciting with three teams seeming to have the upper hand at various points.

Ultimately, St. Louis defeated the Yankees in seven games in the World Series.  Three American League teams won more games than St. Louis.  Eight of 20 teams contended in 1964, 40%.

So it's 50% contending in 2014 v. 40% in 1964.  But the schedule (18 games against the 9 opponents) in 1964 was obviously fair and the schedule in 2014 is unfair and somewhat random.  I'd like something like the 1964 format.  Here's a suggestion.

Contract two teams and reduce from 30 to 28 teams.  The obvious candidates are the two teams in Florida.  How the heck did that state ever get one much less two teams?  Eliminate them.

Then form four divisions of seven teams each that play the same number of games against the same opponents.  If they play 18 games against each of the six opponents, that's 108 games.  Then another 42 against the seven teams (six games each) in the other division in the conference.  No inter-conference play.  That makes for a better final series.  That's 150 regular season games, which is plenty.  We could have the format suggested for 1964: have the one seed play the winner of a do or die game between two and three.  That means that 12 of 28 teams qualify: 43%.  Higher percentage of teams in competition but in a completely fair way.  And it puts a premium on attaining the one seed, which makes the long regular season more meaningful.

Oh, and realign them geographically.  That's long overdue.  Right now the Yankees are competing for that worthless second wild card against two teams 3,000 miles away.  That makes no sense.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm not following your "tournament" breakdown, with four divisions, and no interleague, then division only, etc. I think you need a more extended example, so it's easier for us readers to follow.

I myself have an idea that is more fair than the current ALDS/ALCS to WS-format. It goes like this:

Fourteen team National League, fourteen team American League. Both leagues play a 130-game schedule, balanced schedule (as in the old pre-1968 days). On August 31st, the last game of the 130 schedule is played. Then comes "Super September" The six teams in each league with the highest number of wins then play each other in a schedule of thirty games, three at home, three road, against the other five 'tournament' teams. The team with the most 'Super September' wins against the other 'top six' teams, goes directly to the traditional World Series (seven games, with home field advantage determined by best record). The "also-ran" eight teams in each league? They play interleague, expanded rosters, and lotsa fireworks nights, but they also play out the last 30 games, for an overall 160 game season.
This system would create two waves of exciting baseball: to be a top six team by August 31st, and to be the top team, to go to the World Series, by September 30th. What is wrong with the system today, is that making the playoffs may mean only one game at home, in the ALDS/NLDS, and no games against the other two teams!! This happened to Texas in the late 1990s. It's a ridiculous system that we have now.