With talk of baseball (and commerce in general) returning to the U.S., MLB has seemingly leaked a plan to gauge interest in a radical re-alignment for 2020.
At last, COVID-19 MLB fans have something to debate beyond which of “their” franchise’s “all-time” teams is the fifth-best. By now, many of you have seen the leaked plan MLB is considering for truncated 2020 season, the plan that realigns the 30 clubs into Arizona and Florida divisions.
I caught a passing comment on this myself during the day Apr. 10 on a cable news station, I believe, and later caught up with the details, scant as they are, in an MLB Facebook discussion group.
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With a little digging, I was able to find the following plan, from a relatively credible source, “one of several [proposals] being discussed”:
1. Teams would be grouped into six divisions based on proximity (apparently) of Spring Training sites. There would be two new leagues, effectively – the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League – although it’s unclear whether the MLB official who leaked the plan actually called these “leagues” by those names. This, of course, didn’t stop any internet graphic designers from getting to work.
2. The new leagues would be organized as follows, according to “one realignment structure”:
- Grapefruit North: Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, Tigers, and Pirates.
- G-East: Red Sox, Rays, Braves, Twins, and Orioles
- G-South: Nationals, Astros, Cardinals, Mets, and Marlins
- Cactus Northeast: Diamondbacks, Cubs, Rockies, Giants, and Athletics
- C-Northwest: Dodgers, Reds, White Sox, Indians, and Angels
- C-West: Brewers, Rangers, Padres, Mariners, and Royals.
The games would be played in empty stadiums to ensure team, support staff, and presumably, broadcasters’ safety.
Some obvious “problems” with this are immediately apparent. The most prominent begging question would be how to handle the designated hitter in a re-organization featuring only one totally “National” division, but no totally “American” division.
MLB teams are built knowing they either do or don’t play with a DH, and the mind reels at the notion of schedule-making with a provision that all clubs play half their games with DHs, and half without. (Even the entirely National division?)
Bob Brookover of Inquirer.com assumes that all games would involve the DH, but it’s not clear why he does. He credits Bob Nightengale with the first report of this overall scheme. That is the report this article is based on, and there has been no apparent update of Nightengale’s report saying the DH would be used in all divisions.
Of course, Brookover has his own sources, and if he’s right about the DH, it seems likely that the New DH Era will have been initiated by a pandemic, and “going back” is quite unlikely.
This scheme obviously has some selling points for a public already starved for sports to watch while housebound, and Nightengale’s first-mentioned new attraction is the Yankees-Phillies divisional rivalry.
There are other problems with the above scheme, such as the lateness of games available to fans of the Red, Brewers, and Indians, but the fact is, with every passing day without baseball, it seems quite likely that something like the above arrangement is quite probable if there is to be any more baseball in 2020.
Well, presumably teams will return to their Spring Training sites to resume their prep for the season, however long that will be. Many areas will still probably be locked down or partly locked down in, say, July, and yes, just you watch – it says here that will still be the case…
Why, then, would teams leave those facilities at the end of, um, Summer Training?
The danger to all of this scheming is one player coming down with COVID-19 at those training sites. Should that occur, baseball is done for the year.
Maybe we’ll all get lucky, though. I only hope MLB is working on some new, lightweight uniforms for the Cactus League temperatures in August.