Baseball at crossroads

The World Series is set to begin Wednesday in St. Louis between the American League Champion Texas Rangers and the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

While the Cardinals and Rangers will fight to win four-out-of seven games, the sport of baseball is at a turning point.

Over the last couple of months the sale of the Houston Astros by current owner Drayton McLane to a new ownership group under Jim Crane has been in limbo as Major League Baseball (MLB) has considered the move. It appears the move will go through on one condition: The Astros, a member of the National league since their inception in 1962, must move to the American League West where they will join a division consisting of the Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.

A few things are wrong with this scenario. MLB wants to move the Astros to the AL West because they want to form a division rivalry between the two Texas clubs but there is already a good interleague rivalry if the Astros can just field a team with major league talent.

Another problem with this scenario is that a lot might change in baseball with this move. As the leagues are currently configured, there are 16 teams in the NL and 14 in the AL. The last time a move like this happened was in 1998 when in order to facilitate the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the AL to the NL, joining the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

The current system of 16 in the NL and 14 in the AL has worked well for the past 14 seasons but the idea that a team has better probability of making the postseason in the AL as opposed to the NL has in some way led to where we are right now where baseball is trying to even the leagues.

The Astros shift would put 15 teams in each league. MLB looked at this possibility before the 1998 season, but it realized that for it to work one team would have to be on bye every day of the season or the two leagues would have to play an interleague schedule all season long. At the time both ideas were turned down. Now it looks like baseball is forgetting this and is trying to get balanced teams, so that more teams can make a postseason that already stretches to Nov. 1.

If baseball wants to have an American League rivalry in Texas and even teams in each league, the answer is not moving one team from one league to another, the answer is to add two teams to the American League. One could be in San Antonio to build that rivalry with the Rangers and the other could be in Portland, Oregon, or Montreal, Quebec or another market ready for baseball.

This would take a few years to implement, but when it happened, baseball would have 32 teams like the NFL, and baseball could either keep the divisions the way they are or split into four divisions of four teams like the NFL. Fewer teams in each division would mean tighter division races, and would allow for either the end of the wild card or the addition of a wild card team,

In this scenario, six teams from each league would make the playoffs, the first round would be best two out of three. The two teams with the best record would receive a bye in the wild card round and face the winners of the first round in the divisional series that would continue as a best of five. From there, the playoffs would look much as they do now.

For this to work there would have to be scheduled doubleheaders, a tradition that baseball got away from in recent years. The double header would mean the same 162 games could be played in a shorter span, allowing for the expansion of the playoffs.