Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Selig says realignment was only logical choice

He should have just shut up. Not said a word. Let it all play out. But he didn't. So sit down, make yourself a cup of coffee and take a valium because this is going to get ugly.

Car Salesman/Commissioner Bud Selig told Brian Smith yesterday that he "sympathizes" with Astros fan(s) who are upset about the forced march to the American League West (The "Budaan Death March" as I'm calling it).

Maybe he does. In 1998 Selig oversaw a realignment that kept the teams in their traditional 14/16 split and allowed the team he formerly owned to move from the AL to the NL. But that was different, as the Milwaukee Braves were an NL team from 1953 to 1965. Selig bought the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and moved them to Milwaukee, where they kept their American League alignment.

So why did the owners preserve a 14/16 split in the 1990s, and not a 15/15 alignment? The New York Times wrote:

Once the radical plan died, Selig and John Harrington of Boston, chairman of the realignment committee, tried to sell a plan that would have had as few as seven teams moving, but that idea also failed. Finally, the owners agreed that only one team would move for 1998 so that each league would not have 15 teams. That alignment would have required interleague games throughout the season, and the owners preferred playing those games in clusters, as they did this past season.

What made no sense - and what the owners hated - 16 years ago is now in the best long-term interest of baseball. Hm. What changed? Selig told Smith:

"We had a division number of six (teams) in the National League Central. And all the National League clubs had complained to me for a long time: 'Commissioner, this isn't fair. The other (divisions) are either five, and one division only has four.' … And it made no sense."

Unsurprisingly, the owners are wrong here. FanGraphs did the math on how an evenly-balanced structure affects playoff chances:

Overall an extra 0.3 teams would be in a competitive race per year. So the realignment would have slightly, but not drastically, increased number of teams in playoff hunt. Although it would change which teams were in the hunt; the new system would make it easier for teams from good division, e.g. the AL East, to make the playoffs.

Interesting. So while Everyone complains that the realignment will make it easier for the AL West teams to make the playoffs (because the Astros are going to go 10-152, apparently), it's an advantage that Selig/the owners themselves created. Let's continue:

Selig said the primary reason for the Astros' AL relocation came down to simple geography. With St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were the odd team out. According to the commissioner, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds have "tremendous" rivalries. The Astros did not, he said, because of their isolation....The teams left in the National League Central all had a geographical (base) - there was a relationship.

Yes. The Reds and Brewers' "tremendous rivalry" dates all the way back to 1998! In the brain of Bud, Reds/Brewers > Houston/St. Louis because! Geography!

On Houston's "isolation," first. Houston's distance from NL Central teams (using flight distances):
St. Louis: 679 miles
Cincinnati: 897 miles
Chicago: 938 miles
Milwaukee: 1,004 miles
Pittsburgh: 1,137 miles

Now that doesn't factor in road trips where the Astros would play three in Philadelphia and then move on to Pittsburgh, etc. But it's an average of 931 miles from Houston to the other five cities.

How about Houston's distance from AL West teams?
Arlington: 229 miles
Los Angeles: 1,374 miles
Oakland: 1,638 miles
Seattle: 1,891 miles

Even accounting for Arlington's relatively short distance, the average distance to the other cities is 1,026 miles - 95 miles farther than the previous set-up. Selig traded the Astros' actual rivalries with NL Central teams for Oakland and preserve the geographic integrity of The Game. 

Houston was sitting down there; there was no relationship. And I understand they've been in the National League for a long time, and I'm sympathetic to that.

No relationship? Is he kidding?

Houston's first professional team began in 1888 and were known as the Houston Babies, as they were the last team to join the Texas League. They became the Buffaloes (after Buffalo Bayou) and in 1920 signed an affiliation with the St. Louis Cardinals - a relationship that lasted until 1958. The Buffaloes also had a relationship in 1960 and 1961 as the Cubs' Texas League affiliate. And then there was that relationship with the National League owners in 1960 about bringing Houston into the NL. For 92 years the Astros have had a relationship, in some form, with the National League.

To say that the Astros have no relationships with the National League based on geography is stupid. To say that there are no relationships based on history is just false. And that's not what you would expect from a guy who wants to teach history when he retires.

But we had to move a team, and … the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move. … I didn't have an alternative."

Now Selig is just acting like the car salesman he is, as it's flat-out false. The Diamondbacks had a clause in their original team charter that said MLB could move them to the American League without that team's approval after two years. So did Tampa Bay. And, furthermore, the Diamondbacks were - for a time - interested in doing so.

I was almost all worn out of realignment. I had almost made it to the Acceptance level of the Five Stages of Grief. Now I'm all back to anger, because Selig's argument - on no level - makes a damn bit of sense.