Open Letter to Rob Manfred

Dear Commish:

Congrats on your first Opening Day. Not only for you, but for the sport. You make the first legitimate commissioner of Major League Baseball in over twenty years. How nice it must feel to have this important post without the necessity of an owners’ coup. You didn’t have to collude with Jerry Reinsdorf to oust the previous commissioner.  You didn’t have to lead Dick Cheney-esque committee to “look for the next commissioner,” only to find that, lo and behold, there was “no other viable candidate” but yourself. You didn’t have to come up with stupid titles like “acting commissioner” for six years to give you time to sell your team to your sister.

In fact, there doesn’t really seem to be any conflict of interest surrounding you at all. Other than being the afore-referenced commissioner’s hand-picked successor. But for years, Supreme Court Justices and Roger Goodell have been pursuing their own ideas contrary to the desires of the people that put them in that office.

So again, congratulations. The good news is that you are now in charge of a sport that managed to thrive despite your predecessor’s ineptitude.

The bad news is that he made some really stupid decisions that you’re going to have to work around. Good luck providing guidance on that whole “which players that he implicitly encouraged to take steroids to rescue the game from his own mismanagement should get into the Hall of Fame” question. And the fact that one Bay Area team is contractually obligated to play in a shithole because he couldn’t stand up to an owner and reverse an agreement that is no longer economically legitimate. Yeah, you should do something about that.

But the thing I want to focus on is realignment. I know, it’s a scary prospect for a commissioner, considering it was the main topic which allowed your predecessor to tyrannically ouster his own predecessor.

At least it’s not as scary as relocating teams. I might bring that up a little bit, too. But I might pair that with expansion, which should make every commissioner’s eyes sparkle.

So here we go.

One of Selig’s worst boners was one of his last. Like a bad wine, age only turned him to vinegar.  Last year he moved Houston to the American League. This was absolutely stupid. The reason was to give Texas a divisional rival that wasn’t two time zones away. I understand this gripe. However, there were other ways to go about giving them some road games that start before 9:00 PM Dallas time.

Move Kansas City to the AL West. See how easy that was? Accomplishes the same thing as Houston without jacking with the geographic parity of the Leagues.

See, that’s the real problem with moving Houston. I mean, aside from being utterly dismissive to the Astros’ fans and franchise, a franchise that had represented the National League in the World Series less than a decade ago. A franchise that had been in the National League since 1962, the same year as the Mets. Last I checked, no one said “eh, move the Mets to the AL, who cares?”

The leagues should be as geographically balanced as possible. If a fan is within driving distance of two teams, one should be in the American League, and one should be in the National League. The four metropolitan areas that share teams all do that. Prior to the move, four of the five states that share two teams did it. Even Minnesota and Milwaukee form “natural rivals” with a socially similar neighbor. Selig moved the Brewers to the NL, one of the few times he made the right move, albeit for the wrong reasons.

But now, if you live in Texas and want to see a specific National League team or player, your options are to wait three to six years until they visit, or else drive twelve hours to St. Louis or Atlanta.

So who should have been moved to even out the leagues? As I said before, prior to Selig’s nimrodery, there was only one state with its only two teams in the same league.

California? I see you scanning your map. Nope, they have five. Arizona? Texas? No wait, he means before. Let’s see… Not there… there… wait a second… He can’t mean…. Pennsyl…

Okay, breathe Mr. Commissioner. It’ll be okay. You see that reaction you just had? That we can’t possibly mess with the “majesty and history” of some teams but who the hell cares about the Astros? That’s what we call an East Coast Bias. It’s all over your sport. It would be nice if it wasn’t. In case you were wondering, the Houston metropolitan area has just under six million people, making them as viable and important of a fanbase as the Phillies. Pittsburgh? Just under two-and-a-half million, right above those baseball powerhouses in Portland and Charlotte

But yes, either the Phillies or the Pirates should move to the American League. If it was the Pirates, it would be easier to put them into the Central while sending the Royals into the West. Bear in mind the AL Central already has other great Steel-Belt cities like Detroit and Chicago. Oh, and did I mention Cleveland? Go ahead and ask any Browns or Steelers fans if it works having those two cities in the same division.

Philly could move to the AL East, with Toronto moving to the Central. Plus Philadelphia does have some American League history with the A’s. And they would have a closer drive to the closest NL cities than Pittsburgh would. It would mess with the nice AL-NL-AL-NL-AL-NL tradeoff as you drive south through the Bos-Wash corridor. Technically, the Mets technically play south of the Yankees, but that’s just splitting hairs.

After the simple Houston-for-Pennsylvania switch, we’ll be down to only four sets of teams that don’t have natural interleague rivals. In the American League, it’s Detroit, Toronto, Boston, and Seattle. San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, and Atlanta are the National League loners. Interesting how one problem is in the northeast, the other in the southwest. How about either Detroit or Toronto moving to the National League? In the southwest, just send Arizona to the American League West.

You’ll notice on that last one, I didn’t say Arizona or San Diego. Why? This was another flub-up by your predecessor. Arizona was never supposed to be in the National League. They came in with Tampa Bay. But Jerry Colangelo whined that Arizona formed a natural rivalry with Los Angeles and San Francisco (but, magically, not Anaheim and Oakland) and he didn’t want to play in the stinky American League. Selig, complete with every conflict of interest known to mankind, kowtowed to another owner. He then volunteered to move his own team into what was the weakest division in baseball at the time.

Hell, Bud, just have them play some Double-A teams and get back to us in October.

So now we’re down to only four outliers. This is where it gets a little tricky and can’t be solved overnight. The easy answer is to pair Boston and Atlanta, which usually happens anyway under the silly notion that the Braves used to play in Boston. It’s true, but I don’t know how many octogenarians are running to these Interleague games. And what exactly does Atlanta get out of the bargain?

The other match-up’s a little more logical. Denver and Seattle, the two most geographically isolated teams. They also come from the two states where pot is legal, so we don’t have to explain the pairing. Just tell the potheads that “Everybody KNOWS why they’re rivals.” Brought to you by Doritos.

But this seems a temporary fix. Before too long, the remaining five Boston Braves fans will die and other states will legalize marijuana. So we’re going to need to get a little more creative. From here on out, I’m just throwing ideas out there. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is most feasible.

If you’re wondering about the implication of that statement, the answer is yes. Yes, I’ve been telling you how to do your job. But only up until now. From here on, these are just suggestions. You’re on your own.

Florida shouldn’t have two teams. They probably shouldn’t even have one, but definitely not two. Sometime in the late 1980s, someone decided that Florida needed more teams. From 1987-1998, Florida gained one NFL franchise and two teams in each of the other three leagues (baseball, hockey, and basketball). That’s seven teams in eleven years! Is it all that surprising that none of them have taken root, with the exception of the years that the Heat make the NBA Finals?

A few years ago, I would have said the Marlins were the logical team to leave the state, making Tampa Bay as Atlanta’s rival. But then Miami got a new stadium, while the Rays still play in one of the worst.  Not that it matters how good the stadium is, or how good the team is, nobody attends either team’s games. So ship one out, leave the other one playing in the American League in Miami.

So where should the displaced Ray-Marlins go? Let’s move them up to become a rival of the Mariners. The northwest has plenty of room.

Portland, you’re thinking? Nope. Huge population, but not overly interested in baseball. They couldn’t even hold onto their Triple-A team, and kicking them out of town to make way for soccer.

No, I’m talking about Vancouver. Some people think that, since baseball failed in Montreal, Canada’s second-largest city, how could baseball survive in its third-largest? Speaking English can’t hurt. The whole border town thing helps, tooI’ve been to a number of minor league games there, and they regularly have some of the fullest Single-A stadiums I’ve ever seen.

Of course, the question about an NL franchise in Vancouver would be whether they are rivals of Seattle or Toronto. We could fix that, though. Remember baseball failing in Montreal? Want to know whose fault that is? Whoever the jackass was that canceled the World Series when the Expos were on the verge of winning their first championship. They were dominating the competition, 74-40, six games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East and four games ahead of the Yankees for best record in baseball. There was a ballot measure to build a new stadium.

Then Bud Selig and Donald Fehr decided to cancel the season. When baseball came back, Selig made sure it was skewed toward the bigger market teams, because if he couldn’t get fans to come out to the games, he would survive off of advertising. Oh, and steroids.

So give Montreal another shot.

Another dearth of Major League Baseball in the country seems to be the Carolinas.  An American League team would fit very nicely there, partway between the two NL franchises in Atlanta and Washington.  Looking down the list of metropolitan areas, I know Las Vegas is probably a no-go, and some of the other mid-majors, Sacramento and Orlando, don’t work due to proximity of other teams. San Antonio/Austin might fall into that trap, as well, or they might be viable for relocation or expansion. Heck, if you put a National League team there, I might even let you keep the Astros in the American.

Another spot that might work despite a smaller population is Salt Lake City. Much like the Rockies, I think a team there would draw from far outside the metropolitan area. Not just in Utah, but also Idaho. You could also add in a lot of Mormon support as the team traveled. Dropping an AL franchise there would finally help those Rockies stop feeling so isolated.

But yeah, the Utah Salties and Austin Smokehouses might be a little far down the road. Try to work on some of that other stuff first.

But in the meantime, Mr. Manfred, sit back on this Opening Day and enjoy the show.

It’s a beautiful little game we’ve got here.

Hopefully we finally have a commissioner that appreciates that.