Realignment has been the hot-button issue of late in baseball, and for good reason. The idea seems to be gaining speed in baseball's inner circles, and could be upon us sooner rather than later.
There are a number of different ideas for how this would come to pass, but the basic premise is almost always the same: one team will be moved from the National League to the American League, balancing the two leagues at 15 teams a piece.
There's not a lot of fault to be found in this particular version of the plan. The main attack laid against it is that, with an odd number of teams in each league, it necessitates year-round interleague play.
On the surface this sounds terrible to a great many baseball fans, but there really only needs to be two series per week, and with fewer than 30 weeks in a season, that comes out to only four series per team-quite frankly, if the league wanted, this could mean fewer interleague games. It's hardly an issue.
No, the problems only arise when the proposals move to the next stage: doing away with divisions.
Certainly, the idea has its merits. Simply put, it's the fairest way to do things. By removing divisions, there would no longer be any complaints of teams walking into the playoffs over soft opponents, denying a better team-possibly even one with a better record-the chance to win it all.
So it's fair-but is it fun?
Eighteen times every season, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other as part of arguably the greatest rivalry in sports. These games are made all-the-more important by the fact that first place in the division is so often at stake.
Take away the divisions, and suddenly it loses a lot of its varnish. Not only will they face each other a lot less frequently, but they lose one of their contests. A.L. East champion may not mean a ton when compared to World Series Champion, but it's something, even if both the winner and runner-up ends up making the playoffs.
Looking at, say, the NBA, where division distinctions are almost trivial, and nobody really seems to care all that much. Taking the top seed in the playoffs is certainly nice, but nobody ever talks about conference champions in the context of the regular season. I rather doubt that anything would be different for the two leagues in the MLB.
This is not to say that the rivalry would die out without the division system to support it. But it might sputter some. If MLB moves to make the Yankees just another of 14 teams the Red Sox have to go through, all the good old fashioned hatred would have to stem from the old days when these teams were at each others throats for a good portion of the season.
Look at the sudden emergence of the Rays: would the Red Sox have anything really approaching a rivalry with them were it not for Tampa's sudden ability to turn a reliable source of bulk wins each year into a reliable source of bulk losses?
Would it really be inspired by a shift from, say, 6-3 to 3-6? Even if the Yankees or Red Sox should drop off for some period, the yearly lopsided beatdowns by one side or the other is enough fuel to keep that fire burning for the opportunity to repay it.
Otherwise what you get are NBA rivalries, which seem to be as changeable as a team's record from year-to-year.
So realign the leagues to your heart's content, Mr. Selig. But as far as divisions are concerned, please leave them be, because more fair does not mean more fun.