Every so often, we like to imagine what our American sports leagues would look like if they decided to work more like English soccer. In the summer, baseball is our main sport, and Major League Baseball is our main sports league. In two previous posts, we examined how Major League Baseball works as well as how the minor leagues work.
This post will do two things. First, it will look at how promotion and relegation could be incorporated throughout all of baseball. Second, it will enjoy the fantasy of an FA-cup like baseball tournament. Just as in the last post, it will use our local minor league team, the Lynchburg Hillcats, as an example.
How Promotion and Relegation Could Work:
The first thing baseball would have to do is figure out how to detach minor league clubs from their major league affiliations. This would be a process because, while every minor league team is independently run, it leans on major league teams for their players and other support.
By being their own entities, minor league teams would have to figure out how to sustain its own business and find its own players and coaches. There would likely be a big shakeup with who is playing and coaching where. After that, you have to figure out how many teams will be at each level and how many can move up or down each season.
Geography is always a problem at this point. The United States is just so big. Travel costs might limit the ability of some teams, which adds to the uncertainty of what would happen. Personally, I think you have to use the geography to your favor. Split the country in half -- West and East. Realign all of baseball from the top down. You can still call them the American and National Leagues, but really they become East and West leagues.
From there, you build down the lower leagues (minor leagues) by geography as well. Keep the eastern half and western half separated. Until recent memory, we didn't have interleague play anyway. Teams only play within their leagues
Have promotion and relegation work within the leagues. One or two teams at the bottom of each league are relegated down and vice versa with the top one or two in each league.
A Hypothetical Solution:
The National League becomes the top baseball league for eastern major league teams. The American League becomes the top western league. Those two leagues have fourteen teams each. The top team in the two major leagues play in the World Series at the end of each season. The bottom team gets relegated to the second tier of professional baseball next season
MiLB.com, the official site of minor league baseball, covers 18 different minor leagues at all the minor league levels. You could easily take leagues like the Carolina League, Eastern League, and Florida State League and make them lower leagues in the East. The Arizona League, California League, and Pacific Coast League could all go into the West side. You keep breaking out all the professional baseball teams down to the lowest and most local level you can.
If you think about your local baseball team, you will love this idea. We live in Lynchburg, Virginia, which has a High Class A team called the Hillcats. They are an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Going to games is fun because going to baseball games in the summer just is fun, but the games mean nothing. No one in the city is attached to the team because you can't get attached to something that is detached from meaning to begin with.
Let's say they decide to join this new baseball league structure that embraces relegation and promotion. Let's also say that they start in this new structure in the fourth tier of Eastern baseball leagues.
In real life, they are challenging for a Carolina League title. Guess what that gets them if they win? Nothing but pride. But in our hypothetical scenario, winning their fourth-tier Eastern title moves them one step closer to the major leagues. Suddenly, everything means so much more. The community can really embrace their team because they are part of something. They can move up and down leagues. They could eventually be a major league team. Everyone who is a baseball fan will feel like the Hillcats are their team.
The same thing will happen to your local minor league team. If you take the current baseball structure and alter it just a bit, everyone will be more excited about their own teams. The cool thing about baseball is that the structure is already built for this. It just takes a few adjustments.
Baseball's FA Cup:
Oh yeah, we told you about an FA Cup for baseball, too. That could be fun, right? Sprinkled in with the games against the teams in their own leagues could be FA Cup-style games. East teams could play West teams and major league teams against minor leagues teams in randomly drawn rounds to determine the knockout-tournament winner.
Your local minor league team could not only move up and down leagues now, but it could also end up hosting the New York Yankees in an FA Cup-like match. And if the Yankees are in the midst of a World Series chase, they might put out a starting pitcher that is beatable. That's how upsets occur.
What's great for soccer in Europe could be great for baseball in America. They have done so much to make it possible already. With just a few adjustments, it could become great again.