A crowd of 6,259 turned out at Marlins Park on Tuesday for the Marlins-Rays interleague matchup, and a few hundred stuck around for the end of the Rays’ 16-inning victory.
No surprise. Both teams are extremely boring and lack big named stars. The Marlins are suffering at the gate after their traditional winter sell-off, while the Rays are the Rays, trying to reinvent the game with no one watching.
How clueless did Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman sound when he told The Athletic that fans love having middle relievers such as Sergio Romo start and go an inning or two instead of seeing a regular starter.
“You have fans coming to the game saying, ‘Really? Sergio Romo is starting a game? What is this?'” Silverman said. “I think it’s kind of interesting. I think it actually adds some intrigue. And every opponent that we’re playing — their TV and radio guys are spending a lot of time talking about it. It’s something new that’s part of the conversation of baseball.”
Really? “Let’s go see Sergio Romo start for an inning”?
It’s no wonder these are the two lowest-drawing franchises in the majors: The Rays are 29th at 14,757 per game, while the Marlins are last at 9,753. Every year they’re at or near the bottom, even with the Marlins playing in a relatively new ballpark. It’s sad to me that the Marlins have two World Series Titles for a not so deserving and loyal fan base.
Watching these two franchises embarrass themselves makes it infuriating to hear Commissioner Rob Manfred continue to float the idea of expansion. He did it again in May, saying, “We would like to get to 32 teams.”
Instead of expanding to cities such as Las Vegas or Charlotte, baseball should consider contracting the Marlins and Rays and going with 28 teams — two leagues of 14. Or just move those two franchises out of Florida.
It will never happen, of course, for various reasons, not the least of which is the union wouldn’t allow MLB to lose that many jobs.
But you can always dream. And here’s an idea for a “Back to the Future” 28-team format:
Instead of having six divisions, reduce it to four divisions of seven teams while increasing the playoffs from 10 teams (six division winners, four wild cards) to 12 (four division winners, eight wild cards).
Realignment would be necessary, but the American and National leagues would mostly remain the same: The Brewers move from the NL Central to the AL West, and the Astros move from the AL West to the NL West.
Both teams have traditions in those leagues, so a switch back wouldn’t be too intrusive for their fans. It’s not perfect, of course, with the Braves playing in the West like they did in the original four-division system. But most traditional rivalries would remain, and we wouldn’t have to destroy the integrity of the leagues by mixing all the teams together and resetting them geographically, as some MLB executives seem willing to do to save on travel costs.
Here would be the new divisions:
Interleague play would be abolished and the schedule would be reduced from 162 games to 156. That means the end of the unbalanced schedule, at long last.
Each team would play the other 13 teams in its league 12 times, or two sets of home-and-home series. We won’t have to see 19 Twins-White Sox games anymore, thank God.
With four wild-card spots in each league, the races would be much more interesting, and the division champs would be rewarded with a first-round bye like the top teams in the NFL, getting some rest and their rotations in order.
The first round would have best-of-three series between the wild-card teams. This gets rid of the current do-or-die wild-card game, which basically is a crapshoot.
The division series would pit the division winners (seeded No. 1 and 2) against the wild-card survivors and would remain best-of-five. The league championship series would remain best-of-seven, just like the World Series.
In the current structure, if the Yankees won their division with the best record in the AL and the Red Sox won the wild-card game with the second-best record in the league, they would meet in a division series. In this structure, they could meet in the ALCS, which is what everyone would like to see this year.
The World Series would remain untouched . well, almost.
The team in the World Series with the best regular-season record, whether it won its division or not, would not only be rewarded with home-field advantage, but also have the option of using its league’s designated-hitter rule.
In other words, we could have a World Series without a DH if the NL team has the best record or a DH in every game if the best record belongs to the AL team.
This puts more significance into winning every game, even if you have a huge division lead and would prefer to coast into the postseason by resting your starters.
Oh, and one more thing: World Series games would start at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on weekdays and 7 p.m. Eastern on weekends.
Would it work? We’ll never know.
Maybe MLB has a better idea.
If so, let’s hear it.