Does anybody have Crosstown Cup fever? Judging by the attendance at US Cellular Field, not so much. Furthermore TV ratings for Monday’s game were painfully low as well. Yes, the Blackhawks were in a do or die game, but will there be that big of a bump when the Hawks aren’t playing? I doubt it. What was once a fun novelty has become just another set of games, especially because there are interleague games every night. Let’s face it, as BB King said, “The thrill is gone.”
It isn’t just Chicago. Interest in interleague play is down all over. The Subway Series in New York isn’t generating any buzz either, pulling in their worst attendance in the history of the series. Unfortunately as it stands, baseball is stuck with interleague at the moment. Each league has fifteen teams, and unless each team wants to have extended time off at various points of the season, then interleague play is a necessity. I can’t say if ending interleague would generate more excitement for the World Series, but such a move wouldn’t hurt interest in the World Series either. The baseball head offices love to invent and reinvent buzz (see the All-Star Game) and reverting back to the traditional format of the Series almost writes its own ads; “Back to Basics!” “The World Series. The Way It Was Meant to Be.” “The World Series: A Tradition Unlike…” whoops. I’m pretty certain that if Bud started floating the proposal that he would like to eliminate interleague play, he would meet little to no resistance to the idea.
The bad math would obviously need to be fixed if interleague were to retreat into history. The easiest fix is to eliminate two (or more) teams. Immediately the Florida teams come to mind. Attendance has been continuously low in both markets. Honestly, I don’t think contraction is the answer. Moving out of markets tends to be bad business and though attendance is an indicator of interest, it isn’t the only indicator of fan support or the overall health of an organization. Tampa Bay seems to be in good shape all things considered. Miami of course, doesn’t. I think the best fix for Miami would be to find new ownership. From there, I think at least a little enthusiasm would come back to the fan base. Also, the Florida teams haven’t been in existence all that long really. The Marlins came into the league in 1991 and the Rays in 1998. A little more than twenty years and less in the Rays case, isn’t giving a market a chance to develop a presence. Add in bad baseball and horrendous ownership and it becomes that much harder. Many teams have had hard times, even flirted with the dreaded contraction rumors (hello Minnesota!) and have rebounded. Overall Major League Baseball is in good, if not great financial shape, so even a couple of lagging markets aren’t going to bring down the whole ship, not even close.
So what to do? Expansion. Honestly, I think this is going to happen eventually. The league gets a huge influx of cash, a very friendly and exciting buzz is created and bringing in two teams would balance the leagues, killing interleague. Bringing in two new markets is great and there are quite a few potential markets to bring into the fold to be sure. Granted there is a bit of a “Been there done that” feel to the idea, but I think in at least one case the buzz could be enormous. The first place I would love to see an expansion team go is…Brooklyn. You read that right. The New York area could easily support another team. (Ok, yes, it isn’t a new market, but work with me here.) It would be wonderful to put a team in Manhattan, but between the real estate costs and the feeling that Manhattan is the Yankee domain I just don’t think that could happen. Putting a team further out on Long Island might work, but after seeing the success of the Nets and of the Barclay’s Center in general, I think a new baseball team in the old borough would be a huge boom for baseball and New York. I mean come on! Bob Costas might die from ecstasy if it became a reality. It would build in a great rivalry with the neighboring team that it shared a league with and the enmity, real or imagined with Los Angeles would be awesome. I don’t think they could have the name Dodgers back, but why not go seriously old school and call them the Robins? Black, white and orange uniforms, classic “B” on the hats, hell it might even piss off the folks in Baltimore and nothing beats a good villain to drive up interest and ratings.
As far as the other market, something a little further west would be best. I think there is a lot of potential out west, but I’m thinking a little closer to home, my home specifically. The best fit for a new baseball team is Indianapolis. The city supports its sports teams, including its minor league baseball team and the city is located in just the right spot not to ruffle too many of the other teams. Cincinnati and St. Louis probably stand to lose the most, but putting the team in the American League softens that blow. Besides, it isn’t like those two cities are right down the road from Indianapolis. Cincy is 112 miles away and St. Louis is 242 miles away. Also, Indy itself is larger than Cincinnati, though not in metro population. The same can be said of the relationship between Indianapolis and St. Louis, larger city proper, smaller metro area. Indianapolis, including its metro area is also larger than a number of cities that currently have teams so it is a good place for a new team. Moving into some other markets, less Midwestern might be attractive but adding teams to the East and Midwest is a better move. These two regions have a pretty good track record in supporting teams (at least when they are winning), whereas the South and West, not particularly.
Since I’m fixing all things baseball, adding a new team to each league could also result in a new divisional lineup, with four divisions instead of three and then the wild card could be eliminated as well. Actually having to win something in order to make the post season is such a baseball kind of a thing that it would be perfect the perfect time to bring back that notion.
I realize that I am blowing bubbles and that interleague, and many other things within the current baseball picture, are here to stay. Baseball will continue to tell me that the Tigers and Pirates are prime rivals, even though I can’t think of a time when those two cities ever had a strong rivalry. Perhaps there is still some ill-will because of the Cobb-Wagner feud during the 1909 World Series. Of course the bad blood between Toronto and Atlanta is well documented. I’m sure you’ll all be watching.