When baseball went to an unbalanced schedule in 2001, I was initially for it. After all, it would make the division title more meaningful, right?. However, as we enter the 5th year with the unbalanced schedule, I’m starting to like it less and less. For teams in the AL Central, I think it’s really hurt attendance. None of the teams are really a draw the way the Yankees or Red Sox are, and the fact that the Indians have three home series each against the White Sox, Royals, Twins, and Tigers starts to depress attendance even more. It’s no surprise that all five AL Central teams ranked in the bottom third of MLB in attendance; while some of those low numbers may be due to poor performance, I have to believe that the lack of draws hurt attendance as well.
Let’s take this year’s schedule as an example. Here’s a breakdown of who the Indians play at home this year:
Kansas City (10)
New York (3)
Yes, the Indians have as many home dates against the Rockies and Diamondbacks as they have against the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers. To me, this not only costs the teams attendance, but it also may affect the team on the field, especially in Wild Card competition.
Here’s my solution:
(1) Reduce the number of in-division games from 76 to 56
(2) Reduce the number of Interleague games from 18 to 6
(3) Increase the number of non-division AL games from 68 to 100
Teams would still play more games per division team (14) than non-division team (11 or 12), they would also be guarenteed at least two home series versus each non-division AL team. And they would still have six Interleague games to play versus either a NL rival (such as Cincinnati) or two random NL teams if they don’t have a clear rival. Furthermore, the league wild card races would become more meaningful. Here’s my modified home schedule:
Kansas City (7)
New York (6)
Divisional games, to increase their magnitude, would be stacked later in the season, much as they are now. The Interleague series would be held on the weekend before and the weekend after the All-Star Break. AL West teams would still play 19 games against division opponents due to one less team in the division.
I think moving towards a slightly unbalanced schedule would still preserve rivalries within the division, but also reinvigorate rivalries with teams in the other two divisions. Of course, commissioner Bud Selig seems to think that the gimmick that is Interleague play is a success, so I doubt we see any schedule change reducing the number of games. But I believe that as the novelty of Interleague play starts to wear off and teams begin to clamor for more games against teams like the Yankees, this type of schedule should start to gain popularity.