Our venerable elder, Chad Dotson, has succeeded in reminding me that baseball as it is isn’t baseball as it used to be, and perhaps shouldn’t always be as it is:


This is an exchange from Ted Lasso, and while the show is fictional, the situation is real, and it’s not at all spectacular. Although the context is European soccer, the AP’s Jeff Wallner points out that yeah, the peculiar form of American commitment to equality is some excessively excessive extra credit:

The worst feeling in the world, as an American, is for a British person to establish that they’ve out-competitioned us in anything but tea importation. Normally this type of realization sees me in a flurry of defensiveness, but there was no denying 1) the idiocy of this system 2) the utterly humiliating fact that I’ve just now fully realized what an idiotic system it is. So instead of “Shut up and get out of the way of my roaring Corvette driven by a wild horse and powered by a space shuttle engine,” my reaction to Jeff’s British friend was: Yeah. Why? Why do we do this?

I remember hearing baseball described as the most American of sports because it doesn’t matter how terrible your team is or how richly appointed the other team is– everybody gets three outs for nine innings. Period. Lovely, yes?

But come the draft, the more you suck, the closer to the front of the line you go. It makes little sense in any sport, but least of all baseball, in which talent is quickly dissipated across eight to twelve other people. You don’t win an entire handful of World Series with Johnny Bench. You win an entire handful of World Series with Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, And Friends.

Worst of all, this silent incentive to blow chunks on the baselines doesn’t even work. The middling teams stay middling and the horror teams stay horrors unless the culture of the entire franchise changes or the Great Slot Machine of Free Agency somehow clicks into triple sevens. In European soccer, on the other hand, teams can fall out of their division if they don’t get their act together.

Drafting for amateur players in its current suck-first form was firmly in place by the time I was born, so for all of us born post- Watergate, this is the way it is because… that’s the way it is. It’s fair. Shouldn’t we be fair?

While the incredible luck of snaring a once-in-a-generation player might shift the fortunes of a football or basketball team, there aren’t a lot of examples of a single player making quite that much of a difference on the diamond. I am, after all, old enough to remember 700WLW’s “See You in the Series” commercials after Ken Griffey Jr. joined the Reds, and while the Junior we had wasn’t quite the Junior Seattle had, we all hoped that on some level that at least some of his Juniorness would rub off on the likes of Todd Walker and Elmer Dessens. Nope. As every single Mariners and Browns fan can tell you, for hours and hours, Fair just doesn’t work that way.

We don’t run our Olympics trials on this logic. By draft rules, my choppy inching around the Fountain Square Christmas rink should earn me top seed on the ladies’ singles figure skating roster. So why is it fine and okay for paying customers to simply accept all the Karl Marxing going on at the professional level?

It’s odd that the European practice is referred to as “relegation” when it in fact promotes competition and excellence. Ever-expanding wild card opportunities aside, pro sports is one of the few purely stats-based, feelings-free forces remaining in Western culture. You will never meet a more steely-eyed crew than a fanbase that has grown weary of watching relief pitchers spin around to watch the ball become a souvenir for whoever’s sitting in home run trajectory. On properly run teams, managers and front office folks are no less educated in what’s working and what’s not– and willing to act accordingly. Ask anyone desperately trying to claw his way out of A-ball.

The rest of us just play out the rest of the schedule in lifeless, half-empty stadiums, and we need to start asking why.

27 Responses

    • Rod

      The Reds have never drawn at GABP unless you promise to give out a bobble head. The prices are insane and every game is televised. The Reds TV ratings are a better indicator of the interest this team generates.

      • Doug Gray

        The Reds have one of the lowest average ticket prices in all of professional sports.

      • David

        Yeah, I don’t get that. GABP is a very nice stadium, and it it NOT expensive to go to a game….compared to most other ML parks.
        It’s a two hour drive from where I live, and $10 to park. Tickets, food, beer and yeah, an evening at the park for two can easily reach $100.
        $100 may not get two people into a pro-hockey game, or an NBA game.

        I have gone to a few games in Cleveland at their new ballpark (Progressive Field?), and that is a little more expensive, overall.

        If you live in greater Cincinnati, then the drive is much less, and I would go a lot more (if I lived closer).
        Yes, it was much cheaper to go to a game in Riverfront stadium. The Red seats were ~ $3 a ticket, back when I was younger.
        Times change, though.
        But people will not come out to watch a losing team, a lousy team. Cincinnati has had some pretty lousy teams since 2012, the last REALLY good team.

  1. jessecuster44

    Create a pool of 60 franchises. 30 for MLB, 30 for the “Championship” Level.

    Run each season with the same amount of games. Worst two teams in MLB drop one level. Top two Championship teams are promoted.

    The 30 MLB teams would start at the top level. Potential expansion cities (Portland, Charlotte) and minor league franchises in big markets (Indianapolis, Jacksonville) would compose the 2nd level.

    If you cant find enough cities for the championship league, reduce the number to 15 and relegate/promote one franchise.

    • Frankie Tomatoes

      If we started over from scratch this plan would be good. But since the system is established there is no way MLB teams, worth billions, are going to agree to a chance that they turn into Triple-A teams that are worth tens of millions (minus the stadium/land the stadium they own is on).

      • jessecuster44

        All you’d have to do is get a majority of owners to agree. So the opinions of the tightwads in Pittsburgh, Miami, Cincinnati wouldnt matter.

      • Doug Gray

        But why would ANY team agree to it?

        Where is the upside for any single one of the teams to agree to the potential of becoming a Triple-A team and watch their revenues plummet as a result?

        Let’s just use the lowly Pirates as an example: Right now they can easily make payroll without selling a ticket thanks to their TV deal locally and their national TV money. That national TV money disappears if they get “relegated”. They may be in breach of their contract on the local TV deal if they are no longer a “MLB team”. Without that, can they even make their crappy payroll they have today? I’d doubt it. So why would they ever say, sure, let’s vote for this plan so the Louisville Bats might get a chance to go from a $35M organization to a $175M organization overnight?

        Of course it’s all more complicated than that, too, since all of the minor league teams don’t actually have control over the players. So what happens there? Do the “new MLB tam” just have to go try and buy up the Lexington Legends roster and go out and lose 135 games the next year because they have a roster with 2 big league caliber bench players on it?

        Without starting over, which won’t happen, it’s just an absolute fever dream.

  2. Doc

    I suspect it would take a lot more than a simple majority. Probably at least 75%, if not more. Asking the group of people who stand to lose to vote themselves into the possibility of losing is like asking Congress to vote to balance the budget; it won’t happen.

    Only if/when something akin to an AFL is established as a true rival to the current MLB would a complete overhaul become possible. Unless there is a true rival, all you are doing is creating a AAAA level, and all readers of this site know how AAAA players are regularly denigrated.

    I don’t believe you would need the same number of teams at the championship level as at the MLB level. If only 2 teams are being moved up or down, then probably no more than 8-10 teams are needed at the AAAA level. The AAAA level teams need to have a reasonable chance of promotion, and need to be of sufficient quality to have a chance to stick when they do get promoted.

    Then there are the questions such as:
    How do you stock the AAAA teams with players?
    How does the draft work?
    What interaction is allowed between leagues, ie, can individual players move from one level to the other?

    So many questions; so few answers.

  3. Kevin S Davis

    Maybe adopt the NBA model of drafting. Having the worst record doesn’t automatically get you the best pick?

  4. RedsFanInFl

    How about having 2 leagues and operate under current MLB rules so trades can occur between leagues.

    League 1 is the “premier” league with 16 teams and League 2 is the “2nd tier” with 14 teams. Can figure out the exact league names later. Both leagues only play other teams in their respective leagues. Cut the season down to 150 games. League 1 plays 10 games against other League 1 teams. League 2 plays 11 or 12 games against other League 2 teams. During the next round of expansion, add 2 teams to League 2 to have both leagues with 16 teams.

    Don’t have any divisions since teams are playing an equal amount of games against all other teams in their league. League 1 has 6 teams make the playoffs (37.5% chance to make playoff for each team). League 2 has 4 teams make a wild-card playoffs (28.6% chance to make playoff for each team). This gives some incentive to be in the top tier league as there are more playoff spots. League 2 wild-card round is a best of 5 and the 2 winners join the 6 teams from League 1.

    The league 1 teams are seeded 1-6 based on regular season standing and the 2 wild-card round winners are seeded 7th and 8th. The round of 8, round of 4 and WS are all best of 7.

    The 2 wild card round winners are then placed in the top tier the following season and the 2 worst record teams from the top tier are relegated down to the 2nd league.

    • Jim Walker

      Agree, I was about to start writing something similar at least to the point that the top teams break away as happened in England in 1990 and form their own separate entity (aka the Premier League) with a relegation/ promotion arrangement with the rest of what is now MLB. I’d probably reverse the team count and put 14 in the top tier and 16 in the 2nd tier; but just as easily there could be 16 in each tier with the 2nd tier being filled out with 2 expansion teams or current AAA teams.

      Why might this work? Simply because at some point the large market teams are going to have their fill of supporting the bottom of the barrel teams, especially those who obviously tank year after year while taking the revenue sharing money or who are some combination of too poor and too inept (i.e. the Reds) to seriously participate in the top level.

    • CI3J

      This…. Is actually a brilliant idea. It gives the “lesser” teams something to fight for, and levels the playing field somewhat as the “haves” duke it out while the “have nots” play each other.

      To make it truly work, though, the two teams getting promoted each year need to receive some kind of “bonus” that they can use for the one offseason after being promoted. Say, an additional $15 million. That would give them more of a fighting chance to stay up and maybe even compete for a playoff spot if they spend the money well. This can be achieved by revenue sharing.

      I really like this idea. It would instantly generate more interest in the sport, as suddenly all teams would have a lot more to play for and the playing field would be leveled, at least during the season. And how great of story would it be for a team from the Championship knocking off the top seed in the playoffs?

      I don’t think it will ever happen, but if it did, it would instantly generate buzz and interest in MLB for trying something new, and I’m willing to bet a lot of fans would love it.

  5. west larry

    Of the 30 ownership groups in MLB, none of them would want to ever risk the possibility of eventually being “voted” as one of the 14 second tier teams. Why would they agree to it? They are already one of the 30 best teams. Of the 14 teams designated as such, what would happen to their attendance? How would you allow a team from the 16 to trade with a team with the 14 designation? I don’t think this is workable.
    What if you kept the current 30 teams at the same level, but used basketballs lotterry picks to decide which team gets the number one pick. Allow, say, the two worst records in each of the six divisions be part of the lottery for draft choices. The 12 top draft picks would be determined in this way. I think it would cause less perceived tanking. The second thing would be that the top two finishers in each division would have to allow the possibility that two of their top four picks could be
    claimed by the eight bottom dwellers {the same teams that were in the lottery}. The four best prospects of thess elite teams would have to be ranked by a independent source {sat baseball America or ?}. Over time, this should level the playing field a little, but the richest teams would certainly get the best free agents. I can’t think of a way to curtail that.

    • Jim Walker

      Check my comment above. If the teams that can drive the real money, i.e. TV/ streaming and related income, decide they can come out as well (or better) on the bottom line without the lower half of the first tier, they just bolt to their own new league. Then the lower half will line up for whatever advancement and support opportunities the top tier offers them.

      • west larry

        I am not comfortable with richest and most powerful teams forming their own league. That would leave Cincinnati, and many others, in this lesser league if I read you correctly. It least in the current format, lowly teams would have, at least, a snowballs chance in Hades of winning their division or even more. I believe that your proposal leaves the lesser teams hapless and hopeless.

      • Jim Walker

        I am presuming there would be a relegation/ promotion path like in the English Premier League where every season the 3 lowest teams from tier 1 are relegated and the 3 teams from the second tier move up.

        Literally, any team in the top tier is a bad season from “taking the drop” and any team from the second tier can play their way into the top tier for the next season.

      • west larry

        That sounds reasonable…but would the owners ever sign off on it? If not, who would approve this structure?

  6. 3G Reds Fan

    Great article. Made me laugh but so true.

    How about we give the first pick to the team closest to making the playoffs that didn’t make it? So draft in order of wild card finish below the playoff teams and then inverse order for the teams that made the playoffs. Reward at least trying to win (or in the Reds case this year kind of trying to win) versus tanking. Also, incorporate a minimum salary.

  7. Rednat

    the problem with baseball in this era is that the game been dumbed down to homeruns and strikeouts. the teams that can afford the most strikeout pitchers and homerun hitters win. there is really no other way to compete.

    sure the championship teams of the 1970s and 1990s had their share of homerun hitters but their strength was elite defense and superior baserunning and speed. in today’s game that will buy you a .500 season at best.

    i think to make baseball fair again,speed and defense must be reintroduced to the game. it is a heck of a lot cheaper than power hitting and pitching and would allow the small market teams to compete again. you do this by expanding the dimensions at these ballparks. i want to see huge fields with 25 foot walls. get rid of the shift and the natural grass and go with the faster artificial turf that the football fields have now.

    • Mike Adams

      Expansion of fields and conversion to turf would be expensive.
      Why not change the official baseball so it does not carry so well?

    • TR

      For me, the radical shift is also a big negative in today’s game which takes away baserunners and interest, strategy and the excitement of speed on the bases.

    • David

      Most stadiums have gotten away from artificial turf because they realized it was really hard on the players (long term) for joint injuries in their legs, connective tissue, etc.

      Near the end of his career, Barry Larkin commented on this a lot. I think the disappearance of artificial turf has a lot to do with player’s long term physical health.

  8. Mark Moore

    What a great piece of writing once again, MBE!! I especially like the phrase “Worst of all, this silent incentive to blow chunks on the baselines doesn’t even work” because it’s so very true.

    For our Reds, I’m still in the camp that we need an ownership overhaul. I doubt we’ll see it, but the memories of the 70’s and that magical 1990 team still run so thick with me I have to brush them away from my face (ode to JE Jones in Field of Dreams). These guys only seem to get my hopes up only to see them dashed against the rocks.

    I’m wearing my Rome (GA) Braves shirt this evening. I’m hoping they can recover from that melt down and advance. I wasn’t planning on watching much of the post-season, but I find I am watching some and definitely following the final outcome of the games. Because Baseball is Life, after all.

    • TR

      The shock and surprise of the Dodger Stadium crowd has been evident. ‘How can the Braves do this to the mighty Dodgers?’

  9. David

    Since the Reds had a winning record in 2021, I think if this were implemented in 2022, the Reds would start in the Premier or First Division, whatever you want to call it.

    How long they would stay there is anybody’s guess. It might be an incentive for the ownership to start using their heads about managing the team better.
    16 teams in the First Division:
    NL East (2021): Braves, Phillies, maybe the Mets (maybe not)
    Nationals and Marlins get relegated
    NL Central (2021): Brewers, Cardinals, Reds.
    Cubs (haha) and Pirates get relegated
    NL West (2021): Giants, Dodgers, maybe the Padres.
    Rockies and Diamonbacks get relegated
    I count nine teams making it, so get it down to eight (half of 16), so either the Padres or Mets go. The other 8 come from the AL.
    AL East: Tampa Bay, Red Sox, Yankees, Toronto
    Baltimore gets relegated
    AL Central: White Sox
    Indians, Tigers, KC and Twins get relegated (that’s harsh!)
    AL West: Houston, Seattle, Oakland
    Angels and Rangers get relegated
    That’s 8 teams in the First Division from the AL

    This could work, but it would go down hard on a lot of teams.
    Maybe the Indians from AL Central stay (80-82), and neither of the Padres or Mets (they stink!)
    This might also be a big incentive for teams “out of it” in September to play harder to stay in the First Division.

  10. greenmtred

    In fairness, the analogy with the Olympics doesn’t quite work: If the worst Olympic teams got first choice of all of the competitors for the following Olympics, it would. I think, as you point out, Mary Beth, that baseball is not a sport where a single player is likely to transform a team. But not weighting the draft in some fashion would go further in assuring that the rich teams would be guaranteed perpetual success and the less successful teams would stay that way. It isn’t far from that now, but it isn’t quite the case that the same teams are always at the top, and I fear that opening the dog-eat-dog gates would result in fewer teams with any chance, and fewer fans having any interest.