The 1993 San Fransisco Giants, after signing a pre-scandal future home run king in the offseason before, won 103 regular season games. But their division was won by the Atlanta Braves, who edged them out by just one victory in what is known as the last great pennant race.
The Giants, because they did not win their division, did not qualify for the postseason that year. However, the Philadelphia Phillies, who would go on to win the pennant in ‘93, made the playoffs with only 97 wins.
Before 1969, baseball did not have divisions. The team with the best record in the American League faced the team from the National League that met the same criteria in the World Series. From ‘69 on, each league had two divisions: Eastern and Western. The winners of each met in the League Championship Series, which determined who would represent their respective league in the World Series.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig changed this after what happened in the 1993 NL playoff race. From that point on, the playoff system that is still in use was born. There were now three divisions instead of two, and while each division winner still made the playoffs, Selig instituted the Wild Card, so that the best team that did not win their division would still be allowed into the postseason.
Selig had the right idea in giving more teams an opportunity to make the postseason. Still, this idea was flawed.
In today’s MLB, the divisions within each league are very unbalanced. At this very moment, the Boston Red Sox are in third place in the AL East, and sit five and a half games out of first place. The two teams ahead of them, the Rays and Yankees, are tied for the best record in all of baseball.
The Texas Rangers are in first place in the AL West, and own a comfortable eight-game lead in their division. But at the same time, they have a lesser record than the Red Sox, who would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.
The AL East is widely considered baseball’s best division, and rightfully so. Since 2003, only once has the American League Wild Card team hailed from a different division. But even with the Wild Card system, the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox are three of baseball’s best teams. In addition, the Toronto Blue Jays are exceeding expectations this year, and would be contending for a division title if they were in any other division.
Meanwhile, three AL Central teams are under .500, including the putrid Indians and Royals, and already mentioned is the situation in the West, which is a jest in comparison to the East.
The National League Central is baseball’s only six-team division. And yet, four of those teams are four of the worst six teams in the NL, and Pittsburgh is baseball’s worst ball club.
This means that the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, who each play a total of 60 combined games against Milwaukee, Houston, the Cubs, and the Pirates, reap the great benefits of playing in a six-team division that currently has two contenders. There is no division in baseball that is less competitive.
Baseball should not allow this to continue. It simply is not just for a team that plays in a great division to be left out of the playoffs, while an inferior team makes the postseason by emerging victorious in an inferior division.
Some people have proposed simply switching some teams to other divisions to make the MLB more balanced. That is not the solution. While that may work for some time, times change, and the MLB would likely find itself in an unbalanced situation again in the future.
Major League Baseball should return to the basics, and once again not have divisions at all. Teams should play other teams from the same league equally, instead of playing nearly half of their schedule within a specific division, something that can be detrimental or beneficial. The teams that finish with the four best records in each league should make the playoffs.
This idea would be of some inconvenience to some teams. Geographically, baseball is uneven, and having divisions helps fix this. If there were no divisions, some teams would have to travel much farther than others to get to opposing ballparks.
But while divisions balance geography, they will never balance power. It is more important to make baseball itself as fair as possible than it is to save certain teams money on traveling fees. If the MLB wishes to be as fair as possible, it is imperative that it say goodbye to divisions.