In a stunning statement, released less than two hours before the start of the opening game of the 2002 Major League Baseball season, the Office of the Commissioner yesterday announced the complete realignment of the major leagues.
Gone are the National League and American League, names that have been in use for more than a century. In their place: a 15-team "Jupiter League" and a 15-team "Saturn League."
The purpose, according to the commissioner's office, is to improve baseball's competitive balance. The wealthier teams have all been assigned to the Jupiter League, while the Saturn League gets the teams with lower revenue.
Under the old system, small-market teams like Pittsburgh had to compete against deep-pocket organizations like the Astros and the Cardinals. The Pirates had no reasonable chance of reaching the post-season. Now Pittsburgh only has to beat teams from other small markets in order to get a playoff spot.
"In our negotiations with the players' union," explained an MLB spokesman, "we've been unable to help the small-market teams become more competitive.
"The players say that a salary cap is out of the question. They're opposed to reinstating the luxury tax. They don't want any significant increase in revenue sharing.
"So we've taken the one option remaining to us, which is realignment."
The teams were divided according to the figures that Major League Baseball released to Congress on December 6, 2001. The criterion: "Local Operating Revenue," which includes local broadcast rights, ticket sales, and other income such as parking and concessions.
Last season, LOR varied widely, from $218 million for the Yankees down to $10 million for the Expos. The median was about $95 million.
The 15 teams above the median have been placed in the new Jupiter League, while the other 15 teams went to the Saturn League. Each league was then divided into three geographical divisions.
A list of the divisions follows. The 2001 Local Operating Revenue, in millions of dollars, is given beside each team.
JUPITER LEAGUE Average LOR = 132
SATURN LEAGUE Average LOR = 57
Major League Baseball games will be played according to the previously announced schedule for 2002. The designated hitter will still be used in games in former American League ballparks.
However, the MLB spokesman promised that a new schedule for 2003 would take realignment into account. One plan under consideration calls for 11 games against each divisional opponent (down from 19 this season). There would be seven or eight games against each team from the other two divisions in the league.
Interleague play would consist of three games against each team from the other league, with the home field alternating from year to year. For example, if the Yankees play a three-game series in Cincinnati in 2003, the Reds would visit Yankee Stadium for three games in 2004.
According to this plan, each team would play 117 games against teams in its own league, plus 45 interleague games. Every Major League Baseball team would play every other team every year, bringing all of the game's stars even to the smallest markets.
The spokesman conceded that some reshuffling of the teams is a possibility for 2003. It would be based on 2002 Local Operating Revenue figures when they become available.
He also speculated that beginning next season, the designated hitter might be used only in games played in Jupiter League ballparks. However, he pointed out that such details would be subject to negotiation with the players' union.
Either This or Contraction"
MILWAUKEE, APRIL 1, 2002
Those more affluent teams had, on average, an extra $75,000,000 each to spend on player payroll. And seventy-five million buys a lot of talent.
In a background discussion with a highly placed Major League Baseball official, we learned how the Commissioner and the owners reached their solution to this problem of competitive imbalance.
It's well known that the owners voted in November to eliminate two teams: presumably, Minnesota and Montreal, the two with the lowest Local Operating Revenue.
But many baseball insiders wanted even more contraction. Commissioner Bud Selig said after a meeting of the owners last winter, "There was strong sentiment we eliminate four teams."
And former Philadelphia slugger Mike Schmidt, quoted in USA Today on March 8, 2002, predicted that half the present teams would fold. "There's a strong possibility there'll be just eight major league teams in each league in 10 or 15 years. The remaining teams will have to accept the fact they cannot compete in the same league with the other eight."
"After the eight major teams, I say to the others, 'Let's become four-A. Have double-A, triple-A, four-A, then the majors,'" Schmidt said.
"The major leagues will be the teams that can afford the $80 million to over $100 million payrolls. The $10 million and $20 million players can just rotate in that league.
"The lower-market teams will be more into the player development role. They won't be forced to have payrolls that compete with the George Steinbrenners or Ted Turners. They can operate at a lower tier, still be competitive, still have great stadiums, but with much lower payrolls. They just won't be playing in the major leagues."
Many owners were thinking along the same lines, according to the MLB official. They were receptive to the idea of dividing baseball's 30 teams into two new leagues, which they gave the working titles of the Haves and the Have-Nots. "It's either this or contraction," the official quoted one owner as saying. "I'd rather have a team in the Have-Nots than be out of baseball completely."
However, owners hesitated at demoting so many franchises from the major league level to "Class AAAA," as Schmidt suggested.
"Among the teams in the lower half of the revenue chart," the official said, "there are many franchises which have been an important part of baseball history for more than a century. These include the Cincinnati Reds, the Detroit Tigers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies, the White Sox. The owners were very reluctant to declare that these great old ball clubs had become minor league franchises."
So it was agreed that the Haves and the Have-Nots would each be considered a "major" league. Each would send three divisional champions and a wild card team to the playoffs; each would have a team in the World Series.
It was felt that although the names of the two new leagues should reflect the new reality by indicating which league had the larger markets, the names should not demean the Have-Nots.
Therefore, one early proposal, City League and Bush League, was rejected. "Bush League" has bad connotations within baseball, despite one wag's claim that the term would actually honor the current President.
A fanciful suggestion used the theme of large and small Scottish equines: Clydesdale League and Shetland League. However, it was feared that Shetland League teams would inevitably be referred to as "ponies."
Another idea was to specifically call the Have-Nots "the Major League," and then give the Haves a name that connoted something more than major. Suggestions included Superior League and even Lieutenant Colonel League.
However, the final choice referred to the solar system. "Everyone agrees that Jupiter is the largest planet," the MLB official explained. "Saturn isn't quite as large, but it's still huge. It's pretty major in its own right. Saturn League is a name that you can take pride in.
"And besides, Saturn has those rings. Maybe even World Series rings, right? Anything can happen."
Fairness? Wait Till Next Year
SAN DIEGO, APRIL 1, 2002
The big boys are off to their new supermegaplaypen, the Jupiter League, while the low-revenue teams have been given their own soft Saturn League where they have only each other to compete against in the standings.
But this realignment was announced too late to affect this year's schedule. In fact, the word came just 90 minutes before the Indians took the field at Anaheim for the opening game of the season.
To avoid mass confusion, all of the games in your handy 2002 pocket schedule will be played as previously announced. Only the method of computing the standings is different.
Next year, we're told, the schedule will reflect the new planetary order, and Saturn League teams will each play 117 games against Saturn League opponents. But that's not the case this year.
For example, look at the SL West. Minnesota gets to play 101 games against the Saturns this season, but the rest of the division is not so lucky. San Diego is particularly cursed, with only 43 games against the weaker teams.
The reason, of course, is that the matchups on the field are still being made according to the old American League and National League schedules.
Minnesota used to be part of the AL Central, with 19 games each against the Royals, White Sox, and Tigers (now Saturnine) and against the Indians (now Jovian). Last season, the Twins beat up on those three weak opponents before the All-Star Break to achieve a better record than they deserved. This season, among the teams that they meet the most, the Twins retain that 3-to-1 ratio favoring the smaller-market league.
other hand, San Diego plays nearly half its schedule against the
Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks, all now members of the
Jupiter League. This was a disadvantage last year, when the
Padres competed with these big boys in the National League West
standings. It's still a disadvantage this year, with Padre wins
and losses now being compared to their new SL West division-mates
such as Minnesota.
EASE OF SCHEDULE