MLB: Why the uneven league totals?

Near as I can tell, there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. There are 16 teams in the American League and 14 in the National league. Most divisions break down to 5 teams, but the AL West has 4 teams and the NL Central has 6. Doesn’t this make playoff baseball much more attainable for the teams in the AL West than it is for the teams in the NL Central? (I am of course excepting Texas) And doesn’t it make it a little easier for teams from the AL to make it to the series?

I understand that teams fold and move, but is there a precedent for teams switching leagues? It seems that bumping a team to the AL would make things more even, especially with 30 teams, 5 per division. the divisions are kind of loose geographically anyway (see the aforementioned Texas).

I am sure I am missing something, and that a league move would involve much personnel shuffling due to the DH, etc. Is this the sole reason why the leagues are not evened out? Is it not perceived as a problem? Why wasn’t this sorted out when the Nationals were added?

So many questions. Thanks!

Yes. The Brewers abandoned the Dark Side several years ago.

The Nationals weren’t “added.” The Expos moved and changed names.

Baseball teams play almost every day. If there were 15 teams in each league, then at least one team from both leagues would have to play an inter-league game each day. This would make scheduling very difficult. For some reason, baseball likes to have the inter-league games all done at the same time. They wouldn’t need to, but scheduling would be tight.

Thanks for the clarification, but same difference, really. Why not switch leagues during the move? I guess the personnel issues would affect them as well since they were an existing team, but it can’t be that hard to have your pitcher swing the bat once in a while.

Is there some underlying business rule or revenue-sharing standard about league membership that affects this?

There is no hidden business rule or revenue-sharing rule. As Old Guy said, the sole reason is that the leagues want to have a number of teams that is evenly divisible by two. It’s that simple. Fifteen is an odd number, so they won’t do it.

Up to 1960, there were eight teams in the NL and the AL. In 1961, the AL bumped to 10. In 1962, the NL also bumped to 10. In 1969, both leagues bumped to 12. In 1977, the AL bumped to 14. In 1993, the NL also went to 14. In 1998, they added Florida and Tampa, but they wanted one to go to the NL and one to the AL, so Milwaukee switched to the NL, to keep the even numbers: 16 NL and 14 AL.

The numbers of teams in the various divisions is completely unrelated to this. They decided to have three divisions each, so they have to divide them up somehow.

Better, in my opinion, to contract back down to 28. Get rid of Tampa and another recent expansion club or maybe Toronto.

That’s two AL teams – it wouldn’t help the Stolichnaya problem.

Fair enough and I wasn’t really thinking about it. Besides, they could always equalize the league totals afterward.

Personally, I think the NFL has nailed it when it comes to league (conference) and division structure.

In other words, Stol, one team (Milwaukee) did change leagues, and it switched precisely to avoid having two 15-team leagues.

Awesome. Thanks everyone! This makes a lot of sense, which many answers to my baseball questions stubbornly do not.

Technically speaking, no major league team has “folded” since 1899, when the NL dropped Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville, and Washington. Franchises have been moved and new franchises have been created, but no franchise has been eliminated since then.

Two of my favorite baseball trivia questions:

What was the original name of the NY Yankees?

The Baltimore Orioles (Most people say the NY Highlanders)

What was the original name of the Baltimore Orioles?

The Milwaukee Brewers (most people say the St. Louis Browns)

Well, of course you’d want to get rid of a profitable franchise in a very large city and media market. Hey, there’s no baseball fans in Canada.


There are two issues. One is that historically, the American and National leagues have been separate entities. They have different administrations, different umpires, some rules variations, and they only play the teams within their own league.

Second is that baseball teams play nearly every day. They play 162 games in 180 days, with about half of those off days used either for cross-continental travel, or to make up games that were previously postponed due to weather. An odd number of teams in a league would require one team be idle each day, and that simply isn’t feasible.

Under Commissioner Bud Selig, the two leagues have ceased being separate entities. The league offices have merged or been eliminated, there is a single pool of umpires, and there is limited interleague play.

And really, it;s that last bit that causes the problem. Full interleague play would be logical. Every other major sports league does that, and it would be a logical solution to MLB’s poorly though out decision to expand to 30 teams. However, Selig has avoided that for two reasons: 1) to appease the traditionalists who would prefer maintaining two leagues, and 2) to make interleague play seem like a special (i.e., marketable) event.

I’d like to expand on the problems with baseball, but that would probably be better suited for a different forum, and I don;t want to hijack this thread.

Maybe that was in revenge for all the Canadians who decry the existence of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

If all teams had an even chance of winning, then you are absolutely right, statistically speaking. Teams in the AL West do have a higher statistical probability of making the playoffs then teams do in the NL Central. We need a stat head to run the numbers. Guestimating, I’d say teams in the AL West have about a 28% chance of making the playoffs and teams in the NL Central have a 22% chance, taking into account the wild card playoff team and all other things, like pitching staffs or lack of same, being equal.

Heh. I don’t blame the Canadians. Winnipeg and Quebec City don’t get NHL franchises, but Columbus does? And Nashville? And Raleigh?

Nothing personal. I was just under the impression that pro baseball, even the minor leagues, is pretty much gone in Canada. After all, the AAA PCL used to have several Canadian teams (Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver) and they’re all gone now. The Expos are gone from Montreal and that pretty much just leaves Toronto. I could see MLB making business arguments that it’d be better to eliminate or move the Blue Jays back into the US is all.

Another reason to shutter the Toronto franchise is that crossing the international border is no longer a concern for those players who are under felony indictment or who are not allowed to leave the U.S. due to domestic-violence problems. Eliminate the international factor and it’s win win!

Well, they both had NHL franchises at one time. The teams just moved.