The Orioles are in the midst of an historically bad season, that much is clear. They are likely going to challenge the 1988 team for the worst record in franchise history. That squad finished 54-107 for a .335 win percentage after starting the season with an major league-record 0-21 mark. Neither this year’s team or the 1988 squad were tanking, but that word has come up a bunch in recent baseball memory.
Some point to the Astros or Cubs as examples of teams that tanked for a few years in order to build up their farm system with young players and eventually win the World Series. It’s a practice that’s frowned upon by some and lauded by others, simply because it has worked. But what if there was a penalty for finishing at the bottom of the league?
I’m not talking about a minimum payroll. After all, when it comes to the Orioles, they’ve been in the top half of the league in payroll in recent years. They are even above average this year despite the awful results. But there are teams this would impact. In fact, the Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against the Rays, Athletics, Pirates and Marlins earlier this year, claiming they were failing to appropriately spend revenue-sharing money.
The idea that I have is much more drastic, and I also recognize fully that it’s completely unrealistic. But bare with me for a moment. The only way to truly prevent the “t-word” is by using the “r-word,” relegation. For those unfamiliar with the common practice in international soccer, relegation is what happens when teams in the bottom of the league get sent down a level, and teams at the top of the lower level get promoted up. Imagine for a second that the O’s actually had something to play for in August and September, and that something was their ability to even participate in Major League Baseball next season. Otherwise, they’d be demoted to a lesser league. It’s all kind of just a crazy pipe dream, I realize, but it would make the end of the season much more interesting.
Baseball has also talked about drastic changes to the overall landscape of the game, including expansion. There could be a new team or teams in cities like Charlotte, Portland, Las Vegas, San Juan, Montreal or Nashville in the coming years. As part of this expansion, some form of relegation would be fascinating to me. Outside of the drastic idea of relegation, it will also be interesting to see what realignment does to the Orioles. There’s a chance that within the next five years, they are playing in a different division or an expanded one that includes more regional teams like the Phillies and Nationals.
Part of the biggest problem the Orioles dealt with from 1998-2011 was indifference. There was a very nonchalant attitude from the fan base when it came to the team, because they were perpetually at or near the bottom of the standings. Relegation would give them something to fight for. It would make August and September games meaningful. It would do so for all of the moribund franchises that seem to slip into multiple years of struggles.
Again, I fully recognize that the idea of actually demoting a team into a different level of play is completely farfetched for American sports. It’s done elsewhere in the world and works well. But there are many factors that make it possible there where it wouldn’t be here. You would likely have to see every major league team cut ties with minor league affiliates, or reduce the top tier of the league to about 20 teams and have a smaller, lower tier. There are also massive implications with revenue sharing. Still, even thinking about the idea is captivating to me. There’s no great way to end the tanking epidemic that is currently plaguing baseball. This is just one silly, farfetched plot. Supporting a losing team in August and September can be brutal. Orioles fans knew this pain for 14 long seasons from 1998-2011. Unfortunately they had that scar ripped open last season, and things aren’t changing this year.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.