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Coonelly: Phillies, Mets Should Play More in Pittsburgh

The Post-Gazette, quoting Frank Coonelly:

Coonelly's first modification would be to get the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets to Pittsburgh more often, even if it means moving to the East Division.

"Our challenge, particularly in the NL Central, is that the combination of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule means that we only see rivals like the Phillies and the Mets one time a year in Pittsburgh," he said. "We need to have these rivals in Pittsburgh more often. That can be accomplished through realignment or a more balanced schedule."

His other modification, as he has stated often, would be to have Cleveland become a natural interleague rival. The Indians visit this year, June 23-25, but only because the divisions lined up...


I don't live in Pittsburgh and thus am not the best judge of what the fans would want. That said: the idea that the Pirates are "rivals" with the Phillies or Mets reminds me of when I went to William & Mary, which is a good public university in Virginia. It's similar in quality to the University of Virginia but far smaller, and my freshman hall echoed with tales of how so-and-so got a scholarship to UVA, or how so-and-so didn't get into UVA. People talked about UVA all the time. I highly doubt my brother, who went to UVA, ever heard anything about William & Mary on his freshman hall. Do you think Phillies fans or Mets fans are clamoring to play more games against the Pirates?

From a baseball point of view, realignment is an awful idea for the Bucs. The one nice thing about being a small-payroll team from the middle of the country in the current alignment is that you get to play other small-payroll teams from the middle of the country, like the Reds and Brewers. I've written about this before: generally speaking, it takes more wins to reach the playoffs if you play in the East. Also, the top team payrolls are higher in the East--the Mets, Phillies and Braves have the 3rd, 7th and 11th-highest payrolls, respectively, whereas the Cubs, Astros and Cardinals are 3rd, 8th and 13th.

It's true that the East also has two teams with extremely low payrolls. But the Marlins have a clear strategy of barely scraping by for a few years, and then jacking up payroll and going for the gold. And while the Nationals are in terrible shape now, they're in a good market and are still cleaning up messes that were made when they were still called the Expos. It's hard to say what they'll be like in five or ten years.

In the Pirates moved to the East today, they probably wouldn't take much of a hit in wins and losses this year. In fact, Central teams are eight games above .500 against the East this year and were 15 games above .500 last year. Still, the Pirates would have a tougher time squeezing into the playoffs because they'd have to beat out either the Mets or Phillies just to have a shot at the Wild Card. Obviously that's true in the Central as well, but the sort of season the Cardinals had in 2006, in which they won 83 games and the Central division and then the World Series, would be just about impossible if the Pirates played in the East. In the Central it's possible, because they're only one big-payroll team that takes itself seriously.

And if the Marlins become competitive again and the Nationals put themselves back together, the Pirates wouldn't just be reducing their chances of making the playoffs. It would be like turning up the setting on a treadmill--they'd have to run faster just to keep going nowhere. 

Also, I said this last time this came up, but it's worth saying again. Pittsburgh is just not an East Coast city. In an earlier article on this same subject, the Post-Gazette ludicrously argued that "Culturally, Pittsburgh belongs to the Midwest as much as it belongs to Malawi." Pittsburgh is a rust-belt city, much like nearby Cleveland. This is one reason I agree with Coonelly that it would be nice if the Pirates were interleague rivals with the Indians. Is anyone clamoring for the Indians to be moved to the A.L. East? Culturally, Pittsburgh doesn't have a whole lot in common with, say, Houston, but it's much more similar to cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Cincinnati than it is to New York, Miami or Atlanta. Whether that's a good thing or not is a matter of taste. (Personally, I have to go to New York a lot for my career, and it makes me feel like I'm about to break out in hives; I like Pittsburgh much better.) But I don't even see how it's debatable.