How Bud Selig Got His Way in 1997

an original  cartoon creation by The Pecan Park Eagle

an original cartoon creation
The Pecan Park Eagle


Back in 1997, the American and National Leagues each had 14 teams in three 5-5-4 club division set-ups per league. MLB also had approved two new franchise clubs late in the year that would add a new team for each league, bringing the MLB total club membership up from 28 to 30 teams..  The Tampa Bay Rays were slated for the American League in 1998; the Arizona Diamondbacks would be headed for the National League, also in 1998.

Now, unless my math is wrong, those changes for 1998 should have given both leagues what they have now had since 2014: 30 clubs; two 15 team leagues; and three divisions per league of a 5-5-5 franchise distribution –  and the perfect formula for ongoing inter-league play during the season.

The league alignment change we now have didn’t happen in late 1997, but why not? I may be wrong here, but I’m guessing that Bud Selig, the owner of the American League Milwaukee Brewers, who just happened also to have been the magnanimous acting Commissioner of Baseball and his car salesman-style interpersonal power and marketing abilities had something to do with it.

Here comes the magnanimous part. The acting commissioner apparently spoke with the Milwaukee Brewers owner and convinced him that one of the now 30 major league clubs in 1998 needed to change leagues so that both the AL and NL could continue to maintain an even number of teams for balanced scheduling.  Brewers owner Selig volunteered to Commissioner Selig that he, with some considerable regret, would offer to allow the Milwaukee franchise to be the club that sacrificed their place in the American League to become a member of the National League –  and all to save the day for everyday balanced scheduling.

Brewers owner Selig admitted in a November 7, 1997 AP article that “for the Milwaukee Brewers, switching to the National League is like ‘coming home’, but he also acknowledged that Milwaukee’s return to the National League, where they played as the Braves from 1953 to 1965, was a mixed bag. “There is sadness over the prospect of ending a 28-year relationship with the American League and its member clubs and anticipation over returning Milwaukee to its root in the National League.”

“Those of us old enough remember the glory days of Aaron, Mathews and Logan, and Spahn and Burdette, review this as coming home,” uttered the humbly pleased owner Selig.

But let’s also be clear, Selig listened to a lot of polling among Milwaukee fans before he made this generous offer to move the Brewers from the American to the National League. Once 75% of the Milwaukee fans polled said they supported the move to the National League, owner and commissioner Selig noted that this display of public support was an important factor in the offer and approval of Milwaukee’s move to the National League.

Isn’t it amazing how things work out over time. The cruel ironies overflow from those agreements between the Commissioner of Baseball and the Owner of the Milwaukee Brewers back in 1997:

(1) Milwaukee’s sacrificial decision to move to the National League in 1998, we suppose, “for the greater good of baseball”, simply was a time bomb in the chain of events that would eventually force the Houston Astros to surrender their place in the National League and move to the American League as a late condition placed upon the sale of the franchise to the Jim Crane group by a now fully empowered Commissioner Bud Selig who apparently didn’t give a twit this time about what the Houston fans wanted or didn’t want.

(2) And Houston was ostensibly moved out of the National League for a similar reason given for moving Milwaukee into the National League back in 1998. It was to help with scheduling. Now, with the Houston move to the AL, each league now would have 15 teams, making it essential that there always be room on the schedule for one inter-league series for the sake of avoiding long lay offs for all teams during the season.

(3) In the end, MLB is what it is – until the commissioner says it’s something else. – Then, everything that used be be thought of as permanent – changes again.

Thanks, Bud Selig, for all of your brilliant contributions to baseball. It’s too bad we fans couldn’t have given you a few of our own ultimatums before you went to pasture. We should have tried, at least, to get you to take that “All Star Game Winner Determines Home Field Advantage” rule with you back to Wisconsin. No team in baseball should be given any direct advantage that they did not also earn directly for themselves. And that idea expands to include not having any owner, who by the “smoke and mirrors, it’s perfectly legal” route also finds him or herself wearing another hat that says “Acting or Permanent Commissioner of Baseball” written all over it.



3 Responses to “How Bud Selig Got His Way in 1997”

  1. stanfromtacoma Says:

    If I was made dictator of baseball I would add Montreal as an expansion team in the AL, Brooklyn as an expansion team in the NL, eliminate Interleague games except for the WS, have each league split into two eight team divisions, eliminate the DH, go back to the league championship series followed by the WS. No wild card or all star game determining home field advantage for the WS. Baseball without gimmicks.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    It all boiled down to Milwaukee Braves fan Bud Selig wanting to have his property (the Brewers) in the same league as the Braves so he could be a National League fan again. Now he has transferred that desire to have our team be a National League club again onto the fans of Houston except, in Houston’s case, it was always the same franchise, not an expansion replacement for the team that left for greener pastures.

  3. Rick B. Says:

    Let’s face it, some changes that MLB has made have been positive while others have been negative; that the way it always has been and likely always will be.

    The gimmicky things that should be eliminated are the All-Star game determining home-field advantage and the new extra wild-card team with its accompanying ‘play-in’ game.

    That being said, I like the divisional format and the wild card teams. If MLB went back to two divisions in each league, it would result in a decline in interest in the game. It’s a lot more exciting when most teams have a shot at the playoffs entering the September stretch run. Also, wild card teams often have a much better record than all of the other division winners (except obviously a team in their own division), so I think it’s good to have wild card teams.

    As for the DH, the AL instituted that position(?) when I was but a lad of 7, so I grew up with the AL and NL playing different styles of baseball. It suits me fine. I do miss the old AL-NL rivalry of the All-Star game that is all but gone thanks to both interleague play and the rampant team-jumping that free agency has brought about. On the other hand, interleague play does help to stimulate interest in teams which we would otherwise never see or pay much attention to.

    The Astros being forced into the AL has been a done deal for a couple of years now. I’m getting used to it because that’s all I can do. In another ten years, most folks won’t rail against it anymore – it will just be the status quo.

    I’ve been working on an article for SABR about the 1929 winter meetings and discovered that there was an attempt by some owners to stop radio broadcasts of major-league games (they claimed it was hurting attendance). A Chicago Tribune reporter wrote of those owners that they disliked radio “because of the traditional suspicion with which some of the magnates view anything that smacks of progress.” That statement could be applied to all of baseball, including many fans, in the more-recent dispute over the use of instant replay.

    Changes will always happen in baseball as in life. Similarly, we will like some of the changes and dislike others. That’s just the way it is.

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