Mark Gonzales: Latest 2020 MLB schedule proposal using the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues is worth a look — even if it means longtime rivals won’t play each other

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CHICAGO — The Cubs and Cardinals were scheduled to play this weekend — until the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the season.

But if fans can live without seeing this longtime rivalry at Wrigley Field, they should be able to stomach the thought of the two teams not playing if a 2020 season can be resolved.

That’s the latest possibility in Major League Baseball’s effort to salvage a season, according to a USA Today report.

The most recent proposal is more logical than an earlier scenario that would call for all 30 teams to play in the Phoenix area with access to only one major league stadium — Chase Field.

According to the reported new proposal, teams would be split into two leagues based on their spring training headquarters in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues. This would provide comfort to teams accustomed to their training environment.

Teams also would have access to more ballparks instead of relying solely on the Arizona parks and chewing up their fields in the 100-degree-plus heat. That includes Marlins Park in Miami and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., each of which have roofs or retractable roofs. They also could be used for a World Series site.

According to the USA Today story, there are attractive television options similar to the season, such as starting with games in Florida and ending with night games in Arizona. That wouldn’t be unlike a normal season with teams on the East Coast usually playing earlier than West Coast teams.

Of course, safety and security issues need to be resolved in the wake of the pandemic. Quarantining the 15 Grapefruit League teams scattered farther apart than the Cactus League teams would be an added challenge.

But placing teams at their spring training facilities is an encouraging start to salvaging a season that could be postponed at least through May.

The delay should be enough to convince skeptics that a few wrinkles to the season would be a welcomed feature in a time of a worldwide crisis.

Under the proposal, each league would have three divisions based on geography. The Cubs would be placed in the Northeast Division with the Athletics, Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies.

The White Sox would play in the West with the Angels, Dodgers, Indians and Reds but wouldn’t face usual American League Central opponents — the Tigers (North) and Twins (South), who train in Florida. The Royals would be in the Northwest Division.

The Cardinals, who train in Jupiter, Fla., would be placed in the Grapefruit League East Division.

The longtime rival Yankees (North) and Red Sox (South) also would be separated in the Grapefruit League.

To maintain the semblance of a regular-season schedule, division teams would play each other up to 12 times and six times against the remaining 10 opponents in their league.

There have been some tweaks to division alignment in the last 23 seasons, from the Brewers switching from the AL to the NL in 1998 to the Astros moving in the other direction in 2013 to balance the divisions to five teams apiece.

The move also created two 15-team leagues and at least one interleague series on the schedule.

Under the latest proposal, teams would be scheduled to play at least one doubleheader because of the odd number of teams in each league.

But during the last 28 seasons, baseball has been more accepting of change. The only major exception occurred in 1992, when the Cubs successfully fought an attempt by league officials that would have transferred them and the Cardinals from the NL East to the NL West and negatively affected their broadcast ratings for West Coast games.

This time, fans of the Cubs and Cardinals would have to live without their teams facing each other for one season.


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