How Could the MLB Make Travel More Equitable for the Teams?
By Christine Navarro
How much does the Mariners' travel schedule factor into potential players' decisions to play in Seattle? MLB teams travel a lot. Some teams, like the Mariners, travel much more than others. For the 2023 season, MLB hopes to achieve more parity in the teams' schedules and will ban the shift so that the playing field looks more balanced. How could the MLB make travel more equitable?
Baseballsavant.mlb.com has calculated how many miles each team will travel during the 2023 season. This website estimates that the Mariners will travel 49,036 miles, the second-highest distance after Oakland. Meanwhile, the Brewers will travel 25,426 miles, the least. The Brewers travel about half as much as the Mariners. Traveling is tiring and takes time out of players’ professional and personal lives. The inequity in travel translates into performance on the field.
How could MLB balance travel for teams, primarily on the West Coast, but also for the Marlins and Rays who fly additional miles? There are obstacles to doing so. One solution might be to change the configuration of the AL and NL West divisions. Another would be to ask teams in the Midwest and Northeast to shift their home and away games so that the West Coast teams are more likely to host them than visa versa.
The AL West Travels More Than the NL West
While the NL West surely shares the Mariners’ woes of traveling to the East Coast and Midwest – I have no issue with those parts of the country except that they are far away from Seattle! The Mariners, Angels, Athletics, Rangers, and Astros travel as far north as Seattle and as far east and south as Houston and Dallas.
Meanwhile, the Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies have San Francisco as their northern in-division boundary and do not travel farther east than Denver which is 1100 miles closer than Houston. One way to lessen the Mariners’ travel might be to swap one of the Texas teams out of the AL West division with another team in the NL West. Alternatively, the Mariners could become part of the NL West and give the Rockies or another team the chance to go to Texas for one-quarter of their division games.
Of course, I do not know how any swap would affect either division, the players themselves, management, fans, etc. Practically speaking, though, having the farthest northwest team traveling to Texas for 25 percent of their division games seems excessive. Then again, both Texas teams chose the AL West, so it could be the MLB is not in the habit of switching teams around.
Is It Possible to Shift Some Home and Away Games for Midwest and Northeast Teams so Seattle Plays More East Coast Teams at T. Mobile Park?
If you have ever seen a map of the United States with its baseball cities marked, the Midwest and the Northeast look like people could walk between the stadiums. Except in a few cases, this is not possible.
My idea would be to create a different type of game to lessen travel for the Mariners (and other far-away teams) and increase it for the Brewers, for example. (Sorry, Brewers!) Every team needs to have half of their games at home and half away, but what if some of the games between closely located teams were held more often at one team’s stadium?
This type of game would have to be within 2 hours of the opposing team’s fans so that they could realistically attend the game, with the ticket availability split evenly between the teams. That host team would then require more away games to balance out their home games. When they played Seattle, they would go to Seattle rather than hosting the Mariners. These exchanges would have to be made throughout the MLB scheduling process.
My idea has many holes, unfortunately.
1. First, the six pairs of teams (Brewers and White Sox, Cubs; Guardians and Pirates; Orioles and Phillies; Phillies and Mets; Angels and Padres) that are two or fewer hours driving distance from each other are not all in the same league. (Only the Phillies and Mets and the Brewers and Cubs share a league.) Because they are primarily interleauge, those teams will not necessarily have an away-and-home series scheduled. If they only had one three or four-game series, my idea does not work.
2. Two hours for opposing fans to drive might work on a weekend day game but when some of the games go late on a school night, my projected two-hour driving distance might not be practical at all and, of course, more games occur during the week.
3. The drive between several of these stadiums might be two hours under ideal conditions, but all of them require a trip through high-traffic areas which could add significant time to the travel. That would not be good.
I hope that MLB can find a way to address the travel issues that perhaps one-third of their teams experience. I have not met an adult who likes to fly on a plane for hours - maybe we only liked plane travel as kids.