Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement is the fourth straight labor deal to be agreed upon without a work stoppage, guaranteeing a stretch of at least 21 years without a strike or lockout. Set against the backdrop of this year's NFL and NBA lockouts, as well as MLB's long history of labor animus, that's a big win for the industry; the notion that baseball would provide a model of owner-union relations was laughable not so long ago. The new agreement, which was to be announced on Tuesday, makes changes to the draft (it constrains what teams can spend on picks) and free agency (teams that sign free agents will pay a lower price in compensatory draft picks). It also adds blood testing for human growth hormone (sidebar, left) and expands the postseason to five teams from each league.
The agreement is in concert with the sale of the Astros to Houston businessman Jim Crane and the shifting of the 50-year-old franchise to the American League in 2013. It's the second time in 15 years that a team has changed leagues, and along with the expanded—and daily—interleague play necessitated by two 15-team leagues, the move further dilutes the identities of the AL and the NL and continues commissioner Bud Selig's pattern of changing the structure of the sport. More than postseason expansion or new mallparks or revenue upticks, the defining trait of Selig's reign has been the melding of leagues with storied histories into one business unit. No longer do the leagues alternate picks in the draft or employ separate sets of umpires. League presidents went the way of doubleheaders. Even the vaunted playing differences between the two leagues have faded, with the only real difference being the presence of the DH in the AL.
The history of the American and National leagues is just that. For all intents and purposes the leagues no longer exist, and you can expect MLB, even post-Selig, to continue to blur the lines. We will see more "interleague" play, the DH used by all 30 teams and perhaps a radical realignment that forever severs the ties to the original groups of eight. Moving the Astros to the AL isn't a dramatic change; it's just another step in a long process of remaking the game in Selig's vision.