Hey kids, it's time for a special edition of Pelé Sez. I was going to wait until Barcelona played a team facing relegation, but it would just take so long to explain the awesomeness of relegation that I didn't want to add too much to the regular updates. So what is relegation, and why is it awesome? Let's take a look.
Most people know about the major soccer leagues in Europe - the Premiership, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga, etc. What a lot of casual fans don't know is that each country has several "minor" leagues, sort of like Minor League Baseball, with one big difference. The teams in the "minor" leagues aren't owned by the "major" league teams. The Cardinals have Memphis, Springfield, Quad Cities, etc. as part of their franchises. But Barcelona, Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, etc. aren't franchises; they're clubs - and that's a crucial difference.
Did you ever wish that the Royals didn't stink up Major League Baseball season after season, or want the Expos/Nationals to actually do something? Did you want to see the Marlins penalized each time they blew up their roster following a World Series? Relegation would solve that problem.
See, in most soccer leagues, the teams at the bottom have as much to play for as the teams at the top, because the bottom couple teams (how many depends on the league, but usually about three) get booted from the league at the end of each season and find themselves in the lower division. They get replaced by the highest finishers in the lower league.
For example, last year in La Liga, Celta Vigo, Real Sociadad, and Gimnastic Tarragona finished last. This year, they're in the Segunda, replaced in La Liga by Murcia, Valladolid, and Almeria.
This forces teams to try harder at the end of the season instead of playing out the string, and gets consistently bad teams out of the top leagues. To continue the baseball analogy, in 2006, the Royals, Cubs, and Devil Rays had the three worst records in baseball. To start the 2007 season, they would have found themselves in Triple A, with Triple A teams taking their place.
Now, you're saying that Triple A has two fully independent leagues to MLB's ultimately singular structure. This is a problem faced further down in the soccer leagues. Parallel leagues have a cross league playoff to find out who gets promoted, so Pacific Coast League and International League teams could face off in a tournament to see who gets to play in the Major Leagues the following season.
But wait, it gets better. This year, the Devil Rays (66 wins), Pirates (68 wins), Royals, and Orioles (69 wins each) had the three worst records in Major League Baseball. The Royals and Orioles are tied for the last relegation spot. Imagine a playoff series, best of three, to see who doesn't get kicked out of the league. Imagine an anti-pennant race to see who gets to stick around. Imagine the Atlanta Braves opening their season against the newly-promoted Sacramento River Cats. Imagine the Royals paying a price for decades of ineptitude, rather than collecting a fat luxury tax check.
If all of baseball were clubs, rather than franchises, it would be possible for the Quad City Swing to have some great seasons and find themselves in the Major Leagues, rather than Class A. Kansas City could be playing in Double A before they knew what was going on.
Since 1992 the English Premiership has had 40 teams as a part of the league at one point or another. 40 teams! That's twice the size of the league! The best league plays the best ball. If you stink, you go to another league. The beauty of relegation. But it will never happen in baseball, because they're franchises, not clubs.
Oh, and in case you're curious, the teams that would be relegated in Major League Baseball since 2000 would be: Arizona (04), Baltimore (01, 07), Chicago Cubs (00, 06), Colorado (05), Detroit (02, 03), Kansas City (04, 05, 06, 07), Milwaukee (02), Montreal (00), Philadelphia (00), Pittsburgh (01, 05, 07), Seattle (04), San Diego (03), and Tampa Bay (01, 02, 03, 05, 06, 07). Notice a pattern? Of the thirteen teams on the list, eight are "relegated" multiple times.
Imagine what some new blood might have done. Sure, they might get sent right back down. In soccer, one or two freshly promoted teams in each league get sent back most years, but they usually get replaced by teams other than the just relegated ones. Fresh blood can be good for a league. Love! Love! Love!