CHICAGO -- Negotiations between owners and players for expanded playoffs and three-division play very likely will be brief and successful, given the public positions of the two sides, and the new format should be implemented for the 1994 season.
John Harrington of the Boston Red Sox, chairman of the owners' schedule format committee, said yesterday that the owners are prepared to move quickly to realign the National and American leagues from two divisions each to three divisions each. The Major League Baseball Players Association has indicated it would approve an additional round in the playoffs if the owners took that step.
"Absolutely, we're all for three divisions," he said. "It's not an impossibility to do it for next season. One of the reasons we were proceeding slowly was to make sure we had given the Players Association adequate time to consider it. We didn't want tocreate the notion that we were trying to ram something through. We felt it was better to phase in these changes -- expanded playoffs one year, three divisions the next."
When the owners approved the additional round of playoffs for next season, they said they wouldn't consider going to three divisions before 1995. Then Monday, union chief Donald Fehr said that the players opposed expanded playoffs that would include two non-championship teams but that they would consider the new round if each league's playoff included three division champions and the second-place team with the best record.
"I was pleased to hear Don say that with certain conditions they would favor three divisions," Harrington said.
If any element could bog down the negotiations, it would be agreement on how the players would be paid for the postseason games.
"The difference between this year and years past is a new element -- the form the television package takes," Eugene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, said.
Harrington, Bill Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies and Richard Ravitch, the owners' chief labor executive, will meet today with Orza and Lauren Rich, also a union lawyer, to begin negotiations on the changes. Fehr is on vacation.
The owners will meet Sept. 8 and 9. If negotiators for the owners and players agree to the new format, some teams would have to be convinced that the placement of their teams is important to the effort of making the leagues more attractive.
If any National League team is to change divisions, it must give its approval. The Atlanta Braves would prefer to be in the East instead of the Central, but, Harrington said: "I think they've looked at it and can adapt. I don't think any National League team would raise their veto power."
The American League has no veto provision. Approval of the change would require 10 votes from among the 14 clubs.