Majors' change won't be minor Realignment in offing is based on geography

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Texas Rangers' neighborhood is on the verge of significant change.

At the least, the Rangers may finally be placed in the same division as the Houston Astros, with the intention of creating an intense Texas rivalry.

At the extreme, the Rangers could be just a small cog in a massive realignment of major-league baseball that would sweep away the National and American leagues as they've been known for 97 years.

Instead, baseball's 30 teams would be split into two leagues, one consisting of two seven-team divisions and another of two eight-team divisions. The alignment would be strictly by geography and time zones.

"I think the possibility is greater than it ever has been," Rangers president Tom Schieffer said. "I think people have gone from saying 'No way' to 'Let's talk about it.' "

After a four-hour meeting Wednesday, baseball's realignment committee came no closer to making a definitive proposal, but acting commissioner Bud Selig promised to keep the issue on track.

"There are a lot of different ideas. Every club has a different thought process, yet the feeling about realignment is very positive," Selig told Associated Press. "Each plan has a lot of variations to it, and it gets complicated. Clearly, nothing has been decided."

The realignment delay is also pushing back baseball's schedule-makers in their task. Normally, by the All-Star break a tentative schedule is sent to clubs and the Players Association for the next year, but, with permission from the union, the tentative schedule is on hold as well. This is the second consecutive year the schedule has been delayed.

That there is a delay in the realignment scenarios suggests some internal division among owners about how realignment should be accomplished. Given the owners' historical devotion to self-interests, it would be a shock if there wasn't some disagreement.

Former commissioner Fay Vincent tried in 1992 to unilaterally realign the National League by moving the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs to the Western Division and placing the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves in the East. The Cubs resisted and won. They also used Vincent's actions as one of many reasons he was fired.

But baseball is recognizing the need for some realignment, especially after the latest folly involving the expansion Arizona 00 Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Arizona was placed in the NL West, but the Devil Rays were stuck in the AL West, a mere 3,077 miles and three times zones away from division rival Seattle.

"Realignment has become an extremely important item to me," Selig said recently. "If I could turn the clock back to the 1940s and '50s, which to me is the most romantic period of baseball, I'd do that. But that's not realistic. We have great tradition, like no other institution in North America, but we can't become prisoners of that. If there's something that will make the game better, we have to look at it."

The success of interleague play has advanced the cause of realignment. Attendance was up 29.5 percent after the first round of interleague play, mainly because of the historical first meetings between teams in New York, Chicago, Greater Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

New York has always been influential in such matters and the three-game series between the Yankees and Mets was a big success, drawing 168,719 to Yankee Stadium. That's the largest attendance for a three-game series since Yankee Stadium was remodeled in 1974.

It wasn't only the attendance but the atmosphere as well that produced a renewed outcry for the two teams to meet annually during the regular season.

"Playing the Mets was exactly what baseball needed in New York, a shot in the arm," Yankees pitcher David Cone said afterward. "It'd be great to face them in the World Series. It's too early to start thinking about October, but there hasn't been this much electricity in the stadium since Game 6" of the 1996 World Series, when the Yankees beat the Braves for the world championship.

Baseball would try to draw upon that with a radical realignment that would place the Yankees and Mets -- and the Orioles -- in the same division as well as the Cubs and White Sox, Astros and Rangers and all other natural geographic rivals.

Under the proposal, the Rangers would be placed in a central division with Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, St. Louis and the two Chicago teams.

The other eight-team division would be on the West Coast: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.

The two seven-team divisions would be in the East. One would consist of the Orioles, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, Toronto and the two New York teams. The other would consist of Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Florida, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

Pub Date: 8/01/97

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