Realignment doesn't have to be in league of own

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA -- Once again this week, we're volunteering for the thankless job of trying to save baseball from itself.

We've heard baseball's scary realignment plan -- a plan that would implode the National and American leagues as we know them and then paste them back together based on time zones and the all-important TV-ratings appeal.

So today, we present the Stark Plan -- a plan that addresses most of baseball's concerns without forcing any current team to change leagues against its will.

But first, we want you to know exactly what you would get if the Implosion Plan passes.

If you live in an East Coast locale like Philadelphia, you would see a West Coast attraction like hometown hero Mike Piazza come to town once every "four" years instead of two times "every" year.

Likewise, you would see the Phillies visit the wondrous Wrigley Field just once every four years.

In a two-team city like New York, where people have been lucky enough to see every team every year, that stuff's over. At most, Ken Griffey would bring his act to Broadway once every other year. Granted, that's replaced by 16 Yankees-Mets games. Of course, it's also replaced by 32 chances a year to see the Expos and Phillies.

Until now, only four second-place teams in history have been invited into the playoffs. Under the most likely realignment proposal, "all" second-place teams would make the playoffs.

And while no one is certain what would be done about the designated hitter, the Mariners and Twins could wind up in a DH-less "National League" and have nowhere to play fabled DHs Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor.

Instead, we'd like to humbly offer the Stark Plan, a plan that preserves the mystique and distinctive personalities of the two leagues but also addresses baseball's biggest concerns.

What baseball wants: An unbalanced schedule, more games among regional rivals like Mets-Yankees, more games against division rivals and an alignment that limits interleague play just to special interleague blocks instead of an interleague game virtually every night.

What we want: The leagues as we currently know and love them. And peace on earth.

So our plan is simple. The Devil Rays want to be in the AL East? Done. The Diamondbacks like the NL West? Done. That makes the expansion teams happy.

OK, next objective: Create one 16-team league and one 14-team league to avoid the interleague scheduling nightmare that results from having two 15-team leagues.

To pull that off, we would move the one team that doesn't mind switching leagues -- Kansas City -- into a six-team NL Central, creating a 16-team National League.

The Tigers then would willingly move to the AL Central. And all the other divisions would look the same.

Our schedule then would have teams play 16 to 18 games against each of the teams in their own division, six to nine games apiece against other clubs in their league and a total of 18 interleague games -- six every year against a logical interleague rival (Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, Marlins-Devil Rays, Phillies-Orioles, etc.).

This schedule would prove very workable. (Trust us. We've run it by the official scheduling people.) And euphoria would then sweep the land.

We don't ask that baseball never change. All we ask is that baseball preserve the one quality that makes it unique -- the separate style, tradition and histories of its two leagues.

After all, remember this: If the difference between the National and American leagues is so great that it scared the Mariners into trading for Mike Timlin instead of Ricky Bottalico, it must be a far more powerful force than any of us ever realized.

Pub Date: 8/07/97

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