Baseball may get major shuffle '98 realignment plan would decrease travel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baseball's realignment committee yesterday stopped short of making a formal recommendation on how to reshape the game but is apparently guided by a philosophy of more is better.

Hoping to implement a new setup for next season, commissioner Bud Selig reiterated his desire for "significant realignment" after emerging from a five-hour meeting in Minneapolis. That arrangement reportedly calls for one league to include 16 teams and the other to include 14 with a heavily unbalanced schedule enacted, ostensibly to help foster rivalries and decrease travel.

Under the favored "16-14" plan, the Orioles would remain within an American League Eastern Division with the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies.

Travel would be significantly reduced with the Orioles spending 32 of 81 road dates in New York or Canada. Orioles owner Peter Angelos deferred comment on any proposal until he is more fully briefed.

Selig hopes to enact realignment by next season but several significant hurdles remain, not the least of which are objections from the players union.

The Players Association, led by general counsel Donald Fehr, has reacted negatively to sweeping change such as the so-called 16-14 plan. Fehr said on Tuesday he feels the union has not been sufficiently involved in the discussion while many rank-and-file members are uncomfortable with a drastic break from tradition.

"We've seen scenarios. We're looking at all of them, trying to get an idea of what people think about them," said Orioles player rep Mike Mussina. "I think something is going to happen but I believe too radical a change is not the way to go. That's my opinion. You're talking about going from two separate leagues to interleague play one year, then to radical realignment the next. I don't think that's the right way to do it."

Said Atlanta Braves pitcher and NL player rep Tom Glavine: "It's almost like what they did with the wild card. They go ahead and say they're going to do it before they think to ask anybody about it."

Wednesday's five-hour meeting advanced a number of plans with variations to each. However, the realignment committee, chaired by Boston Red Sox owner John Harrington, won't offer a formal recommendation until owners next meet in Atlanta Sept. 9-11.

Under the most dramatic 16-14 plan, leagues would be rearranged geographically with 15 teams crossing over. The Atlanta Braves, for one, would be asked to join the American League, a fact that has led the club to so far object to Selig's pet plan. That could represent a trump card as any team affected may exercise a veto.

Other plans offer more subtle solutions to a discussion that originated as means of preventing the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays from joining the AL West next season.

One plan suggests the Devil Rays simply be added to the AL East with the Detroit Tigers moving over to the AL Central, the Houston Astros to the AL Central and the Kansas City Royals to the NL Central.

Among other things, the union is concerned over what affect such juggling would have on American League teams who switch to the National League, imperiling their designated hitters. "You're going to change the makeup of some teams. What are you going to do with the DH on the teams that move from the American League to the National League?" said Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff, an active participant in union issues. "I just think it's too much change. I don't think we need that much change. I think all you really need to do is move one or two teams, but that's just my opinion."

The 16-14 split

How baseball could look under the proposed realignment, known as the "16-14" plan:

American League

East I .. .. .. .. .. East II

Orioles . .. .. .. .. Atlanta

Boston .. .. .. .. .. Cincinnati

Montreal ... .. .. .. Cleveland

N.Y. Mets .. .. .. .. Detroit

N.Y. Yankees .. .. .. Florida

Philadelphia . .. ..Pittsburgh

Toronto Tampa Bay

National League

Central .. .. .. .. .. West

Chi. Cubs ... .. .. .. Anaheim

Chi. White Sox . .. .. Arizona

Houston .. .. .. .. .. Colorado

Kansas City . .. .. .. Los Angeles

Milwaukee .. .. .. .. Oakland

Minnesota ... .. .. .. San Diego

St. Louis ... .. .. .. San Francisco

Texas .. . .. .. .. .. Seattle

Pub Date: 8/08/97

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