Realignment plans need additional adjustments

Baseball owners left their quarterly meeting in Atlanta without settling on a comprehensive realignment plan, which raised the frightening specter of another off-season battle with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

The union has not been a big player in the realignment debate, but that is going to change soon. The owners want to have a new format in place by Oct. 15 (which really means Nov. 28), but they haven't cleared the first hurdle in an obstacle course that could soon be pockmarked with union objections.


The first hurdle was the approval of the owners themselves, who batted the subject around for three days in Atlanta, but never got close to taking a vote on any one proposal. Interim commissioner Bud Selig still has a selling job to do to overcome the objections of some reluctant clubs, then he must find a way to bring the union on board.

The players don't have veto power over realignment, but they do have the power -- under baseball's collective bargaining agreement -- to terminate interleague play after next season. That is leverage enough to prevent the owners from implementing any realignment plan that does not meet with union approval.


What does the union want? That's unclear, but what the players don't want is any system that would create a pretext for eliminating the designated-hitter rule.

Ownership's Player Relations Committee recently made ownership's intentions clear when management negotiator Randy Levine offered the union a deal to drop the DH and expand regular-season rosters from 25 to 26 players.

The union dismissed the concept without serious discussion and is waiting to see what the owners do over the next few weeks before taking a position on realignment.

Baseball's realignment committee has kept union officials apprised of the possible realignment scenarios, but Selig would not say whether the owners would seek the approval of the union before putting their final proposal to a vote of the full ownership.

That might be a good idea. Otherwise, the union could throw up a roadblock at the end and force the owners into concessions in other areas to get approval. One way or the other, there is a lot of horse trading yet to be done before anyone sees the final blueprint for baseball's future.

Realignment blues

Major League Baseball is taking its sweet time coming to a decision on realignment, which could put the teams that end up changing leagues at a disadvantage.

"It's a whole new ballgame in the National League," said Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates. "Personnel-wise, it changes the makeup of your club. It changes the makeup of your organization. All those guys who can do nothing but hit better find something else they can do."


The Rangers are one of the teams that is pushing for a far-reaching realignment plan. They are not expected to change leagues, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility. Oates just wants some advance notice.

"If we're in the National League, I'd like to have some speed," he said. "You can't sit back and play for the three-run homer because you're going to have some automatic outs in your lineup. You may have to hit-and-run, you may have to bunt and you would have to steal."

Bad decision

Rangers pitcher Bobby Witt has to be second-guessing his decision to turn down the two-year, $7 million contract extension that the Rangers offered him in July.

Witt was on a roll then, but he is on the run now. He entered Friday's game with a 1-7 record and 6.75 ERA in his past 12 starts and will have to step up to keep from finishing the season under .500 overall.

The club no longer has a contract offer on the table and may let Witt walk this winter.


Saving face

The Red Sox didn't exactly get even with Roger Clemens for his 16-strikeout performance against them at Fenway Park earlier this season, but they got past him Thursday night.

Clemens pitched great again, giving up just a run on five hits over seven innings -- and striking out 10 -- but the Red Sox beat up on young reliever Kelvim Escobar in the ninth to come from behind and score a 3-2 victory.

Advantage Giants

San Francisco positioned itself nicely when it swept two games from the rival Dodgers to pull into a first-place tie in the National League West, because the schedule clearly favors the Giants the rest of the way.

The Giants play most of their remaining games against the last-place San Diego Padres, while the Dodgers play two series (including this weekend) against the still-not-eliminated Colorado Rockies.


Martinez makes his case

Montreal Expos pitcher Pedro Martinez is not going to win 20 games this year, but he leads the major leagues with a 1.91 ERA and could finish with 18 or 19 victories. That, according to Martinez and manager Felipe Alou, should be enough to earn him the National League Cy Young Award.

"To me, every win after 15 counts," Martinez said, especially for a team like this one that's pretty much in last place. I don't think this [Cy Young] should just be a game of wins and losses. I don't think 20 wins is as good as pitching good in a number of categories."

In other words, Martinez doesn't think he should be penalized for not pitching for the Atlanta Braves, who have baseball's best record and two strong Cy Young candidates -- Greg Maddux and Denny Neagle. Alou agrees.

"I don't think the voters should get totally wrapped up in wins," Alou said. "Wins are important but they are not the only measure of a pitcher. In my mind, Pedro has been the dominant pitcher in the National League this season. With better run support, he would finish with 21 or 22 wins. If that was the case, there would be no question about Pedro winning the Cy Young Award."

Coming up short


San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn seemed like a sure bet to outlast Larry Walker and tie a National League record with his eighth batting title, but it hasn't turned out that way.

Gwynn, playing despite a blood clot in his right leg, had struggled for the past 2 1/2 weeks until going 3-for-4 yesterday to overtake Walker, .3699 to .3696.

"Larry's playing his last seven games at home, and he's playing in a good ballpark," Gwynn said. "I'm playing on the road, in L.A. and San Francisco. If there's an edge, I have the experience. His edge is he's playing at home. Neither one of those is good enough to be the deciding factor."

Tanner admires Lamont

Former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner believes that current Pirates manager Gene Lamont should be the National League Manager of the Year, even if the Pirates finish with a sub-.500 record.

"The three best managers in Pirates history are Danny Murtaugh, Chuck Tanner and Jim Leyland," Tanner said. "None of us three could have done the job Gene Lamont has done with this club this season. If he's not the National League Manager of the Year, it's a shame."


Irabu update

Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu continues to lose friends and offend people in the Yankees' clubhouse. He angered teammates with his churlish behavior on the mound and now has offended some with his demeaning treatment of interpreter Kota Ishijima.

Ishijima was hired by the Yankees in January to be the club's director of Pacific Rim Operations, but fell into the role of Irabu interpreter and has been reduced to running errands and taking abuse from the portly right-hander.

Apparently, Ishijima wants to return to his original role and could be lured away by another club to help develop Japanese talent.

"I definitely have fallen behind," he said recently. "There are many, many talented Japanese players who are going to be free agents in Japan, and the Yankees are behind in this area. There are teams like the Dodgers who are far ahead."

Triple threat


Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies has a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox did it in 1967. Here's where he stands in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the National League (through yesterday):

Average ............... Home runs .......... RBIs

Gwynn, S.D. .3699 ..... Walker, Col. 48 .... Galarraga, Col. 133

Walker, Col .3696 ..... Bagwell, Hou. 42 ... Bagwell, Hou. 129

Piazza, L.A. .355 ..... Castilla, Col. 40 .. Walker, Col. 127

Crooked numbers


Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez hit his 250th home run last weekend. He is one of only nine players to do that before turning 28. The others are Ken Griffey Jr. and seven Hall of Famers.

Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling takes the mound today with a chance to break the club record for strikeouts in a season and the National League record for strikeouts by a right-hander. Schilling has 305. He needs six to pass Steve Carlton for the club record and nine to pass J. R. Richard for the NL mark.

Don't look for Charles Nagy to appear in the first two games of the Division Series against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He's 0-2 with a 27.00 ERA against New York this year and took a beating in the same situation at Camden Yards last October.

Mark McGwire has tied a major-league record by homering in 16 different ballparks this season.

Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield leads the American League with 15 losses this year, but he's 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA against the Brewers. Figure that out.

Pub Date: 9/21/97