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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Realignment worth talk, but too confusing for fruition


Let's see, if baseball sold the Dodgers and Mets for parts, paid off those astronomical debts, then sent Frank McCourt and Fred Wilpon to Pluto on the next Space Shuttle, that would leave ... 14 teams in each league, and no need for interleague play every day of the season.

Failing that. ...

Look, realignment is a discussion worth having because, among many other reasons, it is patently unfair that an AL West team must finish ahead of only three others during the 162-game slog, while an NL Central club jockeys to finish ahead of five others. Ask Pittsburgh.

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Best thing about realignment, a recycled idea that has again popped up this week, is this: As owners and players get deeper into negotiations on a new labor deal, we're not assessing potential collateral damage of a bitter Cold War, like the old days. Instead, we're talking about whether FedEx or UPS would be best to move the Astros or Diamondbacks to the American League.

In the back of an Arizona press box this spring, Commissioner Bud Selig scanned the NFL lockout horizon, listened to echoes of the NBA labor war, and acknowledged they brought painful memories of the rancor of 1994 and 1995. Baseball has done so much since then -- interleague play, wild-card slots, its own website -- to move out of the Flintstones age.

Yet there is a fine line between moving forward and selling out. And while the idea of an equal number of teams in each league generally is appealing, one byproduct not receiving nearly enough attention is that it will lead to interleague play every ... single ... day ... of ... the ... season.

Let's not forget that, or allow anyone to shove it over in the corner behind the coffee table.

Because as long as the leagues play under different rules that directly affect competitive balance, it is a colossally big deal.

Any implementation of season-long interleague play (distasteful at best, wretched at worse) must come with a sidebar rule that either dumps the designated hitter (preferable, though always a non-starter with the players' union) or makes it universal in both leagues (blech).

Otherwise, while attempting to install fairness, you create serious inequities elsewhere.

Say the White Sox finish the season at St. Louis while sprinting down the stretch with, say, Minnesota and Detroit. Now, in the final series, because the game is in an NL park, the White Sox lose their DH. After signing Adam Dunn to that four-year, $56 million deal. While the Twins are merrily playing the Athletics with Jim Thome as DH, and the Tigers are facing Baltimore with DH Victor Martinez happily swinging away.

How do you think the White Sox would enjoy that?

It would be outrageous, is what it would be.

D-Backs president Derrick Hall, whose club has been mentioned, says MLB hasn't discussed a potential league change. (Getty Images)  
D-Backs president Derrick Hall, whose club has been mentioned, says MLB hasn't discussed a potential league change. (Getty Images)  
Then there's the notion of drawing up two 15-team leagues without divisions, in which the top five clubs would advance to the playoffs. Clearly, that is an idea that is most appealing to the three AL East clubs that must battle the gigantic payrolls in New York and Boston every year.

This might be the only avenue for the Blue Jays and Orioles -- and, to a lesser extent -- the Rays to escape the hamster wheel to nowhere and enter camp with legitimate hope each spring.

Agreed, the poor Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays deserve a more level playing field. But a 15-team league format with no divisions also could erase the Rust Belt/Midwestern clubs from October.

Under the game's current lopsided economic model, with much of the financial muscle concentrated in the east around the Yankees/Red Sox bloc, theoretically, you could have some Octobers that include the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and, say, Rangers or Angels in the AL, and the Phillies, Mets, Braves, Giants or Dodgers and Cardinals in the NL.

Alarmist? Admittedly. C'mon, the Mets and the Dodgers in the same October? But you get the point.

Another point: A 15-team, no-division league would winnow the list of annual winners to the point where only teams playing in the World Series would have bragging rights. Division title flags -- a point of pride for fans -- would go the way of Charley Finley's mule.

Not that baseball should veer toward a kiddie-style, Everyone Gets A Trophy program. But one of the great accomplishments of recent times was Atlanta winning 14 consecutive division titles (the strike-shortened '94 crown notwithstanding). And it isn't only the Braves.

"We like divisional play," says Twins president Dave St. Peter, whose club has six of the past nine AL Central crowns.

Others are open. One executive I spoke with Tuesday who declined to comment on the record said he trusts there are enough smart people figuring this out -- labor negotiators, Selig's special committee for on-field matters, the players' union -- that the game will be in a good place come the new labor agreement.

"I'm confident that whatever new prescription is negotiated will be viewed as the best option," the executive said.

Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall says baseball has not discussed a potential league change with his club, "and I've had no indication they plan on it, or that they will."

Furthermore, Hall added, "I'd be surprised if we were approached."

This stuff isn't just emerging from thin air, of course. Somebody is floating trial balloons.

Yet that doesn't mean those balloons won't simply be carried away again by the breeze and disappear.

Bottom line is, there are enough complicated moving parts that, despite all the talk, realignment probably will not occur.

"I don't think so," another executive said Tuesday. "The only thing that makes sense is to tie realignment in with Houston's sale if the league really wants it, but Drayton [McLane, outgoing Astros' owner] has made it clear that he wants the team to stay in the National League."

Which is still the far better option than six solid months of interleague play.


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