Some ideas for reconfiguring Major League Baseball

Shane Victorino strikes out in geographically isolated Seattle.
Shane Victorino strikes out in geographically isolated Seattle. (Associated Press)
Posted: June 20, 2011

MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball has been using two sets of rules since the American League adopted the designated-hitter rule at the winter meetings in 1973.

National League pitchers hit, American League pitchers sit. The use of nine hitters vs. eight plus a pitcher has changed forever what was once a level playing field.

Picture the NFC playing current rules and the AFC playing three-down Canadian Football League rules. Or one NBA conference having a four-point field goal and the other conference outlawing the three-pointer.

But the rules are not MLB's only anomaly.

The National League has 16 teams, the American League 14, including a weird West Division with just four teams, one less than the East and Central - not to be confused with the NL Central, which has six, one more than the East and West.

And there are geographical problems, as well. In 1994, the Phillies' torrid rivalry with the Pittsburgh Pirates, during their emergence as a power in the mid-1970s, came to an end. The Pirates were moved to the NL Central and replaced in the East by the Atlanta Braves, who play in a city that is farther west than Cleveland.

And the Texas Rangers are stuck in the AL West, where their three divisional rivals all are more than 1,000 air miles away. Seattle is 1,681 air miles from Arlington, Texas, and more than 2,000 miles by auto. By October, the Rangers will have played a month of games in Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle.

But it's not exactly a day at the rodeo for the A's, Angels and Mariners, who must play a like number of games in Arlington. Imagine the shock of being in coolish Seattle one night and sweltering Arlington the next. And making three trips there.

The Lords of Baseball are negotiating a new basic agreement with their millionaire serfs. Realignment is a big-ticket item. It appears to be something both sides want and desperately need.

The devil, as always, is in the details. Which teams will be delivered from one desert island to another in the name of geographical logic and competitive balance? It is a tough map to redraw.

The first part is easy: Create two 15-team leagues.

Then you can have two leagues with three five-team divisions. That settles the balance issue, but does little to solve the more pressing issue of geographical and competitive imbalance.

There is still a team or teams that will be screwed by geography.

I was doing OK with my re-alignment doodles until I got to the AL West. America is a large country with population centers in the four corners and a lot of empty space in the middle.

I started the AL West with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - please realign that ponderous name, Bud. Then I moved the Diamondbacks to the AL over a chorus of "over our dead bodies."

Hey, people, relax. I'm moving the no-shot-in-Tampa-Bay Rays to Las Vegas. You get a dynamite team as a geographical rival. It's an easy drive and you can legally bet on the games. Just ask Pete Rose for directions to the best sports books.

Then the Mariners, baseball's frequent-flyer mileage champ. It gets really tough at that point because I moved the A's into the NL West so the Giants would have a natural rival for more than interleague play.

The Kansas City Royals are still without a division and to stick them in the AL West is to just repeat the Rangers mistake. It's like one of those tee-board triangle games you get with breakfast on the drive to Florida. There are always a couple of tees left over.

But let's start at the top with the National League East: Phils, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals, Pirates.

That's right, the Bucs are back where they belong. And the Blue Jays and Phillies are connected forever by the grim history of Game 6, 1993 and the 2 miles separating two kissing-cousin spring-training teams with a powerful Pat Gillick connection. Imagine Doc Halladay pitching back in the Rogers Centre. It's a helluva division.

OK, NL Central: Braves, Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers. Bravos are back where they belong. And the Astros are adios.

NL West: Dodgers, Padres, Giants, A's, Rockies. Lots of Bay Area bad blood . . .

American League East: Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Indians, Tigers. Still the powerhouse division.

AL Central: Twins, Rangers, Astros, White Sox, Marlins. Easier travel for the Fish and a natural Texas rivalry long overdue.

AL West: Angels, D-backs, Mariners, Vegas Rays, Royals.

Royals?

See, even with a Rays franchise shift, there is always going to be an odd team stuck in the great American heartland. Kansas City is closer to the rest of the West Division than Arlington. But all four rivals are still two time zones away.

There have been rumors - denied, of course - that the MLB study committees will recommend abolishing the three-division system. Or they will propose expanded interleague play. The wink-wink consequence is that National League teams would have to take on an American League-style DH and would be forced to just go ahead and swallow the poison.

This is going to be the big-ticket story when management and labor sit down to decide how Bud Selig's $6.8 billion industry is going to divvy up all that cash. The lopsided appearance of the pastime apparently has not driven away many customers.

No matter what configuration they come up with, I love my NL realignment. And two of my three AL divisions are fine. Then I drove off the cliff and right into the Pacific Ocean.

My kingdom for a city of 3 million between San Francisco and Seattle.

Get to work, Portland.

Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/BillConlin.

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