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Owens: Time for MLB realignment (Oct. 26)

Andrew Owens | Wednesday, October 26, 2011

With Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expiring in December, the players union and the owners are working on a new deal that would provide uninterrupted labor peace for several more years.

Many fans just might not be happy with one of the likely results.

As it appears right now, baseball is moving toward realignment that would even the leagues at 15 teams apiece. Since the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays were added in 1998, the American League has had 14 teams and the National League 16. Four of the six divisions have five teams — the AL West has four and the NL Central has six.

This imbalance was necessary to avoid playing interleague games throughout the season. While most fans regard interleague play as a success in 2011, 14 years after its inception, it was mostly unpopular when Commissioner Bud Selig added it in 1997. Making the radical move from no interleague to interleague throughout the season never would have been accepted by the fans.

The team most likely to make the switch would be the Houston Astros, currently a National League team, for two reasons.

They would switch from the NL Central to the AL West, giving each division five teams and preventing any other teams, like the Diamondbacks or Marlins, from being forced to move divisions. Also, they are about to assume new ownership, giving the organization much less leverage than other teams hoping to avoid the switch.

While there are some issues that realignment presents, overall, it would be a step in the right direction for Major League Baseball.

The biggest issue for fans would be nonstop interleague play throughout the season. While it could be staggered in a way that would not cause teams to play too many more interleague games, a team like the Red Sox could be pursuing a playoff spot down the stretch and would be forced to sit designated hitter David Ortiz on the bench in critical games, or the Tigers with Victor Martinez. And the list goes on and on.

Selig and the owners should once and for all remove the imbalance between the leagues caused by the designated hitter rule, which would be magnified if realignment occurs. Either remove it from the American League (my preference) or add it to the National League (more likely), but it is ridiculous to have the two leagues playing under different rules, especially when they meet in the World Series.

There are some real issues that realignment could solve. It simply is unfair to have four teams in one division and six in another, and realignment would solve this. All teams would have an equal opportunity to reach the playoffs ⎯ except for the AL East, maybe.

Secondly, identical schedules could be created for all teams within a division. The Mets play the Yankees six times a year in interleague because of their rivalry, while the division rival Nationals get to play the Orioles six times. When pigs fly and the Nationals and Mets are competitive, such scheduling issues could play a role in determining the division champion or a wild card berth. These scheduling issues persist throughout baseball, and Major League Baseball should ensure that each team has an even playing field when the schedules are created each year.

While realignment would force change upon the game that many are not ready for, it is in baseball’s best interests to adopt the new format. Critics will point out that no one will get excited over a Mariners-Nationals game in July, but let’s be honest — Is there any matchup that would excite people involving the Mariners or the Nationals?

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.