Volume 91, Issue 15

Tuesday, September 23, 1997

dirty pool



Rotting balls

Welcome to Chez Wildpitch. The specialty du jour will be realignment ˆ la Major League Baseball – a layered, deep-dish topped with legal threats, high stakes advertising and topped with a succulent scheduling chaos sauce. This entree is sure to give food poisoning to any baseball traditionalist and heartburn to anyone who ever cared about the game.

Once labeled America's favourite past-time, baseball has failed to evolve with the changing times and fallen behind in the battle for the entertainment dollar. Now the game is attempting to make radical changes in order to return former fans to the seats.

With the need to accommodate the league's two expansion teams: the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, opportunity is knocking to create a more interesting palette for fans young and old to sample.

With a shake-up in the divisions, new rivalries that flirted successfully with each other during the experimentation of inter-league play over the past season, could be firmly established into baseball tradition. Just imagine the excitement of a New York pennant race between the Mets and Yankees or the battle for Canadian bragging rights between Toronto and Montreal.

Yet although this may appear to be a good pitch to the general public, at least one owner has rejected each scenario proposed and without a unanimous agreement, a proposal cannot be signed, sealed and delivered. Even scarier is the possibility that the 1998 season may not even get under way unless a compromise is reached.

With millions of dollars in advertising revenue and ticket sales on the line, the true focus for realignment: bringing back the fans, is again being forgotten, as the owners slug it out for the best deal for their own teams.

A prime example is the minimum plan for realignment that would put Arizona in the National League West and Tampa Bay in the American League East, by shifting Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. This option would not create the electric punch that baseball needs through the cross-city rivalries and so on, but would solve the placement problem of the new expansion teams.

Yet even the least-radical plan is being contested, since the Royals are refusing to move into the National League which has a larger composition of west coast teams. The implication would be that a larger percentage of road games will be played in the pacific time zone and air later in Missouri, meaning lower television and radio advertising revenue.

The problem starts and ends with finances and with no consideration on how it may effect an already disgruntled fan base or how it has left the league scrambling with nowhere to turn.

With the Royals taking a tantrum over moving west, the San Francisco Giants refusing to allow the Oakland Athletics to invade their territory by switching into the same league and the Toronto Blue Jays questioning if the Expos will even stay above the 49th parallel long enough to build a rivalry, baseball appears ready to hit another roadblock instead of picking up the speed that realignment once promised.

The owners are far from any type of agreement at this time and the inclusion of the expansion teams a prerequisite to the opening of next season, there is a strong possibility that baseball may once again fail to start on time until one or many of the greedy men give in.

The question that remains is will fans swallow this late, cold meal as they did with past player strikes and lockouts? Or will they turn to another sport that treats them right.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997