Wednesday, July 16, 1997
Allen backs realignment

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Allen has no interest in half-measures. If baseball is going to bet its bacon on realignment, the Cincinnati Reds' managing executive hopes it goes whole hog.

"I think it's time for dramatic change," Allen said Tuesday afternoon. "I think if you're going to do it, you do it in a bold, swift move instead of piecemeal. With the type of changes they're talking about, you don't inch into them."

The type of changes baseball is contemplating would revamp the American and National leagues so radically that they would barely be recognizable.

One of the suggestions before the owners - who are expected to vote by Sept. 30 - calls for a four-division format with mix-and-match membership. As proposed, the Reds would be part of a seven-team division with Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Florida, Pittsburgh and the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

It may not work out that way, but neither has the idea been rejected as outrageous. The indisputable success of interleague play has encouraged the owners to stop tinkering with tradition and begin a thorough overhaul of the grand old game.

A former senior circuit

As a result, the National League as we now know it may soon cease to exist. The Reds, baseball's oldest ballclub, might even be compelled to adopt that newfangled designated hitter. Eager to exploit the intense interest in heretofore untapped geographic rivalries, baseball may stop dwelling on its past long enough to forge a future.

"Tradition means a lot to me personally," said Bill DeWitt Jr., who represents the St. Louis Cardinals on the realignment committee. "On the other hand, things change, and I think baseball needs to keep up with changing demographics and population trends."

DeWitt has been around baseball nearly his whole life - so long, in fact, that Eddie Gaedel borrowed his batboy's uniform back in 1951. But unlike many of the owners of that era, DeWitt and his contemporaries are not instinctively opposed to progress.

They can appreciate that the Texas Rangers are at a disadvantage as the only Central Time Zone team in the American League West. They can see the folly in limiting the Chicago Cubs and White Sox to World Series meetings. They recognize an opportunity in the upcoming expansion to redraw baseball's map along more lucrative lines.

"I know there are some traditionalists out there who don't think change is good," Allen said. "But I think it is time for some changes in the structure we're in.

"As far as the Reds, if it's good for baseball overall, it's probably good for the Reds. What we need is 30 owners working together to make baseball better."

The common good of cash

Getting 30 baseball owners to work together is like trying to get a kindergarten class to share a single crayon. Few owners agree on what specific course is in baseball's best interest, and fewer still will subordinate their self-interest for the common good.

That radical realignment could nonetheless occur tells you there is something in it for everyone. Specifically, most realignment proposals provide for more games between regional rivals, fewer games between teams in distant time zones, reduced travel expenses, and expanded playoffs. Bottom line, realignment means a better bottom line.

John Allen dislikes the designated hitter, but he is not sure that is a good enough reason for the Reds to resist a realignment that would bring the Cleveland Indians to town several times per season. But that's an item for another agenda.

More worrisome would be the prospect the Reds would be placed in the company of big-budget clubs like Atlanta and Florida, and hence be doomed to be doormats.

"It would concern you," John Allen said about competing with higher payrolls, "but I'm not sure what you can do about it. We're in a division right now where the Cubs choose not to spend their wealth."

The Reds are in a division right now that might be won with a losing record. Another argument for realignment.