Thursday, September 18, 1997
Owners agree only to disagree

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - The owner of the San Francisco Giants is asserting rights he may not have. The owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks is pretending to be powerless.

Baseball's realignment summit is proceeding just as you would have expected. You'd see less posturing at a peacock convention.

After the second day of their quarterly ownership meetings, the High Priests of Hardball could agree only that they will reach no agreement this week. Attempts to consider geography in the drawing of baseball's map have been met with fierce resistance. Common sense is no match for self-interest.

Peter Magowan owns the San Francisco Giants and, he claims, exclusive rights to National League baseball in the Bay Area. Because the Oakland A's operate only seven miles from 3Com Park, Magowan's recent days have been devoted to denouncing a plan that would place all teams in the Pacific and Mountain time zones in the National League.

Magowan makes a strong case, but he is in danger of being steamrolled.

Diamondbacks hold key

Jerry Colangelo owns the expansion Diamondbacks and, already, a valuable veto. Promised a place in the National League, Colangelo can not be made to move for at least two seasons. Though shifting Arizona to the American League West would be the simplest solution to geographic realignment, and the least convulsive means of maintaining league identities, the subject has yet to be seriously broached.

"I have no leverage," Colangelo protested Wednesday. "I'm the new kid on the block. I speak when I'm spoken to."

Colangelo feigns innocence, but he comes off like Eddie Haskell.

Only in baseball could a start-up franchise begin its operations with more leverage than one of the sport's oldest teams. There are other obstacles to realignment than the power struggle between the Giants and the Diamondbacks, but it tells you most of what you need to know. The strike is over, but baseball's maladies linger on.

Radical realignment, Magowan said, was "too much too soon," and is now "deader than a doornail." Whatever changes baseball makes in devising its divisions for the 1998 season will be far less ambitious than the audacious plan promoted by Bud Selig.

The interim commissioner's favorite idea involved 15 teams switching leagues. There was no chance such a silly notion would be adopted by such a fractious group, but efforts at compromise have been similarly unsuccessful. Unless the owners can soon break their impasse, they are staring at another season of status quo.

"It's hard to predict," said Boston's John Harrington, chairman of the realignment committee. "It's like moving a piece of legislation through Washington."

It is harder than that. Because no baseball franchise can be moved between leagues without its consent, majority rule is moot. Magowan's problem is that he can not veto another team moving into his league, and the documents say his territorial rights end at Alameda County, home of the A's.

Logical argument

He has threatened a lawsuit, but his best ammunition is logic.

"The Mets and Yankees don't want to be in the same league," Magowan said. "The Cubs and White Sox don't want to be in the same league. OK, but nobody's said that to us. Maybe they'll tell you New York and Chicago (franchises) have been around for 100 years and the Bay Area has been around for 40. But that's not good enough."

Magowan's argument makes sense to Reds Managing Executive John Allen, who thinks both teams' broadcast rights would be reduced if they were forced to coexist in the same league. Yet several owners see Magowan as an annoying obstacle to progress. They are eager to blur the distinctions between leagues in order to arrange more games in their local time zones.

"He's protecting what he believes to be his market," Colangelo said of Magowan. "But if I'm not mistaken, there are (already) two teams sharing that market."

Magowan suggests some Midwestern club - Kansas City, perhaps, or Minnesota - be paid compensation to play in the AL West. Asked if the Reds might be open to such an arrangement, Allen said, "I just can't see that."

What can be seen is stalemate. It's what baseball does best.