Thu, Jul 14, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Interleague play all season long up for consideration

NY Times News Service, PHOENIX, Arizona

The American League (AL) and National Leagues (NL) mingled on Tuesday for the last time before the World Series. For the rest of this month, all of next month and September, and most of October, AL teams will play AL teams, and NL teams will play NL teams.

However, change could be coming, perhaps as early as next season. If the leagues are realigned with 15 teams in each, interleague games would be played all season. Michael Weiner, the executive director of the union, said on Tuesday that players strongly favored 15 teams in each league. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season.

“It’s arithmetic,” Weiner said at a luncheon with writers before the NL’s 5-1 victory in the All-Star game. “Players take the competition very, very seriously and if you talk with players and many people on the management side as well, they want the competition to be fair.”

Since the last expansion, in 1998, the NL has had 16 teams and the AL has had 14, with six teams in the NL Central and four in the AL West. The Milwaukee Brewers switched to the NL to make it happen, but Weiner said the union never really liked it.

“In a sense it would be akin to having the US Open tennis tournament with a different number of entrants on one side of the draw as opposed to the other,” he said. “Nobody would stand for that. The best reason for 15-15 is everybody would have four competitors to win their division and everybody would have the same number of competitors to qualify for wild-card positions.”

Commissioner Bud Selig and Weiner both said that so-called radical realignment — the elimination of divisional identities and/or several teams switching leagues — was not under consideration. Selig was more cautious than Weiner about a 15-15 split, but said he supported realignment generally and had kept an open mind.

“The teams in the NL Central fairly say, ‘Why should we have six teams in one division and other teams have no more than four or five?’” Selig said, at a separate luncheon. “And that’s a fair comment. So there are things I’d like to accomplish. I think if you’re really thinking about significant realignment, it’s probably going to have to wait. But I’ll pick up the phone and call some people who are really knowledgeable with schedules.”

Several All-Stars said they had no preference or had not thought much about the issues. Heath Bell of the Padres said he hoped all teams in a division would play the same interleague schedule; Matt Cain of the Giants said he hoped an extra team in the AL West could make travel easier for players in that division.

“We just go out and compete,” the Reds’ Brandon Phillips said. “We don’t really think about the schedules. But if you think about it, it would make more sense to have 15 and 15. It really would. But who’s going to be the team that leaves? That’s going to be the problem.”

The Arizona Diamondbacks have offered to move to the AL if asked. The Houston Astros, who are undergoing an ownership change, would be a logical choice to move to the AL West, where they would join their in-state rival, the Texas Rangers.

Hunter Pence, the Astros’ All-Star representative, said he liked the NL, but would not object to moving. He did not feel the Astros were at a disadvantage by playing in a six-team division.

“The scheduling would seem kind of funny, to have interleague every day, but then again I really enjoy interleague,” Pence said. “Sometimes change is good.”

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