Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent yesterday ordered the National League realigned starting in 1993, sending the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals to the West Division and the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds to the East.
Vincent said he is using his "best interests of baseball" power to force the geographically correct realignment, which the Cubs oppose. He acknowledged that the decision could lead to a legal challenge of his authority.
NL teams have played in their current divisions since divisional play began in 1969, and Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs, may sue.
NL owners voted 12-2 in March in favor of realignment, but the Cubs used their vote to block the moves. League rules state that realignment cannot occur without the approval of all teams directly involved.
Tribune Co. officials have remained consistent in opposing realignment. They have said advertising revenue on the team's WGN-TV telecasts would drop with more games in the Pacific time zone.
The Cubs' reaction was carefully worded. "We believe the commissioner's decision is wrong, bad for baseball and especially bad for baseball fans here in the Chicago area," the club said in a statement. "We are presently considering the alternatives available to us."
Vincent said he would not be surprised if the Cubs sue to remain in the East.
"It's possible," he said. "But if I didn't think what I did was legally sound and legitimate, obviously I wouldn't have done it."
In his ruling, Vincent noted the "geographical oddities" of having Atlanta and Cincinnati, two cities in the Eastern time zone, playing in the West.
"With the proposed realignment, all Eastern Division teams will play their home games in the Eastern time zone, and no Western Division teams will be situated in the Eastern time zone," Vincent said. "Travel will be made easier and less costly, and the strong Chicago-St. Louis rivalry will be preserved."
Realignment became an issue with the 1993 NL expansion to Miami and Denver. The Florida Marlins will play in the East, and the Colorado Rockies will play in the West.
Vincent's intervention upset NL president Bill White and some teams that had been in favor of realignment.
White said in a statement: "I'm very disappointed with the commissioner's extraordinary decision to override the National League constitution."
White's office is setting a format for a 14-team schedule. Its current schedule has teams playing 18 games against teams in their own division and 12 against teams from the other division. The American League uses a 13-12 format.
NL vice president Katy Feeney has said White is studying 20-6, 16-9 and 13-12 formats. The 13-12 format would be a compromise with the Cubs, as it would have them playing only one more game against each of the West teams than it currently plays.
The new National League
The realignment of the National League divisions for 1993, as ordered by commissioner Fay Vincent (boldfaced teams switched divisions)
New York Mets
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants