Three-division playoffs could begin in '94 season Fast realignment, approval are key

September 01, 1993|By New York Times News Service

CHICAGO -- Negotiations between baseball owners and players for expanded playoffs and three-division play very likely will be brief and successful, given the public positions of the two sides, and the new format should be implemented for the 1994 season.

Boston's John Harrington, chairman of the owners' schedule format committee, said yesterday that the owners are prepared to move quickly to realign the National and American leagues from two divisions each to three divisions each.

The players association has indicated it would approve an additional round in the pennant playoffs if the owners took that step.

"Absolutely, we're all for three divisions," Harrington said by telephone from Boston. "It's not an impossibility to do it for next season. One of the reasons we were proceeding slowly was to make sure we had given the players association adequate time to consider it. We didn't want to create the notion that we were trying to ram something through. We felt it was better to phase in these changes -- expanded playoffs one year, three divisions the next."

When the owners approved the additional round of playoffs for next season, they said they wouldn't consider going to three divisions before 1995.

Then Monday, Donald Fehr, head of the players association, said that the players opposed expanded playoffs that would include two non-championship teams but that they would consider the new round if each league's playoff included three division champions and the second-place team with the best record.

"I was pleased to hear Don say that with certain conditions they would favor three divisions," Harrington said.

If any element could bog down the negotiations, it would be agreement on how the players would be paid for the postseason games.

"The difference between this year and years past is a new element -- the form the television package takes," Eugene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, said, declining to discuss the subject further.

Harrington, Bill Giles of the Philadelphia Phillies and Richard Ravitch, the owners' chief labor executive, will meet tomorrow in New York with Orza and Lauren Rich, also a union lawyer, to begin negotiations on the changes. Fehr is on vacation.

"We'll show them why we want to do it, show them the fan survey showing why the fans want it," Harrington said. "We'll go over the economics, what it means for the game with more races. Then it's a matter where if everybody wants to do it, we'll have to get ownership to sign on when they meet in Boston next month. We'll make certain schedule adjustments and implement for 1994."

The owners will meet Sept. 8 and 9. If negotiators for the owners and players agree to the new format, some teams would have to be persuaded that the placement of their teams is important to the overall effort of making the leagues more attractive.

If any National League team is to change divisions, it must give its approval. The Atlanta Braves would prefer to be in the Eastern Division instead of the Central, but, Harrington said: "I think they've looked at it and can adapt. I don't think any National League team would raise their veto power if they're moved to a different division."

The American League has no veto provision. Approval of the change would require 10 votes from among the 14 clubs.

The Detroit Tigers appear to be the AL team that likes the three-division alignment the least because they are scheduled to be in the Central Division, separated from their old AL East rivals New York, Boston, Cleveland and Baltimore.

The Texas Rangers, Harrington said, don't want to be in the Western Division unless the teams play a balanced schedule under which teams would play the same number of games against each team regardless of which division they are in.

"We'll have to talk it out with those guys to be fair," Harrington said, "but I'm confident we can resolve it at the meeting next month."

Fehr, in a letter to Ravitch on Monday, said an unbalanced schedule "clearly deserves serious scrutiny," but if time made it impractical, "we would be willing to consider a three-division, balanced schedule for 1994."

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