Majors can take change even further Drop worst teams and see races then

September 17, 1993|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,New York Times News Service

The most popular game in New York City the last 24 hours has been speculating how baseball would look if this were 1994 and the new realignment already had taken place.

We've all taken out our little slide rules and deduced that the current Yankees series with the Red Sox would be of huge importance in the brave new world a-coming. The Yankees and the Orioles would be neck and neck for the wild-card spot in the playoffs.

That would be good because it would mean that this decent, hard-working, overachieving Yankees team would have a very good shot at the first round of the playoffs, and that would keep that choke-artist owner, that panicking, no-guts pantywaist, quiet for the moment.

And here's a note to my office: don't you dare stick his photo in my column, either. I'm sick of his double-chin, pull-the-wings-off-flies glare. Run Buck's picture. Run Gallego's. Run Tartabull's. Guy has 30 homers and the owner dumps on him. What a creep.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. We were playing mind games about mediocre teams like St. Louis and Texas suddenly becoming division winners by virtue of opening up three divisions in each league. But as long as we're tinkering with the way baseball works, let's go all the way.

Instead of merely rewarding competency, let's take on incompetence. There must be a penalty for being as bad as the New York Mets. The other night, this clever new fellow named Letterman, who is keeping me up past my bedtime, proposed that the Mets play in the Broadway Show League next year. It was a funny line, although my thinking is that theater people are too nice for the likes of the Mets.

Besides, I had already made my modest proposal last month that the Mets be relegated to the minor leagues. I included it in a column about Italian soccer, and how the proud fans from Florence have had to endure a one-year banishment of Fiorentina to Series B.

This is a wonderful device, this relegation. Every year the bottom four teams in Italy are lopped right out of Series A. One year they're playing in Rome and Milan, the next year they're playing in Pescara and Acireale. And it serves them right.

So here's what I propose. Next year, while baseball is reinventing itself, it should study world soccer. Three teams have got to go.

Going into yesterday, those three teams would be Oakland, San Diego and the Mets. In each case, they would be getting exactly what they deserve. Oakland might have thought twice about trading Rickey Henderson if it wanted to avoid a trip to the minors. San Diego might not have been shipping Fred McGriff to Atlanta, handing them the division title, if it had to consider a year in the boonies.

I don't know what the Mets might have done differently to avoid relegation. They haven't done anything right since trading Lenny Dykstra, so the heck with them. They could use a season in the bushes. They'd still be playing in Shea, I suppose, but we wouldn't have to pay much attention until they earned their way back.

In the meantime, what a wonderful new start for baseball. Three teams from the minors would be moved up. Iowa won the American Association. Tucson won the Pacific Coast League. And just Wednesday night, Charlotte beat Rochester, 6-1, for the Governors Cup, the championship of the International League. Sam Horn, the bulky first baseman who has had a couple of shots with Boston and Baltimore, hit a three-run homer for Charlotte.

Imagine if that final game had been for a slot in the majors next year? Everybody would have been watching it. They could have relegation all through the minor leagues, just like in Italian soccer. One day, Nashville or Bristol or Medicine Hat could be in the major leagues.

There'd be a few wrinkles to work out because these franchises are farm teams, but the goal is to reward winning teams and winning cities. If you start relegation, the three upgraded teams would have the right to use their new-found money to buy free agents. They could probably be competitive. They couldn't do much worse than the Mets. And they'd surely be able to bring some of their best players up to the big show. Bring back Sam Horn and let Bret (the Sneak of Flushing) Saberhagen work out his bleach-spraying impulses in the lower depths.

And here's a final scenario: If we had had relegation in 1990, you know who would have been dumped? Atlanta, St. Louis and the Yankees. Now that would have been a sight, watching that pompous bully suffering as his team was relegated. But the Yankees fought their way back, showing more character than the owner. Maybe we could just relegate owners. Now there's a thought.

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