Realignment makes winners of losers in AL West

April 28, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Orioles arrived at Anaheim Stadium last night in the midst of an 18-game stretch against American League West teams.

They arrived tied for third place in the AL East with a 12-7 record. Their opponents, the first-place California Angels, took a 9-12 record into the two-game series.

Welcome to realignment.

"I've seen some strange things in baseball, but it seems like it's getting stranger and stranger," said Orioles part-time designated hitter Lonnie Smith, a five-time World Series participant. "This is what a number of people talked about might happen, and it's happening."

The potential for a sub-.500 team participating in the postseason might embarrass baseball, but it shouldn't embarrass any of the players who will benefit from the realignment quirk.

"I'd be happy going to the playoffs with a record below .500 with a chance to go to the World Series," Orioles third baseman Chris Sabo said. "Embarrassed? No. Why would you be embarrassed? I'd probably go into the playoffs high as a kite with a chance to beat the big boys."

Sabo has a keen interest in baseball history, but he doesn't waste any time worrying about the impact of realignment.

"It doesn't bother me one way or another," he said. "It'll probably change in a few years anyway. The best way would be to have one team from each league in the World Series, the way it used to be. To me, that would be interesting. That way you have the definitive best team in the American League against the definitive best team in the National League. That has no chance of happening with TV."

Said Orioles center fielder Mike Devereaux: "It happens. I'm sure there are going to be years where the other division is tougher."

Perhaps, but history suggests otherwise.

As weak as the AL West is now, it isn't likely to match what it would have been had realignment been put in place in 1983. The Texas Rangers had the best record of the four teams that make up the current AL West. They went 77-85, placing three games ahead of Oakland, seven games ahead of California, 17 ahead of Seattle.

In 15 of the 25 seasons since divisional play began, only one team now in the AL West had a winning record. The teams have had 34 finishes above .500, 55 below the break-even point.

In contrast, the five teams that make up the AL East have had 87 winning seasons and 29 losing seasons since 1969. In 23 of the 25 seasons, at least three teams had winning records.

This year is no exception.

"I have no control over it, so I can't say it would bother me," Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines said. "I do wish I was in that division with our record."

If the Orioles ever feel slighted this season, the organization should be grateful the realignment wasn't in place in 1984, the year they finished 85-77. Had that season been played under the current three-division setup, the Orioles would have finished last in the AL East, despite having a record good enough to win either the AL West or AL Central.

"It doesn't look good, a team leading a division with a losing record," Smith said. "It looked even worse in [strike-shortened] 1981, when we had the Reds having the best record in baseball and they were nowhere to be found in the postseason."

How superior is the AL East to the West?

RTC Well, the closer on the team tied for third in the AL East had two more saves than every bullpen put together in the AL West, heading into last night's games. That's right, Orioles closer Lee Smith had 10 saves, the bullpens of California (four), Texas (two), Seattle (one) and Oakland (one) had eight.

No question, the AL West is the Kmart of baseball's divisions.

"Yeah, but they won't be written off next year," said Lee Smith, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million free-agent contract with the Orioles in January. "They'll still have jobs. I'll probably have to take another blue-light special."

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: California Angels

Site: Anaheim Stadium

Time: 10:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sid Fernandez (0-0, 2.38) vs. Angels' John Dopson (1-2, 6.00)

LATE ORIOLES GAME

Last night's Orioles-Angels game in Anaheim, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun and all editions of The Evening Sun. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call [410] 268-7736, ext. 5023).

1984 REVISITED

If the Orioles ever feel slighted this season, the organization should be grateful this year's realignment wasn't in place in 1984, the year they finished 85-77. Had that season been played under the current three-division setup, the Orioles would have finished last in the AL East, despite having a record good enough to win either the AL West or AL Central.

1984 FINAL RECORDS

AL East

Detroit 104-58

Toronto 89-73

New York 87-75

Boston 86-76

Orioles 85-77

AL Central

Kansas City 84-78

Minnesota 81-81

Cleveland 75-87

Chicago 74-88

Milwaukee 67-94

AL West

California 81-81

Oakland 77-85

Seattle 74-88

Texas 69-92

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