Changes are coming to baseball. Big changes.
The owners of the 28 major-league clubs are too smart to go on losing money as they have been.
The players strike took an enormous toll. Losses from last year, when there was no postseason, are said to be close to $500 million.
In this shortened season, even with the extended playoff format and with a World Series, the owners expect to lose another $300 million.
With attendance down 20 percent and with broadcast revenues also down, the game's economic picture stinks.
What to do?
In tough times people will do a lot of things. That's why baseball, at the depths of the strike, added two expansion teams -- Phoenix and Tampa-St. Petersburg -- even though there aren't enough bonafide major-league players to stock the existing clubs.
The new clubs paid a combined $300 million to join the fraternity. That comes to about $10 million for each existing club. It made no sense artistically; financially, it helped.
I believe there will be relocations in the next few years, particularly if small-market clubs don't get revenue sharing.
Some owners say they will be forced to move if they don't get new ballparks financed by things such as sales tax increases.
But John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, says there's not a place in the country where the voters would approve a tax increase to finance a stadium in today's economic climate.
After this season ends in the proverbial sea of red ink, look for a record number of clubs to be reported heading elsewhere. Some may change cities; one or two may end up changing leagues.
In such an unsettled atmosphere, this is a good time for baseball to consider a geographic realignment of the clubs.
Twenty or 30 years ago, people would have considered that a goofy idea for such a traditional game.
Not now. Not when goofier things already have happened. Besides, it's not such a traditional game any more.
Why realign the majors?
It will stimulate interest. The creation of natural rivalries will increase attendance and revenues. It will save the clubs money.
Need any more reasons?
Never am I more convinced of the need for geographic realignment than when the Orioles are playing on the West Coast, as they are now.
The games don't end until 1 a.m. TV and radio audiences are shrunken. The fans have a hard time keeping up with their favorite teams.
And why? So the Orioles can play Seattle, Oakland and California? Who needs them? I'm tired of falling asleep in front of the TV or the radio at midnight with the Orioles in the sixth inning.
The only opponents from which the Orioles should never be separated are their two most historic rivals -- the Yankees and Red Sox.
Baseball doesn't even have to figure out how to realign. I've already done that for the greater glory of the national pastime:
* East: Orioles, Yanks, Mets, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Florida and Tampa-St. Pete.
* Mideast: Cleveland, Cubs, White Sox, Cincinnati, Toronto, Montreal and Atlanta.
* Midwest: Texas, Houston, Kansas City, St. Louis, Colorado, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Detroit.
* West: Los Angeles, California, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Seattle and Phoenix.
Piece of cake, huh?
Think of it: Broadcast audiences and revenues would be up with every game played in prime time. You'd never again have to read an annoying statement saying that "last night's Orioles-Mariners game in Seattle did not end in time to be included in this edition."
Fans would be more apt to take trips to rival cities to see the ballgames (Orioles fans going to the Vet in Philly, plus we'd have twice as many trips to New York, a tourist attraction).
The new rivalries would be sensational -- Mets-Yanks, Cubs-White Sox, K.C.-St. Louis, Rangers-Astros, A's-Giants, etc.
And if Northern Virginia gets a team, as some think it will, the rivalry with the Orioles would be intense from day one.
Travel costs would be reduced dramatically. The short trips without changing time zones would save wear and tear on the players.
The two eastern champions would meet in a best-of-seven series, as would the two western winners. Then the winners of those two series would battle for what we now call the world championship (notice that there are 15 teams in each division).
There wouldn't be any of this wild-card stuff.
There you are, baseball. It's all laid out for you. Get to work on it.
P.S. -- There'll be no charge for this service. You people have already lost enough money.