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Baseball Owners Approve New League Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Major league baseball owners broke with tradition Thursday, approving realignment of the National and American leagues into three divisions each for 1994 and expansion of the playoffs from four to eight teams.

Meeting in Boston, the owners voted 27 to 1 to end the two-division format that has been in place in each league since 1969 and to add a pair of five-game series to the playoffs. Qualifying for each league’s playoffs will be the three division winners and a wild-card team, the club with the next-best record.

George W. Bush, general partner of the Texas Rangers and a son of the former President, voted against the plan. “I represent the silent voices of baseball purists,” he said. “History will prove I was right.”

The Dodgers and Angels will get a competitive boost in the realignment, each playing in four-team divisions until the 14-team leagues expand to 15 teams each, probably sometime in the next five years.

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The Dodgers will be in the National League West with San Francisco, San Diego and Colorado. The Angels will play in the American League West with Texas, Oakland and Seattle.

American League realignment had been a stumbling block until Cleveland agreed to play in the Central Division with Milwaukee, Minnesota, Chicago and Kansas City, allowing Detroit to remain in the East with New York, Boston, Toronto and Baltimore.

The National League’s realignment is not complete but will be within a week, league President Bill White said.

Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Houston will definitely play in the Central Division, with one other team. And Montreal, New York and Philadelphia will definitely play in the East, with two other teams.

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The league had originally put Atlanta in the Central, with Florida and Pittsburgh going to the East, but Florida has tentatively agreed to join the Central, yielding to the wishes of Atlanta and Pittsburgh to play in the East.

Florida, Atlanta and Pittsburgh all have waived their rights to veto the realignment plan, White said, meaning they will play wherever they are assigned.

The entire concept must be approved by the players’ union, but that is expected to be a formality.

The owners decided to realign next year only after they had been advised by the union that the players disapproved of management’s initial plan.

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Under that plan, the leagues would have retained the current two-division alignment and expanded the playoffs to eight teams by adding the second-place finisher in each division. The union said that compromised the integrity of the division races.

Eugene Orza, the union’s associate counsel, said he was satisfied that the clubs are now committed to three-division realignment and that the union’s approval “boils down to the issue of economics and how the players will be paid” for the extra round of playoffs.

Under the plan, the four winners of the best-of-five first-round playoffs in each league will advance to the best-of-seven league championship series, with the two league champions meeting in the best-of-seven World Series.

In the playoffs, the wild-card team will meet the division winner with the best record unless those teams are from the same division. In that case, the wild-card team will play the division winner with the next-best record.

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The first two playoff games involving a wild-card team will be played in that team’s park, with the next three in the park of the division winner.

The home-field advantage for the playoff that matches division winners will rotate each year, as it does now in the league playoffs and World Series.

Bud Selig, president of the Milwaukee Brewers and chairman of baseball’s governing executive council, said there is no plan to shorten the 162-game season.

The 1994 season is tentatively scheduled to start on April 3, with a possible Game 7 of the World Series scheduled for Oct. 30. In ensuing years, Selig said, the starting date may be earlier or the finishing date later to incorporate days off.

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Selig said the playoff expansion is an attempt to stimulate late-season interest and attendance, adding that the geographical realignment also makes economic sense.

“I’m as much of a traditionalist as anyone, but times change, and baseball has to change as well,” he said.

* RELATED STORIES: C1, C8


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