- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2011

Baseball is in the midst of more interleague play. Good timing, too, with realignment and a balanced schedule in the baseball news.

Much maligned by purists, these NL vs. AL games affect those very important issues. Isn’t it time for this experiment to end?

The old school has had enough, for sure. But I understand this school is of little importance today. This generation knows no other system.

Unfair schedule, awful travel, issues with postponements and the DH, among other problems. All for the sake of the grand masters, television ratings and attendance.

The Phillies went out West to play the Mariners while Florida went to Tampa Bay. In a perfect world, ridiculous travel and unfair schedule. Maybe another thousand fans will show up for these games, is there another reason for it?

The Padres and Boston nearly got rained out this week. What would they have done _ lost a game, traveled cross-country to make it up, given up a day off?

Interleague play has run its cycle. Balancing the schedule and cleaning up travel are two challenges for baseball administrators.

Isn’t something missing from the All-Star game and World Series? Think back to when they were played in an environment of charming uncertainty because the teams and players were from different leagues. What they knew of each other came from spring training games, television and scouting.

The buzz was always which league was better, how would a particular pitcher fare against the other league. One league was known for superior speed and power, the other for pitching, finesse and defense. The World Series was like those first Super Bowls, with little firsthand information. Hitters and pitchers had to feel each other out. None of that today.

Am I just old, or am I on to something?

The best records in baseball going into the weekend belonged to Boston and Philly, in different leagues. Want to imagine them in the World Series, barring any likely regular-season changes or postseason upsets? Don’t need to, they play a series in Philly this week, which will be billed as a World Series preview.

No need to argue over how Boston’s hitters will do against Cole Hamels or Roy Oswalt. We’ll know. No boost to attendance _ they have over 150 straight sellouts, no seats available.

I suppose interleague play is welcome in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, where their fans can see stars from the other league in person. Do you think attendance will be up significantly in Detroit when Jose Reyes and the Mets visit, or in Tampa Bay when Joey Votto and the Reds arrive?

Is a Freeway Series in LA or Subway Series in NY or Windy City Classic in Chicago that beneficial in selling baseball? Must be, but enough to warrant an unfair, unbalanced schedule? Look past that issue to the DH, a ridiculously unfair element in the competition. The American League pitchers are automatic outs, and AL team rosters are set up around the DH. When in AL parks, the NL teams adapt easily.

I’d argue that a team’s interleague schedule strength directly affects its won-loss record. I’d assume there is a formula for the best playing the best, and the worst playing the worst, but how can it be consistent?

You’d think a clean simple alignment of teams with a balanced schedule would be possible without major restructuring. I believe it is, but the first step _ interleague play _ must be done away with.

Here’s my idea: First, eliminate the Central divisions in each league. In the National League, place Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati in the East and Chicago, Houston and St. Louis in the West. Two eight-team divisions. In the AL, put Detroit and Cleveland in the East and Chicago, Kansas City and Minnesota in the West. Two seven-team divisions.

Scheduling in the NL is easy. Teams play each team in their division 14 times for a total of 98 games. They play each team outside the division eight times for a total of 64 games. Perfect, 162. This would provide a strong, balanced, in-division schedule, keeping the focus on the regular season.

The AL setup is slightly more difficult. Each team plays in its division 16 times and outside the division nine times. That adds up to 159. The deficit is made up with a three-game series outside the division, based on travel and the previous year’s standings.

The postseason is even better. The top four teams in each division make the playoffs, totaling eight in each league. We add a new round, which is what baseball wants.

In the division elimination series, the club with the best record plays No. 4, and No. 2 plays No. 3 in a best of five. The winners advance to the best-of-five division series, formerly the wild-card round. That sets up the seven-game league championship series, winners going to the World Series. Must be a problem, too simple.

What’s accomplished with this seemingly obvious change? First, the travel burden put on the clubs has been lightened, a major financial savings. Second, teams are challenged in their division throughout the regular season. Third, forgive me for using the word “charm,” but I love the charm that would return to the marquee baseball events by eliminating interleague play. And last, the fair and balanced schedule.

I doubt this idea will ever see the light of day. Not many ideas from the outside do in baseball. Maybe this system has already been considered, probably has. It’s obvious and simple.

On the other hand, baseball likes to look at the big picture, how well it is doing as an industry. Attendance up, licensing and TV revenue up, franchise values holding strong. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as they say.

Oh, well, enjoy the wonderful interleague games. I’ll be in Philly watching what could be the World Series three months too soon.

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