Ten Questions to Ponder

The 1998 season will open with the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League -- the first time in more than a century that a major league team has switched leagues. 1997 marked the debut of interleague play. Even more radical proposals are under discussion, including additional realignment and playing the World Series at a neutral, warm-weather site. I surveyed the Boston Baseball brain trust for its opinion of these issues, receiving ten responses. Participants included Mike Gimbel, Ron Marshall, Bill Nowlin, Doug Pappas, Maura Porter, Michael Rutstein, Luke Salisbury, Mike SanClemente, Zach Soolman, and John Tomase.

1. Interleague Play: Yes or No? Respondents split down the middle on this one, with five in favor and five opposed. In a sport where the DH remains controversial after 25 seasons, don’t look for this debate to end soon.

2. Interleague Games: Scattered throughout the season, or grouped? Four of us want interleague games played all season long. Five prefer the current grouping, while John Tomase, a foe of interleague play, grumbled, “I could care less.”

3. Interleague Games: How Many? Six of us think the current schedule of 15 interleague games per season is about right. Mike Gimbel wants twice as many, while two foes of interleague play want it limited to a series or two against natural rivals. Michael Rutstein submitted the most radical proposal: a 154-game schedule in which a club would play six games against each of the other 29 teams, then nine more against division rivals.

4. Interleague play: Against whom? Six voters want to rotate the schedule of interleague games each year, except for annual games against natural rivals. Troy Soolman would also add an annual regular-season rematch of the previous season’s World Series teams at the winner’s home park. Two respondents favor a fixed schedule in which the Sox would always play the NL East clubs, while two prefer a pure rotation system which would bring every NL club to town once every six years.

5. Delay Opening Day by a week? With the regular season now encroaching into March, some owners have suggested that the risk of snow or extreme could be reduced by pushing back the season one week. Four of us like the idea, with six opposed. Luke Salisbury moaned, “I’d go crazy waiting,” while Mike SanClemente had a hidden agenda for favoring the early start: “I want as many rain- and cold-outs as possible to get more doubleheaders.”

6. What to do about the schedule if Opening Day is delayed? Five respondents would shorten the season by returning to the 154-game schedule, while four would rather see more doubleheaders. Mike Gimbel thinks the best solution is to move the World Series to a warm-weather site. Nobody wants to extend the regular season further into October or to reduce the number of off days.

7. Balanced vs. unbalanced schedule? We came closest to unanimity on this issue, with nine of 10 respondents favoring an unbalanced schedule which would give the Sox more games against the AL East, fewer against the Central and West. Editor/publisher Mike Rutstein was the lone dissenter, prompting speculation of a Boston Baseball purge of “the unbalanced element” on the staff.

8. What about realignment? Last summer’s hottest debate continued to divide the respondents. Three of us thought that the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays should’ve been split to create two 15-team leagues. Two wanted them assigned to the same league, while two favored the compromise which switched Milwaukee to the NL. Zach Soolman supported a slightly broader five-team realignment, while Mike Gimbel and Michael Rutstein urged a total geographic realignment which would leave all Eastern Time Zone teams in one league, everyone else in the other.

9. How should the divisions and playoffs be structured? We split four ways on this issue. A narrow plurality of four thought the current, three-division-plus-wildcard, was best. Three of us wanted to turn the clock back to 1993 by eliminating the wild card and the first-round playoffs, while one favored four divisions with no wild-card. No one favored expanding the playoffs.

10. Move the World Series to a warm-weather site? Jerry Colangelo of the Arizona Diamondbacks proposed this switch. Eight of us oppose the move, while the Gimbel/Rutstein radical element favor it.

If you have strong opinions about these or other issues, be sure to speak up. Too often, MLB hears only what it wants to hear...

Copyright © 1998 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the March 1998 issue of Boston Baseball.

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