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Owners Look Out for No. 1

Baseball: There is a lot more meeting than agreeing about realignment.


ATLANTA — Realignment?

It's this simple and this complicated, said John Harrington, chairman of baseball's realignment committee and chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox:

"Every [club] wants to do something but doesn't want it to affect them--do open-heart surgery but don't leave a mark."

Harrington said it before his committee began another attempt to narrow differences and objections to the various plans during a four-meeting Tuesday night that a committee member described as "spinning wheels" and added that acting Commissioner Bud Selig "just isn't ready to force a decision yet."

The committee will meet again this morning, then present realignment data to owners in separate American and National League meetings. The original hope was that a recommendation would be presented to the owners for a vote on Thursday. Harrington didn't rule it out--"maybe there'll be a breakthrough," he said--but the likelihood seems to be that the vote will be delayed.

"If we can eliminate some of the variations and alternatives, that's progress," Harrington said. "If we can whittle it down to two or three [plans] and do more study, maybe we can take a vote in two or three weeks."

That would take owners into the heart of the playoffs and beyond a Sept. 30 deadline by which they hoped to have the 1998 schedule in place, but Angel President Tony Tavares, a committee member, said he was skeptical a vote would take place here given the new "flies in the ointment."

"I think something could be done," Tavares said, "but I look for [Selig] to give everybody their day in court, then call another meeting."

One of those flies is the threat of legal action by San Francisco Giant owner Peter Magowan if the Oakland Athletics are put in the National League, intruding on what he considers his exclusive NL territory.

Another, according to sources, is the reluctance of the Philadelphia Phillies to move to the American League.

The Phillies had initially agreed to it as part of a radical realignment in which 15 teams would have switched leagues.

However, when three other charter members of the NL--the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates--balked at the proposal that would have had them going to the AL as well, the Phillies, who would have had a veto as a team switching leagues, indicated that they didn't want to be the only charter team to leave, forcing revamping of what had seemed to be the most favorable of the modified plans.

That plan would have had nine teams switching leagues.

In a spinoff that the committee discussed Tuesday night, seven teams would switch, with the Phillies back in the NL.

That alignment:


East: Philadelphia, New York Mets, Atlanta, Pittsburgh.

Central: Cincinnati, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City.

West: Dodgers, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado.

Pacific: Angels, Oakland, Seattle, Arizona.


East: Toronto, Boston, Baltimore, Florida, New York Yankees.

Central: Cleveland, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Montreal.

West: Chicago, Texas, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston.

The key may be getting the Astros to agree to the AL. Owner Drayton McLane didn't rule that out, saying only that he would refuse to join the AL West, as currently constituted.

In the new proposal, he would join four other Central time zone teams, including the rival Rangers, but there is no guarantee the 30 owners can agree to any plan at odds with their own self-interest.

In addition, it is uncertain how far Magowan will carry his threat. Almost every plan has the eight Pacific and Mountain time zone teams moving to the National League. Magowan said Tuesday he would "not have it shoved down his throat," calling the concept "a return to the Pacific Coast League."

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