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Original Issue

Baseball Is Out of Its Mind

Playoff expansion and interleague play are changes that the game can do without

Baseball owners, hear me OUT: You are out-and-out exclusionary. Because of you, greedy players have been locked out, Fay Vincent was forced out, and blacks were once kept out, which has something do with why Marge Schott was recently kicked out.

All of this goes to the essence of the game. Three strikes? Yer not in, yer out. Ceremonial first pitches are thrown out. What's your favorite baseball movie, Eight Men Out or Fear Strikes Out? Get 27 outs without allowing a run—in other words, don't let some outfielder hit one out—and what have you got? A shutout.

Yet, when a committee of you owners met behind closed doors (KEEP OUT!) in Phoenix last week, you evidently decided to do something very strange about the baseball playoffs: to let everybody in. Which is an outrage.

Well, not everybody. The Cleveland Indians still won't get into the playoffs without showing a ticket. But most of you are leaning toward doubling the number of teams that qualify for the playoffs from four to eight, beginning with the 1995 season.

Here is how you say it would work. Both 14-team leagues would fragment into three divisions. Two divisions in each league would have five teams, and one division would have four. The three division winners and a wild-card team (the division runner-up with the best record) would make the playoffs in each league. The 162-game regular season would be shortened to accommodate the extra postseason series.

The reason for all of this, of course, is as clear as Diet Crystal Pepsi—and about as unappealing: More teams mean more money. Your thinking is, If there is no pennant race come September, you will manufacture it. And if you build it, they will come. Fans, that is. Fans of a team that is 10 games out of first place but is now, suddenly, a playoff contender! Plus, a longer televised postseason means more network dough. Major League Baseball will have all the success of...the National Hockey League.

I'm all for change. Baseball needs to change. It docs so too infrequently. Baseball's quaint reluctance to change once meant an unquaint reluctance to integrate. Talk about reluctance to change: Two years ago Dodger Dogs were steamed and not grilled—for all of two weeks—and Dodger Stadium nearly imploded. Tradition had been violated.

I say tradition is fine, but sometimes tradition must give way to progress: Pete Rose, for goodness' sake, had the same hairdo for two decades. Was that good for baseball?

Clearly not. But neither is it good that the game is suddenly seeking change like a toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike, because too often, when baseball docs embrace a change, it is a very bad one. I speak of the designated hitter, late-night World Series games, lights at Wrigley Field, polyester double-knit uniforms and the Seattle Mariners. I speak of vigorous enforcement of the balk rule. That was a visionary idea?

And now an eight-team playoff. Bad idea.

Still another bad idea: interleague play. You discussed that last week in Phoenix as well. "The Angels could play the Dodgers," you reasoned. And Southern Californians would know once and for all which team is the worst in baseball. Ask the AFC teams if they enjoy interleague play in the NFL. Integrate your front offices. Keep the two leagues separate but equal.

"The two New York teams could play each other," you say. Historical footnote: There was a time when the Yankees played a National League team from New York every year. It was called the World Series! Remember Willie Mays, Duke Snider and Joe DiMaggio? You do? Then wake up and smell Mr. Coffee. That was all the postseason that fans needed. That was when zero teams made the playoffs, remember? There weren't any. If you had the best record in your league, you went to the World Series. That's why they played 154 games. The season meant something. The season meant everything.

What does the NBA season mean? Last year it meant that after 82 games, the world champion Chicago Bulls, with the league's best record, were tested in the first round of the playoffs by...the Miami Heat. The NFL's regular season is 17 weeks long, and the postseason is five weeks long. If baseball, with its 162-game schedule, wanted playoffs on a similar scale, the postseason would last two months. Or the same amount of time that it takes to complete the Stanley Cup playoffs.

You want to change something, baseball owners? Change the starting time of World Series and Championship Series games. Change your evil ways (if, as Schott alleges, she is not the only racemonger among you). Change the diaper of every player insulted by a multimillion-dollar salary offer. (Chicago While Sox pitcher Jack McDowell was put off recently by his $4 million arbitration award.) For heaven's sake change the lock on George Steinbrenner's office door. (Quick, before it's too late!) But don't go changing the playoffs. Keep four teams in. Keep the rest out. That is the essence of baseball. Pitchout. Putout. Pop-out.

Alas, that is also the essence of baseball owners. Payout, Bob Lurie, former owner of the San Francisco Giants, told the city's taxpayers, or the Giants are outta here. You owners will approve the expanded playoff format, and you'll seek the approval of baseball fans. Well, in the words of Samuel Goldwyn, "Include me out."