BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 06/15/2011

Thiel: M’s may lose 4-team AL West before they win it

Major League Baseball is considering realignment that would add a team to the division; isn’t baseball life tough enough for Mariners already?

The Mariners, like Mike Carp in left field Tuesday night, have repeatedly fallen flat in their division. / Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images

In the sport’s twisted history in Seattle, Major League Baseball’s lords did local fans just two favors:

They put the Mariners in the American League, where the designated hitter rule allowed a street to be named for Edgar Martinez.

And they put the Mariners in the game’s teensiest division.

Issued a berth in the American League West by the 1994 realignment plan that created three divisions in each of the two major leagues, Seattle was given a one-in-four chance each season to make the playoffs – a huge break, because all the other divisions were populated by five and even six teams.

The Mariners happily accepted. Hey, they figured they were owed a break or two. Already they were burdened by leading the sport in air miles traveled, thanks to the city’s position between Jupiter and Saturn. And for 22 years they played indoors during the world’s greatest summers (asterisk inserted here for 2011).

Unfortunately for them, in the 15 years since divisional play began, the Mariners took minimal advantage of their opportunity, making the playoffs just four times, none in the last 10 years. How they managed to avoid such treasure when each of their division mates made the playoffs is a feat that occupies hordes of Northwest baseball archaeologists, sociologists, sabermetricians and baristas.

Now comes a report that the teensy division advantage may be taken away. As part of behind-the-scenes conversations leading up to a new collective bargaining agreement, owners and the players are pondering the possibility of realigning the leagues and eliminating divisions.

Matters are far from official, but there is contemplation of a simple change: Moving a team from the 16-team National League to the 14-team American League, either Houston or Arizona. Naturally, the team would land in the stumpy AL West. Also under consideration is abandonment of division play, as well as adding a fifth playoff team in each 15-team league.

For Mariners fans aching for another post-season appearance, the notion is the worst news since they learned the club once hired a catcher who spoke neither English nor Spanish.

If the plans were implemented – and the idea at this stage seems more like a trial balloon – the Mariners no longer would have to be better than just three teams to make the playoffs. They would have to be better than 10 of the 15 AL teams.

While it is easy to make the argument that if a team wins 90-some games, the team will make the playoffs, that doesn’t impress in a town where the pro football team made the playoffs at 7-9. Much is often said in these championship-barren parts about the virtues of the flatness of the surrounding territory.

Asked before Tuesday night’s game, which turned into a 4-0 triumph by the Angels, neither manager Eric Wedge nor general manager Jack Zduriencik offered much more than shrugs.

“I don’t get caught up in that sort of thing,” Wedge said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

Said Zduriencik: “Let me think about it a minute . . . no, I don’t have a view one way or another.”

Thanks for fanning the flames.

Across the way at Safeco Field, however, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was a little more animated.

“I haven’t heard anything about eliminating divisions — I don’t think that works,” he said. “I think divisional play and the geographical rivalries that come with it are important. More teams have opportunities to get to the playoffs in five-team divisions.”

As a member of a 14-man “committee for on-field matters” created by Commissioner Bud Selig in December 2009 – Mariners president Chuck Armstrong is also a member – he thought he should have known about the idea. But the discussion hasn’t reached the committee.

Scioscia is all for schedule reform. He wants to get intra-division games booked for April, June and September, and wouldn’t mind an extra team in the playoffs.

But as a guy who has won five division titles, two manager of the year awards and 2002 World Series, Scioscia figures to be a little more invested in the AL West. He nearly owns the joint, so giving it up is a little hard.

But the four-team AL West is symbolic of the institutionalized unfairness that is scattered throughout baseball. From the use of different rules (DH) between the leagues, to payroll disparities to the inequities of the annual interleague play (which teams get bullies, and which get cupcakes?), baseball has had a long history of odd limps.

Even if the tidiness of two 15-team leagues is adopted, the scheduling will work so that an interleague series will have to be played every week of the year. Imagine if the Mariners, in the heat of pennant race, have to go without a DH in the final-week series in order to play the Atlanta Braves?

OK, that’s a lot to imagine for Mariners fans – pennant heat and a DH that can out-hit a pitcher.

Still, the four-team AL West is a hard crutch to surrender, even if the Mariners never mastered its rhythm. Besides, 15 years is such a small sample size. As one of only two teams never to make the World Series, why is now time to make Mariners life more difficult? Isn’t it enough to pay Milton Bradley $12 million for autograph on a contract?


YourThoughts

  • Curtis Black

    If they are better than 9 of 15 AL teams, doesn’t that make them #6 overall and still out of the playoffs?

    • guest

      Art’s not counting the M’s as being better than themselves, so his math is correct.  Don’t dis on Art, man.

      • Curtis Black

        They would need to be one of the top-5 teams in order to make the playoffs under the scenario of 15 AL teams. 

        That leaves a total of 10 teams who are not in the top-5 and are not in the playoffs. My math says they would need to better than 10 AL teams in order to make the playoffs

  • Curtis Black

    If they are better than 9 of 15 AL teams, doesn’t that make them #6 overall and still out of the playoffs?

    • guest

      Art’s not counting the M’s as being better than themselves, so his math is correct.  Don’t dis on Art, man.

      • Curtis Black

        They would need to be one of the top-5 teams in order to make the playoffs under the scenario of 15 AL teams. 

        That leaves a total of 10 teams who are not in the top-5 and are not in the playoffs. My math says they would need to better than 10 AL teams in order to make the playoffs

  • Michael Kaiser

    Ya, baseball has become so watered down.  If anything they should go back in the direction of one division or two divisions in each league and also scrap the interleague play entirely.  It just feels like a gimmick, which I guess it is.  Pretty soon mlb is going to be like the NBA with a team having to try just to not make the playoffs and the season will run from February to Christmas. 

  • Michael Kaiser

    Ya, baseball has become so watered down.  If anything they should go back in the direction of one division or two divisions in each league and also scrap the interleague play entirely.  It just feels like a gimmick, which I guess it is.  Pretty soon mlb is going to be like the NBA with a team having to try just to not make the playoffs and the season will run from February to Christmas. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/gnm200 Gary Morton

    A reporter in Pittsburgh notes that another plan has the Pirates moving to the AL Central, and the Royals moving to the AL West.  Sounds like a division alignment to me. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/gnm200 Gary Morton

    A reporter in Pittsburgh notes that another plan has the Pirates moving to the AL Central, and the Royals moving to the AL West.  Sounds like a division alignment to me. 

  • Typholosion EXPLOSION

    You’re all idiots

  • Asdfas

    I always regret reading the comment sections…

  • Cruddly

    Carrol looked upset at his press conference and during the game — especially in the 4th quarter, where at one point you could see him tying to scold and console Browner at the same time.  A lot of  people are pining for a coach like Holgren, who had no problem chewing out players.   But others point out that at the same point in their careers with the Seahawks, Holmgren and Carrol share the same win loss records.  It’s the penalties, the argument goes, that indicate Carrol’s mellow approach is causing this careless, undisciplined approach to the game by his players that ultimately result in penalties.    
    Most of the people who believe this still cling to the hope that their big daddy figure, Holmgren will dissolve his relationship with Cleveland,  comeback and save the Seahawks from themselves.  They long for his  emphasis on the offense.  They want to return to the soft, bend but don’t break defenses of the Holmgren era.  For these guys,10 years of Holmgren was not enough.  They want him back before he succumbs to diabetes or stroke or one of the other disabling conditions that men of his girth and age often fall prey to. 
    While I wouldn’t mind having him come back and raise the 12th man banner one day, I would really like to give Carrol and his guys a chance before checking out other coaching philosophies.  Besides, they got a tough guy on the sidelines — Cable.  Check him out sometime during a game.  Has his attitude stopped the linemen from committing less infractions?

  • 3 Lions

    They are immature, just like there coach. Obviously, making alot of money doesn’t equate to having any brains. They seemed to be more concerned w swagger than winning.

  • Steve56

    The bottom line issue is coaching or the lack thereof.  Yes, a young and relatively inexperienced roster including an injured/marginal quarterback are issues, but the lack of discipline, the repeated mistakes made game after game all point to a bigger problem.

  • Bayviewherb

    We see it in college ball and even in the pros. Get a lead into the 4th quarter, then play defense on offense. From that point on, Washington played not to lose, not playing as they got there with agressive offense. That strategy of runnng the clock only served to give the ball back to the other team so they had a chance to make a big play. They did, and so did Washington. It was a coaching loss, not players. 

  • Suckmyballs

    wow that math makes no sense you tard.  11 times 12 equals 132

  • Touche

     Only one of you is an idiot.  My money is on Suckmyballs.