By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Realignment will move forward just as soon as someone is willing to make a sacrifice. Which means, of course, there is a chance it will never happen.
There are several realignment plans that would fit the competitive, scheduling and geographic goals baseball is seeking, but all would require one or more teams to switch leagues or divisions. And that won't happen without a fight.
Which is why Bud Selig began his realignment proposal with Arizona and Tampa Bay swapping leagues because they are the only teams that can be moved without their permission.
But even that plan has flaws and Selig is running out of time because the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks can veto any move after 2001.
The basic premise for realignment is to get teams grouped into the same time zone and same geographic regions. That way baseball can switch to an unbalanced schedule with more games against division opponents to create greater rivalries.
So how hard can that be?
You have no idea.
All realignment shifts begin in the West because Texas does not belong with Pacific Coast teams in the AL West.
Selig's plan moves Texas from the West to the Central and replaces it with Arizona. The Devil Rays switch leagues to keep the NL at 16 teams.
The problem? The Central ends up with six teams while the East and West have four. The solution is to move Cleveland or Detroit to the East, but neither wants to go because it is too difficult to compete with New York, Boston and Baltimore.
The players' association proposed a realignment plan that would move Houston to the AL West to give Texas a division rival nearby. This plan leaves both the AL and NL with 15 teams and would require daily intraleague games.
The problem? Houston has no intention of switching leagues and owner Drayton McLane reiterated that point on Thursday.
The most logical solution may be a tweaking of Selig's plan. Instead of moving the Rays to the NL, he might try to convince Kansas City or Minnesota to move to the NL, which would open a spot in the AL Central for Texas.
So the Rays -- one of two teams that can easily switch leagues and the only one that has expressed interest -- may be stuck in the same place when it all ends.
TRADE BAIT: Add Johnny Damon and Charles Johnson to the list of potential free agents who could be dealt in the next two months. Damon is looking for a five-year deal and the Royals are thinking three years. Since Kansas City still has to worry about Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran, Damon may be expendable. Johnson is a Scott Boras client, which means he almost certainly will play the free-agent field. The Orioles are going nowhere so they might as well deal him while they can.
ERROR OF THEIR WAYS: The White Sox clearly have the hitting to remain contenders and they have gotten surprising pitching with James Baldwin turning into an ace and Cal Eldred resurrecting his career, but Chicago's defense is a concern. The White Sox have been last in the league in errors three straight seasons and may make it a fourth. "We're going to have to live and die with some errors," general manager Ron Schueler conceded.
WORN DOWN: The Yankees need to pamper David Cone but may not have that luxury while chasing Boston in the AL East. Cone is off to the worst start of his career at 1-5 with a 6.24 ERA and no longer seems capable of taking a regular turn in the rotation. At 37, he may need extra days off between starts. In the last year, he has started 11 times on four days of rest and won only once.
AMAZING GRACE: Doctors advised Mark Grace to give his sore hamstring more time to heal, but he came off the disabled list anyway. "It's not like I'm Kerry Wood. You are not ruining a Hall of Fame potential career," Grace said. "I'm 35, not 22. If I blow it out at Wrigley Field, we can just set up the podium and we can just hold my retirement party right there."
EX-BREW CREW: Who would have thought the Brewers would have an impact in the 2000 pennant races? But Milwaukee has strengthened the White Sox by trading them Eldred and Jose Valentin, the Cardinals by sending over Fernando Vina and the Rockies by shipping them Jeff Cirillo.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.