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Interleague play may be widened

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001


When introduced, interleague play had two major attractions.

No. 1, it would create natural rivalries between geographic neighbors such as the Yankees-Mets or the Giants-Athletics. That appeal is undeniable.

No. 2, interleague play was supposed to give fans a chance to watch superstars never before seen in their towns. That theory made sense, but the interleague schedule adopted by baseball limited the appeal.

That is why, after five seasons of interleague play, commissioner Bud Selig is pushing a new scheduling format.

Interleague play has been limited to games against the opposite division, such as the National League East versus the American League East. Which is why Rays fans have been forced to watch repeated meetings with the Expos and Phillies, along with Braves, Marlins and Mets.

By next season, the plan is for a rotating schedule, much like the NFL. The AL East would play the NL West in 2002, with the AL West playing the NL Central and the AL Central playing the NL East. The divisions would rotate each season.

While rotating opponents, teams still would retain at least one series against a predominant rival. The Yankees, for instance, would continue playing the Mets every year and the Rays would play the Marlins.

That way, interleague play retains its best rivalries while keeping the rest of the schedule fresh. In theory, Rays fans would get to see a Mark McGwire or a Barry Bonds come through Tropicana Field every few years.

Other proposed changes include having one league host all the interleague games at the same time, making scheduling easier. For instance, all games one weekend would be at AL parks and the next weekend at NL parks.

Schedulemakers also are supposed to have interleague play completed in one block before the All-Star break, instead of spreading it out in two phases before and after the All-Star Game.

"I still think interleague play is a good thing," Selig said. "I know there are critics, but the attendance figures show it has been a success."

SLOWING: Rickey Henderson energized San Diego when he joined the team, but he may now cause a dilemma for the Padres. Henderson was in a 4-for-58 swoon before finding himself on the bench. He is 50 hits from 3,000, so will the Padres feel an obligation to a 42-year-old leftfielder chasing history, or is it strictly business?

LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1: Seattle general manager Pat Gillick is not relaxing in the warmth of a runaway lead in the AL West. Gillick is searching for another power hitter and a No. 1 pitcher who can take the Mariners through the playoffs. Gillick believes Freddy Garcia has the talent to be a No. 1 but is too young to take on that burden. And Gillick said he has no interest in Chicago's David Wells as a trade candidate.

FEAR STRIKES OUT: Cubs reliever Kyle Farnsworth does not like to wear glasses on the mound, so he sometimes has trouble seeing the catcher's signs. Joe Girardi recently had to call time so he could wrap white tape on his fingers to make it easier for Farnsworth. This wouldn't be much of an issue, except Farnsworth throws 100-101 mph.

CLOCKING OUT AT SIX: Every manager wants a starting pitcher to give him at least six innings of work. Kenny Rogers takes that to an extreme. The left-hander from Plant City pitched at least six innings in his first 14 starts. In those 14 games, however, Rogers threw a grand total of 121/3 innings beyond the sixth.

A WEEKEND WITH ROCKER: Demonstrating the poise and maturity for which he is famous, Braves reliever John Rocker had himself a full week. On Friday, he got in a shouting match with a fan outside Yankee Stadium that was broken up by security. On Saturday, a fan filed a police report after Rocker supposedly had to be restrained from accosting him in a New Jersey bar.

On Wednesday, Rocker re-ignited a brawl with Toronto when he ran on the field and challenged Raul Mondesi to a fight. Rocker politely declined to comment when approached by reporters.

"Guess what? It's payback time," Rocker told reporters. "I'd rather mop the floor at a peep show than talk with you guys."

COSTLY GESTURE: White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf took the high road when it came to the remaining $49.6-million owed to Frank Thomas through 2006. Under a unique clause in the contract, first suggested to Reinsdorf by Michael Jordan during his playing days with the Bulls, Reinsdorf could defer all but $250,000 per year of the contract if Thomas failed to maintain specific offensive numbers. Thomas, in turn, could void the contract and become a free agent. With Thomas likely out for the season with an arm injury, Reinsdorf says he will not invoke the clause. Reinsdorf said the clause was meant to be a safeguard against decreased production, not injury.

THE LAST WORD: "I was calm. I had a bat in my hand." Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez, who was standing in the batter's box in the eighth inning Wednesday when a fan ran across home plate.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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