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Eliminate divisional play? Remember the Mets

I was just listening to ESPN Radio as I drove back from an assignment and had a chance to hear Randy Karraker, Chris Duncan and D'Marco Farr kicking around this vile idea about major league realignment.

It was one of those conversations where you wish you were in the room because Karraker made a great point that I would have loved to agree with -- and take it a step farther.

He mentioned that he's opposed to the elimination of baseball's divisions for a balanced schedule because in 1985 the Cardinals and Mets faced off 12 times in September in one of the game's most bitter -- and most exciting division races. And he's right. That was a great time for the game. I remember hanging on pins and needles for days to see how those games would come out. And, at the time, it seemed like the only thing anyone in the area wanted to talk about.

Under the new divisionless alignment that sort of thing is out the window.

Not only will there be no division to battle over in the proposed future. But the Cardinals and their current rivals -- the Cubs, Brewers and Reds will likely only play six games against each other all year, three at home and three on the road. It's kind of hard to get a good lather up when you're unfamiliar with the guys across the field.

Here's where I wish I could chime in. Not only was the Mets-Cardinals rivalry great -- it was realignment that destroyed it.

Anyone who thinks the idea of eliminating divisions need only look to the Cardinals and Mets rivalry for inspiration. The Redbirds and the New Yorkers HATED each other in the late 1980s. The fans hated each other. Games sold out cavernous Busch Stadium II in the days before a third of the upper deck seats were eliminated. People bought shirts declaring the Mets to be pond scum, for crying out loud.

And then the Cardinals were moved out of the National League East to the new Central Division... The St. Louis-New York rivalry was instantly reduced to nothing. The New Yorkers come to town once a year. I was in New York a few years back and wore my Cardinals cap to a game between the Mets and Padres. No one said a thing about it except for one guy with his kid who pointed to my cap and said "we had some good times back in the 80s, huh?"

Meanwhile, the Birds have developed a pretty hot rivalry with the Brewers over the last five years or so. And those teams had almost no history -- save the 1982 World Series. But being thrown in the same ring and told to fight it out has that affect on things.

It's familiarity which breeds discontent and rivalry. And I don't want to see baseball sterilized. In fact, I wish that they would get rid of interleague play altogether and let the teams in each league have some more games against other traditional rivals who faded away as the league expanded. I'd like to see the Dodgers and Giants, traditional St. Louis foes dating to the days before the Gas House Gang come to Busch Stadium more than once a season.

The fact of the matter is that this whole idea about realignment is an unholy alliance based soley on greed.

The players want to expand the designated hitter to both leagues so over the hill veterans can collect a few more paychecks after the point that they are incapable of completing their entire job description. Meanwhile, if this was really about fairness and parity, wouldn't a salary cap be on the table. Oh, no... We could never have that. Then the fans of the Royals, Pirates and Athletics might have a reason to show up after June 1...

Here's a simple solution: Eliminate the DH altogether and give the teams an extra roster spot that they can use to employ an ace pinch hitter.

Baseball is unique because it is a sport in which players have to be able to hit AND play defense. And it is also unique in that players can only enter the game one time and when they leave, they're through for the day. It cheapens the way the game is to be played to soften those rules and excuse pitchers from half of their job. And it also makes the game much less interesting when the strategy of deciding when to take out a cruising hurler for a pinch hitter is eliminated from the equation.

If you want to watch guys swing for the fences without being bothered with all that pesky defense and strategy, show up a little early and watch batting practice.

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