In the sports twisted history in Seattle, Major League Baseballs 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 games 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 citys position between Jupiter and Saturn. And for 22 years they played indoors during the worlds 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 doesnt 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 nights 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 dont get caught up in that sort of thing, Wedge said. It doesnt matter to me.
Said Zduriencik: Let me think about it a minute . . . no, I dont 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 hasnt reached the committee.
Scioscia is all for schedule reform. He wants to get intra-division games booked for April, June and September, and wouldnt 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, thats 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? Isnt it enough to pay Milton Bradley $12 million for autograph on a contract?