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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

La Russa sinks floating realignment speculation

A wild idea reportedly offered up in a MLB brainstorming session seems to have many overly concerned while a key member in the room denies it even came up.

Writers all over the internet are overreacting to word having leaked out that Bud Selig’s 14-member task force, the “special committee for on-field matters,” has reportedly discussed the idea of “floating realignment” across Major League Baseball. The committee is co-chaired by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz.

The concept is intended to improve baseball’s competitive balance by having teams change divisions annually, based on geography, payroll and perceived opportunity to contend.

Others have already pointed out the many holes in such an idea. That means I don’t have to, though I will at least list a few of them.

  • Loss of natural rivalries and division records
  • End of interleague play (drawback or benefit?)
  • Aggravates the designated hitter inequity

And of course, the biggest problem: the fact that the best from a division of non-competitive teams would still have little chance of winning the World Series. In other words, the cutest from among a collection of the runts from different litters isn’t going to win a best of show award.

While I rarely miss the opportunity to bash Selig, the people attacking him for this odd proposal just plain didn’t do their homework. Selig isn’t even part of the committee, having empowered them to consider whatever recommendations they feel appropriate to improve the game on the field.

At this point, the commissioner has not publicly backed this or any other idea being tossed around by the committee and what he has done privately is unclear. The original source of the news, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, has said, “The concept gained strong support among committee members.”

Therein lies the rub, as La Russa, who was in the room that Verducci was not, has completely waved off the idea.

In all fairness, after getting everyone all riled up, at the end of his piece, Verducci added the following, a major disclaimer. Apparently, most who reacted angrily over the subject missed this part.

“The floating realignment idea is nothing more than a concept at this point, part of the brainstorming sessions that have occurred in the committee’s one in-person meeting and occasional conference calls,” Verducci wrote.

The committee met again in person on Thursday in Jupiter following the Cardinals game. At least La Russa, Schuerholz, Rob Manfred and a couple of others from the MLB office and perhaps Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. were scheduled to be in attendance.

The specific purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to run the near-term ideas past the players, represented by MLBPA head Michael Weiner, a man La Russa said prior to the session that he had yet to meet. After all, nothing can happen before or as a part of the next collective bargaining agreement unless the players agree.

In a move for which Selig can be fairly criticized, he excluded player representation from the committee, keeping the union on the outside and adding extra steps and complexity to the process.

Prior to the meeting, La Russa made it very clear that the group’s focus is on items that can provide immediate help.

“There were some topics discussed that were more urgent, where we could get something done this season. Floating realignment was not one of them,” the manager said.

La Russa acknowledged that many ideas were served up as the baton was passed around the room in the committee’s initial meeting.

“We’ve talked about a whole range of issues and the commissioner was exactly right,” La Russa explained. “To his word, there were no sacred cows. Guys could bring up… We went around the table in the first meeting and anyone could bring up anything they wanted to talk about.

“There were a lot of repeated subjects and a few that were unique to a guy or two. And we discussed every one of them. In some cases, it is planning and other parties involved and in others we think it is possible to initiate changes in 2010,” the manager said.

I brought floating realignment up for clarification on Sunday and this time, La Russa was even more definitive.

“I don’t even know what it means,” he said flatly.

When I defined the term for him, he denied it had been discussed.

“I don’t know where that came from,” La Russa concluded.

As a result, all the reaction and overreaction over floating realignment seems totally unnecessary.

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