Today is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. In celebration of this I am reprinting this article from Sports Illustrated published in September 1997.
A Solomonic Solution to Realignment
For some fans baseball is a religion. It all depends on how deeply you believe in the game ‘
by Randy Alfred
WALKING ACROSS the parking lot at Candlestick–not 3Com–Park, a friend and I indulged our baseball purism, denigrating the designated-hitter rule and railing against realignment. Then it hit me in a flash. Someday baseball will have three big leagues: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Here’s how the majors will look.
The Orthodox League doesn’t allow the designated hitter, the Conservative does. The Reform League uses the DH and the designated runner. It’s also doing market research on the designated bunter.
The Orthodox League does not believe in interleague play, except for All-Star Games and in October, when league champions meet in the World Series as ordained in the second chapter of Leviticus. (“You could look it up,” as the esteemed Rabbi Stengel often said.)
The Orthodox has eight teams, and the team that comes in first is champion. There is no league championship series, and there are playoffs only when two teams tie for first. (They meet in a best-of-three series.) The Conservative has 12 teams, two divisions and a league championship series. The Reform has 15 teams, three divisions, wild-card berths and playoffs.
All Orthodox teams are north of the Potomac and Ohio rivers and no farther west than St. Louis. Teams travel only by train. Conservative teams are scattered across the continental U.S. and travel by jet. Reform teams are found on the U.S. mainland, as well as in Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan and the European Union. They often travel by supersonic transport.
The Reform League plays all its games at night, or, as it prefers to “prime time.” The Conservative League sometimes plays day games. The Orthodox League plays some night games, but never at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Night games are permissible Tuesday through Friday (Monday is always a travel day, except when it’s a holiday) and are never allowed on weekends or on July 4.
The Orthodox schedule always includes doubleheaders, partly from piety and partly from the necessity of working around all the travel days. The Conservative schedule occasionally includes doubleheaders and allows for twin bills to make up rainouts, snow-outs and fog-outs. The Reform League does not allow doubleheaders or any other revenue-reducing schemes.
A Reform team’s schedule consists of 175 games between March and October. The Conservative League plays a 162-game schedule starting on April Fool’s Day. An Orthodox team plays 154 games, 11 each at home and away against each of the other seven teams, as revealed by the Prophet Spalding. The Orthodox League, needless to say, does not recognize records from the other leagues.
The Orthodox does not allow artificial turf or indoor stadiums. The Conservative allows artificial turf only in indoor stadiums. The Reform does not allow grass.
In the Orthodox League, umpires always wear blue blazers, the home team always wears white uniforms with the team name and the visiting team always wears gray with the city name. Teams are always named after cities, not states or corporations. The Conservative League has no such restrictions. Reform League uniforms are selected by a set designer in consultation with an advertising agent,
Every Reform game is on TV, but it’s always cable TV. Some Conservative games are on cable, some on free TV, some not on TV. Orthodox games are broadcast on radio only, the way Mel Allen intended.
In the Orthodox game, “The strike zone is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” In the Conservative game, the strike zone is what the umpire says it is. In the Reform game, the strike zone is what the centerfield camera says it is.
The Orthodox serves only food that is “kosher for ballparks,” namely beer, soda, hot dogs, Polish sausages, peanuts and Cracker Jack. Wine is prohibited. The Conservative allows Orthodox food plus pizza, nachos and wine. Reform stadiums offer franchise fast food.
No such sectarian divisiveness afflicts other pro sports: NFL team owners have reconstituted themselves as the College of Cardinals and replaced the commissioner with a pope, and the NBA is governed by 29 mullahs and an ayatollah.