Radical changes ahead for baseball

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Baseball will be making major changes in the next two years — adding two teams to the playoffs, moving the Houston Astros to the American League and extending interleague play to September.

The expanded playoffs could come as early as next year. That will put 10 teams in the postseason, requiring a new wild-card playoff round that probably will be one game, winner take all.

The altered playoff structure is subject to an agreement on a new labor contract with the players’ association, which is expected before the current deal expires Dec. 11.

“We believe after a lot of study and a lot of thought that the addition of two wild cards will really help us in the long run,” said commissioner Bud Selig, who called it a “historical” morning.

Baseball began its playoff system in 1969 and doubled the playoff teams to eight in 1994, a change delayed one year by a strike. This change will put one-third of the baseball’s 30 teams in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams advance.

Selig acknowledged additional wild-card teams would have eliminated the drama on the final night of this season, when Tampa Bay overtook Boston and St. Louis moved past Atlanta.

“You don’t do things for one year. You do things for a long period of time,” Selig said.

As a condition for approving the sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane, the Astros agreed to shift from the NL Central to the AL West as soon as 2013, giving each league 15 teams. It’s baseball’s first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.

“It won’t be perfect. Nothing in any schedule is ever perfect,” Selig said, “but this will be very good.”

With an odd number of teams in each league, there will be interleague play from April through September. Since interleague games began in 1997, they had been concentrated around May and late-June.

An expanded playoffs has been debated for a year, since union head Michael Weiner said players were open to it. Players also pushed for 15-team leagues because they felt it was harder to make the postseason from the six-team NL Central and easier from the four-team AL West.

“We haven’t come to a final decision but if I had to take a guess today it would be one game,” Selig said. “Baseball people, my 14-man committee, all wanted one game. The only guy who had concerns about it was me. They like the one game. It’ll be dramatic. One game will be good.”

Owners also approved longtime San Francisco Giants executive Larry Baer to replace Bill Neukom as the team’s controlling owner.

In addition, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said progress was made on a new labor contract. The deal could fall into place before Thanksgiving.

“I’m really confident. I think we will finish an agreement,” Manfred said. “As for the process, it’s hard to predict exactly when anything is going to happen. I think we’ve made good progress and I’m hopeful that we’ll push it across the finish line.”

Owners were given a report on the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers. While owner Frank McCourt reached a still-secret agreement with baseball to sell the franchise following months of litigation, the team and the Fox division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. are fighting over McCourt’s desire to market media rights from 2014 on as part of the process.

A sale would give McCourt the money to pay his divorce settlement by the April 30 deadline he agreed to.

Asked whether it was awkward having McCourt in the meeting. Selig said no.

“All of that went as well as it could today,” he said.

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