'Historical meeting' rocks MLB structure


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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 at the owners meetings in Milwaukee.

Baseball began its playoff system in 1969 and doubled the playoff teams to eight in '94. This change will put a 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.

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 Milwaukee 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.

The Astros, part of the NL since joining the majors in 1962, will be getting plenty of frequent flier miles. Instead of going to cities in the Midwest several times a year, they'll be headed out to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle.

"I was in the air freight business and we were always flying a lot. So, we'll be flying a lot," Crane said.

But they'll have a built-in rivalry with the two-time AL champion Texas Rangers.

As part of the Astros agreement to switch leagues, the sale price was cut from $680 million to $615 million. Baseball will make up part of the $65 million difference, paying McLane $35 million over three years.

Owners approved longtime 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.



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