Giles helped Selig push through three-point agenda
Bill Giles remembers drafting one realignment plan after another, dozens of them in fact, during the early and mid-1990s.
“I must have drawn up a hundred different realignment and scheduling plans,” he said. “Some of that even had a full split of 15 teams in each league, and interleague play every day, and I was a proponent of that and often started from that. But that one didn’t end up actually happening until (2013).”
The painstaking work Giles did behind the scenes became the foundation of what remains key fixtures of the legacy of MLB commissioner emeritus Bud Selig: a full divisional realignment of Major League Baseball, the advent of the wild card, and the creation of interleague play.
The trio of moves, introduced in 1994, ’95 and ’97, respectively, arrived in part as a result of two rounds of expansion that brought the now Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies into the league in 1993, and the now Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks five years later. The realignment in particular represented MLB’s first restructuring since moving to a four-division format in 1969.
More broadly, Selig had several other goals after first becoming acting commissioner in 1992, including creating a structure that would give more teams a legitimate chance of a playoff berth late in the regular season, moving to an unbalanced schedule that would have division and geographic rivals play more frequently, and generally creating a more modern structure around the game.
To do it, he leaned heavily on Giles, who as the leader of a mid-tier MLB franchise economically and baseball lifer had successfully positioned himself politically during a time of heavy industry unrest as a respected owner with both high- and low-revenue clubs.
“Bill was so helpful to me every step of the way during that time,” Selig said. “He completely understood what I thought we needed to do to bring the game forward, that there had to be changes, and how this also related to television. But again, this was a situation where he put the sport first, even before his own interests.”
Dave Montgomery, Giles’ partner and current Philadelphia Phillies chairman, said Giles represented a key sounding board for Selig, particularly during his turbulent first decade as commissioner.
“Even other things like ‘This Time It Counts’ with the All-Star Game (introduced in 2003), Bill was an important figure in getting it done,” Montgomery said. “Bill always had an attitude that core things like the pitchers’ mound being 60 feet, six inches from home were always going to stay the same. But aside from that, you just can’t be afraid to try new things. And between that and Bill’s lifelong history with the game, there was a notion that if Bill bought into something, that was a real validation.”
Still, there were fierce conflicts with every move, both internally among MLB owners and externally convincing a skeptical public and press. In particular, the Chicago Cubs in 1992 blocked an attempted move under the prior, four-division format to be shifted to the NL West along with St. Louis.
Another more radical realignment proposal in 1997, widely opposed and ultimately abandoned, would have seen nearly half the clubs switch their prior league affiliations and crosstown teams such as the New York Mets and Yankees placed in the same division.
“There was a hell of a battle in terms of what divisions teams would go into,” Giles said.
Selig, with the backing of Giles, ultimately was able to achieve a more universally accepted realignment plan, along with the new schedule and playoff formats.
“Baseball was really bound by tradition for a long time,” said Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, “but Bill understood very early on that the sport needed to evolve and change with the times.”