Here's how bad things are in baseball's losers' bracket, otherwise known as the American League West. In one five-day span, beginning on April 26, a wayward ambulance rushing an injured California Angel outfielder to a New York hospital was delayed at the George Washington Bridge because the driver couldn't come up with the $4 toll; the Oakland Athletics lost a game; a Texas Ranger pitcher was blown off the mound in his new stadium; the Athletics lost again; the Angels held on to first place with a record four games worse than .500; the Athletics lost again; the Seattle Mariner pitching staff allowed 10 runs on one hit over three innings; the Athletics lost again; the New York Yankees received 33 walks, eight of them with the bases loaded, in four games against two West teams; and—surprise!—the Athletics lost again.
That news of the weak was brought to you by major league baseball's owners, whose master realignment and lube job has wrought the fab faux: a division made up of the only three teams in the American League never to have played in a World Series (California, Seattle and Texas) and another team (Oakland) that's off to the worst start in its 27-year history.
Mayday! All four clubs had losing records as of the first of May. They were a combined 38-59 (.392). "My god, what a division," noted an envious Yankee outfielder, Luis Polonia. "How do you get to be in a division like that? We might have to win 100 games to win our division. In their division you can lose 100 games and still win it."
Since 1969, when divisional play began (excluding the strike-shortened year of 1981, of course), only four of the 96 divisional champions won fewer than 88 games, including a record-low 82 (against 79 losses) by the 1973 New York Mets. Division champions have averaged 95.6 wins. But this season—the first with three divisions in each league rather than two—presents the embarrassing possibility that a losing team will qualify for the postseason. It is the American League Worst that is causing that nightmare.
Mariner manager Lou Piniella dismissed such a notion, saying, "I know we'll have a winning record, and the other teams will turn it around." But A's general manager Sandy Alderson concedes, "Sure, it could happen. It could be this way all year." One big reason that it could is the schedule: There are few easy games for the teams in the West, which play only 39 intradivisional games each.
"The irony for me is that I was the only guy who voted against division realignment, because it rewarded mediocrity," says Ranger general partner George Bush. "Now, guess what? If April is an indicator, mediocrity will be rewarded."
In one typically ridiculous stretch, Seattle was 2½ games out of first place when it left for a six-game swing through New York and Baltimore; the Mariners won only twice on that road trip—and returned home just one game out. Said Piniella jokingly, "If we had a couple of rainouts, we might be in first place."
In fairness, West teams do have some excuses. For one, they haven't yet had the luxury of playing each other; not until May 5 were two West teams to pair off. For another, they've faced difficult road schedules. And several key players have been sidelined by injuries: Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Brent Gates and Steve Karsay for Oakland; Mark Langston for California; Edgar Martinez for Seattle; and Roger Pavlik for Texas.
That said, each of the four teams has serious flaws and will have as difficult a time getting to postseason play as that ambulance did trying to get Angel outfielder Jim Edmonds from Yankee Stadium to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan last week. Edmonds was struck just below the left ear by a throw from New York shortstop Mike Gallego, leaving him dazed and numb. He was fitted with a neck brace, strapped to a stretcher and whisked away in the ambulance. What should have been a 10-minute ride first went astray when the driver took a wrong turn and headed to New Jersey. "I was getting nervous," says Angel assistant general manager Tim Mead, who was riding with Edmonds. "It was crazy. Those potholes don't allow you to make up for lost time. Jimmy's in the back bouncing up and down. Plus, I was amazed how people don't pull over in New York for an ambulance. I mean, they just don't pullover."
Its lights flashing, the ambulance reached the toll booth of the George Washington Bridge, only to be stopped by an attendant who demanded the driver fork over four bucks for the toll. The driver said he didn't have any money. "We've got an emergency!" the driver insisted.