New York — After listening to an analysis of their economic problems, baseball owners voted Friday to put off realignment until 2002 at the earliest.
Owners unanimously adopted the return to an unbalanced schedule, in which teams play more games against their division rivals. The American League had gone to a balanced schedule in 1977 and the National League followed in 1993.
Commissioner Bud Selig said returning to an unbalanced schedule "fulfilled a dream of mine."
"I hope they all don't take 25 years," he said.
Under an unbalanced schedule, teams play more games against clubs in their own division. In a balanced schedule, they play approximately the same number of games against all teams within their league.
While there appeared to be a majority supporting Selig's plan to move Arizona from the NL West to the AL West, Texas from the AL West to the AL Central and Tampa Bay to the National League, and then realign the NL into four four-team divisions, Kansas City, Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox objected because they didn't want to be in a six-team division.
Arizona always wanted to remain in the NL.
"One member told me, 'Welcome back to the National League,' " Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo said. "I didn't know I was gone."
Selig said realignment would be examined again in coming months as the 2002 schedule is made. After November 2001, Arizona gains the power to block being moved without its consent.
"We need some franchise realignment, there is no question about that," Selig said. "One could debate how extensive that should be."
As part of next year's schedule, the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros will meet in interleague play for the first time next year. Other than that, the interleague lineup could remain the same: AL East vs. NL East, AL Central vs. NL Central and AL West vs. NL West.
Baseball is trying to develop a schedule in which interleague opponents rotate, except for natural rivals such as Mets-Yankees and Cubs-White Sox. Selig said a decision on whether interleague play will rotate next year will be made in about two weeks.
As for the unbalanced schedule, teams in the AL East, AL Central, NL East and NL West will play their divisional rivals 19 times, up from 12-13 times this season.
In the AL West, teams will face division rivals 19-20 times and in the NL Central, which has six teams, each club will play each opponent in its division 16 or 17 times.