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IF VAN SLYKE RULED BASEBALL, HE’D WALK ON JUST 3 BALLS

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What would your average ballplayer do if appointed commissioner of baseball?

That question was put to a number of Pittsburgh Pirate players (and judging by the Pirates' play of late, ballplayers don't get any more average than that) and coaches recently, and they came up with some interesting ideas.There was a lot of the usual stuff, of course, like ban the designated hitter, eliminate day games, etc., but then there were suggestions like Andy Van Slyke's, that the count be reduced to three balls and three strikes.

"There's no reason the pitchers should have an advantage," Van Slyke reasoned. "The pitchers would have to throw the ball over the plate more and the ball would be in play more that way." (And we'd see a lot of incredibly exciting walks, .400 batting averages, 60-homer seasons . . .)

Coach Rich Donnelly's first move as commissioner would be to "never let the hitter leave the batter's box or the pitcher leave the mound. That delays the game. You would be able to have five full timeouts a game and two 20-second timeouts. The way it is now there's time out on everything. The runner dives back to first. Time out. He dusts himself off. Now he goes back standing up. Time out again to dust off.

"Why? A guy gets a double and they call time and look at the ball. Do they ever call time to look at a ball after a dunk?" (No, but do they call illegal defense if you bring in your outfield too shallow?)

Pitcher Randy Kramer hates working overtime. "I'd ban all extra-inning games," he said. "If a game were tied at the end of nine innings I'd go to a tiebreaker like most hits, total bases, last to score." (Or maybe a round of three flies up?)

Outfielder Gary Redus offers a proposal that pro football adopted a few years back but has been staunchly resisted by baseball's traditionalists. "I'd have everybody play everybody," he said. "Interleague play would be great. It would boost attendance. Think about the crowd to see the Yankees and the Mets play. And they could redo the divisions to make travel easier."

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ADD REALIGNMENT: The strongest appeal of realigning baseball's divisions and leagues is that it would take advantage of some natural rivalries on a regular basis, rather than making us wait for an elusive World Series matchup between neighboring teams. Until the Kansas City-St. Louis contest in 1985, there had not been such a driving-distance series since the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. How about divisions like this:

Coppertone Division: Los Angeles, California, San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle (OK, you can't get a tan in Seattle, but we've got to put the Mariners somewhere).

Redneck Division: Texas, Houston, Atlanta, Kansas City, St. Louis, Baltimore.

Blue-collar Division: Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minnesota.

International Division: N.Y. Yankees, N.Y. Mets, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.

But while it's a fun idea to kick around, we don't really want it to happen, do we?

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TRIVIA ANSWER: Cleveland, Seattle, and Texas. The Indians' highest finish was third in '86; the Mariners finished fourth in '82 and '87 and have never even reached the .500 mark; and the hard-luck Rangers have finished second five times. Every NL team has won at least once.

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SHORT STUFF: Several AL East teams have inquired about Mets' pitcher Rick Aguilera, but now that he's sporting an 0.88 ERA the Mets say he's not available . . . Bountiful's Kelly Downs is throwing at 30-35 percent, according to Giants Manager Roger Craig, since going on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder. He isn't expected to pitch again until after the All-Star break . . . Dale Murphy has not homered since May 3.

Through last Sunday's game, Cory Snyder had walked twice in his last 129 at-bats . . . Without relief ace Jim Gott of Provo, out for the year after having arm surgery, the Pirate bullpen has a 5-14 record (through last Sunday), has blown 10 of 19 save opportunities and has a 4.67 earned-run average. Pittsburgh is 4-16 in games decided by one run.