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THE STATE OF THE GAME
No League to Call Our Own
By Richard C. Crepeau
While watching the first two rounds of the playoffs last autumn, I was struck by a new set of buzzwords among the television broadcasters. Especially irritating was the tendency for announcer after announcer and analyst after analyst to insist on making a distinction between "National League" and "American League" baseball. This is part of the longstanding arrogance of National Leaguers, who as inheritors of the legacy of John McGraw, have declared National League baseball to be superior to that in the American League.
As far as I can fathom, these arbiters of excellence find bunts, stolen bases, and sacrifice flies qualitatively superior to runs, hits, and home runs. No one ever explains why this would be the case; they just assume that it is, and babble on from there.
The arbiters of excellence also seem to be enthralled by that amazingly complex maneuver, the "double switch," which they put on a par with brain surgery. It is regularly trotted out as the coup de grace proving the superiority of National League baseball. I gather that fan surveys consistently show that the average ticket-buying spectator is sent into near orgasm by this mental prestidigitation, although I must confess I have never heard the double switch evoke the same sort of roar that a home run by a DH elicits.
Even more amazing was the discussion of what teams are playing National League baseball. Like the Chicago White Sox, for example, who have been in the American League since it was founded way back in 1901. How they could be playing National League baseball in the American League remains a mystery to me, but the experts assure us that they do. Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, however, played most of his career with the White Sox in the American League. One wonders, then, how he learned to play National League baseball, unless his short stay with the Atlanta Braves led to a miraculous transformation.
Tony La Russa, the managerial guru and poster boy for National League baseball in our time, spent most of his managerial years in the American League with the White Sox and the A's. La Russa's playing days were in the American League as well. So where did he learn National League baseball, and how did he get so good at the high science of the double switch? America needs to know.
David Eckstein, the Cardinal shortstop, was repeatedly cited as an aficionado of the finest qualities of National League baseball, even though until last season he spent his career in the American League playing for the Anaheim (now Los Angeles) Angels. Jim Edmonds also played much of his career in Anaheim, but it's difficult to know if he plays American or National League baseball, although some think the fact that he often gets his uniform dirty is a sign that he plays the National League game. Mike Scioscia manages the Angels in the American League, but he played in the National League. The big question is how long it will take before he forgets how to perform the daunting double switch.
Even more confusing is the case of Phil Garner and the Houston Astros. Garner spent his first fours years with Oakland, but the bulk of his playing career was in the National League. He has managed two different teams in the American LeagueMilwaukee for eight years and Detroit for two-plus. Now he's in the National League managing a team that most experts seem to think plays American League baseball, owing to the nature of its home ballpark. But he also has the nickname "Scrap Iron," a dead giveaway for a National Leaguer, and, amazing as it may sound, has already mastered the double switch.
At one time, as you may remember, there were National League umpires and American League umpires. Now there are simply major league umpires. This led to considerable confusion during the playoffs, as it is extremely difficult to know whether the many mistakes that were made were American League mistakes or National League mistakes.
I had hoped that Joe and Tim would clarify all of this for us during the World Series, when the distinction between the National League and the American League is further muddled because the American League team is forced to play by National League rules when playing in a National League park and vice versa. Unfortunately, Joe and Tim did not offer clarification, and so we still don't know whether American League baseball is played in an American League park and National League baseball is played in a National League park, or some hybrid of the two. Were the White Sox playing National League baseball in their National League park when they represented the American League in the World Series? Similarly, were the Astros playing American League baseball in their American League park while representing the National League? Chances are that we will never have the answer to this little riddle.
Or, as the Russians say, "Only Pushkin knows."
Clearly, in this new baseball age the advantage goes to those teams and managers whose experience is bi-league, and who are adept at both styles of play.
In the end the only thing we can be certain of is this: "Good pitching beats good hitting."
Except when it doesn't.
RICHARD C. CREPEAU is author of Baseball: America's Diamond Mind
(Bison Books). He has been a professor of history at the University of Central
Florida for more than three decades and is currently teaching a course entitled
"The History and Literature of Baseball." He prefers American League
baseball played by National League teams.
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