April 2, 2007

In Defense of the NL

Here is another guest post from Michael Prodanovich. He makes some very good points about the NL. Not enough to make me watch, but good points nonetheless. Oh, and "Jason" is J-Red. My cover is blown! Woe is me!

In a recent entry, Jason noted that ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, the "Sports Guy" has often referred to Major League Baseball's National League as "AAAA". Jason did not advocate nor oppose this point of view, but simply refer to it. Well, as a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers and NL baseball fan, I would like to address it.

Point: Simmons says that a lower quality of play drops NL baseball to that of "AAAA" baseball, and inferior to the AL.

Counterpoint: Simmons can lick my low left nut.

As he is a lifelong baseball fan as well, his point of view surprises me. You may say that the AL has superior talent, judged by an absurd run of All-Star game victories. But lets not forget the games that actually mean something, and in fact, mean the most. Since the Yankees won their third straight World Series and fourth in five years in 2000, the last six World Series have been split, with three won by the NL (Cardinals, Marlins, and D-Backs), and three won by the AL (Angels, Red Sox, and White Sox). Even including the Yankees run of dominance, and going back to 1995, it is only 7-5 in favor of the AL.

Now that I have established that the AL is not superior in terms of talent, I will go to why the NL is better. The NL is real baseball. None of this DH-pansy crap. Managers have to think, and make decisions. They have to decide whether or not to pinch-hit, whether to allow your pitcher to finish the inning, or to make a double-switch. The NL involves far more planning and strategy (or "strategery" for those Republicans out there) than the AL does. Baseball is not blessed with the raw excitement of football, or the fluidity of basketball. Baseball is a thinking (and yes, drinking) mans sport. So why take away such an integral part of that?

Yes, with the pitchers hitting, some AL fans say that there is an "automatic out" every time through the lineup. But thats not true. That it only the case the first two (and sometimes three) times through the lineup. But then that comes back to the strategy. Bunting, moving the runners over, playing "small ball." If you are down 2-1 in the 6th, but your pitcher has retired their last 12 guys in a row and thrown only 75 pitches, do you hit for him to get more offense, or let him get another 3 or 6 batters out? Strategy, decisions, and the possibility of being second guessed by armchair managers nationwide. That is what baseball is all about.

And in the ADD and channel flipping age, who gains from four hour games? Your average AL game lasts almost twenty minutes longer than your average NL game. And having lived most of my life in the Los Angeles TV market, I see this first hand. Dodgers and Angels games both start at 7:10pm. Most Dodgers games are over between 9:30 and 9:45, just in time to switch over to the Angels channel, and see the 7th inning stretch, and the last few innings of their game. This is a routine I have done literally many hundreds of times. We all love to see the long ball (after all, chicks dig it), but who gains from these 13-11 games that last four hours? These games have tons of pitching changes not because of strategy, but because nobody can get anyone out. In the AL, you expect home runs. In the NL, they are still something special. And that makes a Monday night in September of 2006 that much more special, when the Dodgers hit four consecutive home runs in the bottom of the 9th (on only 6 pitches, no less) off the Padres' ace set-up man and closer to tie the game...for Garciaparra to hit another in the 10th to win it. That, my friends, is baseball.

I love baseball, and I will watch almost any game. I even enjoy watching AL baseball most fo the time...but I couldn't disagree more that the NL is an inferior quality of play, and I couldn't disagree more that the AL is "real" baseball. I take the point of view that the NL is real baseball, and the AL is more like "arena baseball."

[J-Red: Also check out this somewhat sophisticated attempt by The Baseball Times at evaluating whether the AL is superior:

4 Responses:

Jeremy said...

Since I have started attending Nats games regularly in 2005, and especially last year when I attended O's games often in the first half of the season, then started hitting Nats games often when I moved down to MoCo, I can personally attest to the fact that National League ball is more friendly to the baseball-savvy attendee than American League ball. The strategy involved in National League ball is ten times what you see in the American League. You're in the top of the 7th inning, up one, and you are nearing the bottom of your lineup. Do you bat the pitcher? Does it depend on who in the lineup the opposing team has coming up in the next inning? Who is left on your bench to double switch if you want to do that? It's a lot more fun to watch. And many pitchers are not the automatic out that you think they are. Not to mention the best benefit, briefly mentioned in the article, is that Nats games go so much quicker on average than O's games. I think I've been to one Nats game in three years that's lasted over three hours. I think maybe 15-20% of the O's games that I've been to have ended in under three hours.

J-Red said...

I actually do recognize that NL baseball is pure baseball, but I'm conditioned to watch the AL game. It goes both ways. Yeah, NL games are better played (strategically, not in terms of fielding) and low-scoring, which makes every game close and makes the manager actually matter. Can you imagine Mike Hargrove in the NL? I guess we saw it when Florida beat Cleveland in the WS.

On the other hand, an 8-3 AL game isn't over. Set-up men and middle relievers are hugely important in the AL, whereas in the NL they're not as crucial since at least half the time they'll be due to bat in the ensuing inning.

Similarly, the closer prototype is different in each league. In the AL, they can allow baserunners so long as they are strikeout artists. In the NL, it's more important to get the first guy and the fourth guy, since the game is likely close and a runner on first will be bunt over successfully.

DR said...

Prod's a bag.

dr said...

Day 2 of Prod's a Bag

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