July
15th 2009
Why does the NL stink up the joint, year after year?

Posted under: American history, fluff

americanleaguelogoFull disclosure:  I’m an American League snob.  I grew up near Tiger Stadium, and lived in eastern AL towns while pursuing my education (Boston and Baltimore)–I like to leave out those three years I lived within a subway ride of the Vet in Philadelphia.  And, oh yeah–the Yankees s^ck, but I never got into the partisan rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets.  I live closest now to a National League team–the Colorado Rockies–but aside from their Cinderella season in 2007, they’ve been consistent under-performers since they debuted in 1994.  (I’ve never been to a game at Coors Field myself–not out of principle, but rather lack of interest.)

So, why can’t the NL manage to win an All-Star gameIt hasn’t won since Bill Clinton’s first term in office, and I can’t think of too many other things that have remained so constant since 1996.  (Can you?)  What are your theories?  Yes, I know that the Designated Hitter is widely considered an embarrassment to the AL, but maybe it’s time for a re-think on it for the NL, given the AL’s dominance?  It would be nice to turn on the TV next July and see a competitive game.

16 Comments »

16 Responses to “Why does the NL stink up the joint, year after year?”

  1. Brian Ulrich on 15 Jul 2009 at 9:03 am #

    The arms race in the AL East has led to that division being stacked with talent. The NL has nothing comparable.

  2. Historiann on 15 Jul 2009 at 9:34 am #

    That’s my sense, too–AL owners are willing to pay for it. There are some rich markets and poor markets in both leagues, though–both Detroit and Cleveland are in the AL East.

    Speaking from what I’ve observed and heard locally, the owners of the Rockies, the Monfort family of Potterville fame, won’t pay for talent, so they get what they pay for.

  3. Indyanna on 15 Jul 2009 at 9:47 am #

    An *official* game at Coors? I think it’s just the statistical time warp, evening things up. When I was growing up the NL owned the All Star game, winning something like 24 out of 26 games in a row. (For a few years there in the 1960s they played two All Star Games each season, to boost up the players’ pension fund, something not really needed at this point).

    I’m embarrassed to bring up a jerk like Pete Rose on a feminist blog, but in the era when neanderthals of that stripe played, the game itself–and winning it–was the only thing going. And the NL had more neanderthals then. Now it’s part of a week long festival of fly-bys, fan fun opportunities, and corpocratic outreach events, and both sides are pretty much just styling, like they do in the NBA and NHL games, to say nothing of the meaningless post-season NFL Pro Bowl game.

    p.s. I admired the Prez. last night for being a South Side Chicago partisan more than a politician, but those jeans were awful, weren’t they? And while we’re asking existential questions, why can’t these guys ever reach the plate with their official first pitches?

  4. Historiann on 15 Jul 2009 at 9:59 am #

    Yeah–what’s with the Mom Jeans, Mr. President? He’s pretty fit for a President, so I don’t get it. (But then, he still wears the pleated Dockers, so fashion isn’t his forte.)

    Pete Rose: I know I’ll date myself as a real old-timer, but I find myself nostalgic sometimes for 70s thugs by comparison to our 2000s thugs (Manny, Barry Bonds, etc.) Rose seemed like a thug with a sense of humor, anyway.

  5. Buzz on 15 Jul 2009 at 10:19 am #

    While I don’t think this is the primary reason why the American League has been doing better, the difference in play styles between the leagues does tend to tilt things in the AL’s favor. By and large, the AL game is more focused on offense. Why this is the case is debated. The DH rule is obviously a contributor, but there are other factors, such as the “arms race” behavior of the big-market AL teams. In baseball, defense is a team effort, while offense isn’t, except in unusual situations. Teams with a defensive focus need to practice together before they can use their skills to best effect. This puts the NL all-star team, cobbled together with players from every team in the league, at a relative disadvantage.

  6. brian on 15 Jul 2009 at 10:31 am #

    As any sports fan knows from listening to the athletes and managers themselves, teams win because “they just wanted it more.”

    And just to inject a little history into the discussion, between 1963 and 1982 the American League only won one all-star game.

  7. Hotshot Harry on 15 Jul 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    Brian U has a point re: big vs. small markets, but I would hasten to note the number of uber-salary stars who were not on either roster last night due to injury, scandal, social toxicity, or generally horrid play. And the seasons put together by the ’08 Rays, ’06 Tigers, and those Ramblin’ Rockies in ’07 suggest that money isn’t everything.

    While it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from a series of 1-run wins in the last four All Star Games, I think two related developments are key. First, the AL, long known as the “beer league” of overweight home run hitters, has gradually become a leaner, more athletic, and younger league. Second, (and here’s where money is indeed significant), the AL has vastly superior farm systems through which to develop and cultivate precisely the kinds of players they want. Generally, I think the AL front offices have the lion’s share of baseball geniuses.

    As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I for one am glad we’re in a new era. I still cringe thinking about the Red Sox tenures of Jose Canseco, Jack Clark, and Kevin Mitchell.

  8. Hotshot Harry on 15 Jul 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    Oh, and Indyanna, I’m with you on the pitch reaching the plate. My theory is that they practice again and again on a flat surface, then get out there to discover that the mound is 10 inches higher than home plate. My playin’ days are long gone, but I do recall it taking some getting used to.

  9. Indyanna on 15 Jul 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    Obama apparently practiced the pitch with his personal trainer, who I understand is a former Duke basketball player. Once you learn that bounce-pass to the cutting man from Coach K, I guess, there’s no going back to fastballs. ESPN rebroadcast the Home Run Derby tonight. Each of those guys brought their own personal pitchers, who all stood on the flat in front of the mound.

    I’ve been thinking all day that there’s a possible point of convergence between this thread and the one on the dean and retention offers. A “Moneyball” dean would dispense with unified field theories (or “policies”) on personnel moves, supported by wheezy aphorisms about who comes where to study with who, in favor of more complex algorithms about how faculty members actually contribute to desired scholastic “outcomes.” This might involve withholding a counter offer to a fading star while upping the tip to the pizza kid to improve morale at middling levels; sponsoring department-level Quizo leagues; actually walking the plant floor to meet teachers on departmental linoleum (never known to happen in my world); or–one of my favorite recent promotions–holding annual “Bobblehead Appreciation Days” in survey classes. My kids love them (it’s safer than Disco Demolition Night) and faculties probably would too.

    Maybe this would also dry up the flow of smart 30-year old statistical theorists into baseball front offices!

  10. Zippa on 16 Jul 2009 at 7:51 am #

    Ann,
    I just came across this:

    http://community.feministing.com/2009/07/i-will-not-apologize-for-my-au.html

    And thought it might be an interesting addition to the “for girls” bits.

  11. Matt L on 16 Jul 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Indyanna, I like the idea of a “moneyball” dean. That would be awesome. What would the statistical indicators be?

    I must confess I really want bobblehead appreciation night at my Uni. I can imagine some of my colleagues immortalized as bobbleheads. Priceless!

  12. Matt L on 16 Jul 2009 at 11:08 am #

    Historiann, granted the jeans were appalling, but I think you are being a little hard on the Prez. Believe it or not, its tough for guys after a certain age to find jeans that fit right, even if you are in shape. Generally, if you can find something that fits, they look silly. Most stuff is cut for 20-year-olds.

    (There is a great Umberto Eco essay on this…)

    What you have to do is pony up for Carhart or Dickies dungarees. They are not fashionable, but you look more grownup.

  13. Indyanna on 16 Jul 2009 at 11:19 am #

    I get the bobbleheads by going to games of teams that I don’t root for, so they’re better used as trade goods to create class morale than to clutter my shelf. (Historiann ran a picture of a few from my set sometime last fall, since mainly gone to happier homes in the hands of kids who are actually their fans). Now I need more product. But they’ll have to pry my cold dead hands from around my iconic copy of “Mr. Red,” complete with the Victorian America handlebar moustache.

    I can’t imagine what the metrics would be for Dean Moneyball, having given up my weak efforts at being a sabermetrician back there in graduate school!

  14. John F. on 16 Jul 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    I didn’t know pleated Dockers were out of style.

  15. Historiann on 16 Jul 2009 at 12:59 pm #

    They’re always in style for guys with big butts!

    Sorry to break the news to you, John F. That’s what Mister Dr. Historiann always called Dockers: “pants for guys with big butts,” so I can’t take credit for the line myself. He’s gone with Matt L.’s strategy, and shops at a ranch and feed store called “The Big R” for his Carhart cargo jeans now.

    Thanks for all of your insights into the AL/NL rivalry. I think your ideas and historical perspective are really interesting–esp. re: Hotshot Harry’s point about the “beer league,” Buzz’s comment on the stats, and brian’s and Indyanna’s historical perspective. I also want to point out that this thread is quite likely the only all-guy commenter thread in Historiann history! (Well, except for me, of course. Sorry to spoil the no-hitter here!)

    So, if Historiann can host an all-XY commenter thread, then the NL has GOT to be able to win in 2010, right?

  16. Indyanna on 16 Jul 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    Yeah, I thought that was pretty funny also. Now, I’m going to call my local all-talk radio show to get one last point in edgewise; then back on the blog for more serious stuff! Thanks, Historiann!! :)

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