Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MLB Realignment Will Destroy League Identity

Every now and again, I like to take a break from the political and faith based articles and comment on my third great love: sports.  I love sports.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that by my handle, UpstateMetFan.  Baseball is by far my favorite.  It's America's pasttime.  It's also been, to quote James Earl Jones, the "one constant through all the years" in my life. 

Specifically, I love the National League (NL) brand of baseball.  There are a lot of other die hard baseball fans who prefer the American League (AL) brand of baseball.  I also know that so many casual baseball fans prefer the AL, and I know that's largely because many casual fans prefer the Designated Hitter (DH) over seeing pitchers bat.  Personally, I love the NL brand of baseball BECAUSE it doesn't use the DH.  Specifically because there is inherently greater strategy required without the DH. 

First and foremost, the DH allows teams to have a player in their lineup who couldn't play solid defense on a church league softball team just because they can hit (see: David Ortiz).  Secondly, the moment to moment strategy of late-inning baseball is completely different without the DH.  Consider this: it's the seventh inning, no score, bases loaded, two outs.  Your starting pitcher is going strong and has kept the other team off the board for 7 innings with a pitch count at about 80.  Unfortunately, so is the other team's pitcher, and this may be your best chance to win this game.  Do you pinch hit, take out this pitcher who is doing so well, for a better chance to score a run or runs?  With the DH, this strategy is nonexistant.  You just keep batting with whatever player is in the 9 spot (most likely not the DH). 

Secondly, the NL is more exciting than the AL.  The AL tends to rely on the long ball (that's the homerun for those of you in Palm Beach County, FL).  Yes, the game tying, lating inning dinger is quite exciting, but the 2nd inning solo shot in a scoreless game is not.  It was exciting to me when I was eight, yes.  Now it's just a guy trotting in a circle.  The triple to the corner?  Now that's exciting!  Especially when I've got a guy like Jose Reyes on my team who is quite possibly the fastest runner in baseball. The suicide squeeze bunt?  Now that's action!  Give me that over people trotting!

So when I hear that Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bud Selig is considering a realignment of baseball which would move one team from the NL to the AL.  (For those of you who are unaware, in 1997 when MLB added two expansion teams, Tampa Bay and Arizona, one team, the Milwalkee Brewers, left the AL and switched to the NL, leaving the NL with 16 teams and the AL with 14, rather than having to have an interleague game played every day).   The proposed realignment would move one team from the NL to the AL, and require there to be interleague games played each day.

Here's the problem with this move: when two teams from different leagues play, they play by the home team's league rules.  That means AL pitchers have to bat in an NL park, and the NL teams would have to use a bench player as their DH in the AL parks.  Under the current format, where you play 15-18 interleague games in a season, it's simply a nuisance.  But if you go to a format where you're now playing something akin to 45-50 interleague games per year (one 3 or 4 game series with each team in the other league), now National League teams are forced to carry a bench player that can serve as a DH, essentially eliminating the most important thing that separates the two brands of baseball. 

Major league baseball currently has two different brands of baseball which can cater to the tastes of fans like me who enjoy the strategic, defensive oriented, quick paced NL style, and the more powerful and offense oriented AL style.  This realignment would push those distinctions out.  Want the DH?  Want a power filled, big-ball style of baseball?  Root for an AL team.  Want a small-ball, quick paced style of baseball?  Root for an NL team.  Don't mess with what has given fans a choice!

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