Category Archives: Baseball

Wake Up National League Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Embraced The Designated Hitter

I’ll get to my argument soon, but first a historical analogy:

It was September 1, 1939 and Poland was pissed.

The Germans began an unprovoked show of aggression, invading the Polish border with the ridiculous notion that world domination was their destiny.  The Nazi decision makers decided that Poland would be the first rest stop in this ambitious journey.  So the Poles did what any nation with an ounce of pride would do:  they pooled their resources and mounted a counterattack.

There was, however, one smaaaaall problem.

Those ‘resources’ that the Poles gathered was little more than a bunch of dudes on horseback with pistols and pitchforks; the kind of offense one uses to scare Frankenstein back to his castle.  In contrast, the Germans represented their cause with a healthy arsenal of tanks, planes and other heavy artillery.

Edge:  The Nazi War Machine.

Wait a minute.  You thought you clicked on a post about baseball, right?  If you are still reading to this point, bear with me.  Flash forward to the present day:

The winter meetings for Major League Baseball are upon us.  You know, those critical hot stove meetings that determine the direction of the sport for seasons to come?  Those conferences held by team owners and general managers that the casual fan casually ignores as they are still basking in the afterglow of the World Series?  Anyone?  Anyone?

There is more to these exclusive pow wows than just a bunch of MLB executives sitting around eating lobster tail in between rounds of golf at a swanky country club.  Decisions are made, coalitions are formed and the future of the game is determined.

This year, it is the humble opinion of the proprietors of Bacon Makes It Better that the status of the Designated Hitter be thoroughly evaluated (listen up National League).

To connect the historical analogy at the top of this post, the National League is to Poland as the American League is to Germany.  The difference between the two factions are their choice of weaponry:  The National League, by way of preserving tradition, insists that the pitcher bat for himself.  In contrast, the American League line-up is armed with a skilled hitter batting in the pitcher’s stead.

By giving into this romance with the preservation of baseball history, the National League give themselves a competitive disadvantage in head to head competition against their American League counterparts.  But don’t take my word for it; the statistics tell the most compelling story:

1.  Since the inception of interleague play in 1997, the American League has won 1,673 games to the National League’s 1,534 wins in straight-up competition.  That’s a difference of 139 games– almost an entire single season’s worth of games.

2.  The last time the American League lost an All Star Game was in 1997.  They enjoy a 12-0-1 record in the last 13 mid-season classics.  That is pure domination.

3.  Since 1997, the American League has won 8 of 13 World Series match ups— five of which were four game sweeps– against the National League.  The National League has not won consecutive World Series since they ran off four in a row from 1979-1982.

The disparity in competition between the two leagues hinges on their biggest difference:  the designated hitter position.

The appeasement of its fan base in their appetite for offensive baseball prompted the American League to introduce the designated hitter position into the game in 1973.  The American League first used their new gimmick as a spot to keep aging stars in the line-up (i.e. Minnie Minoso, Al Kaline) in a blatant attempt to boost fan attendance.

Soon, managers began to utilize the rule change for its original intent.  Offensive numbers became bloated like a distended beer gut.  Jim Rice, Frank Thomas and Harold Baines brutalized pitchers and redefined the position.  In 1995, Edgar Martinez became the first DH to capture a batting crown.

Adaptation being what it is, the American League pitcher was forced to evolve or risk extinction.  The result is a different brand of hurler who is accustomed to formidable batting line-ups and resistant to an offensive outburst by the opposing team.  AL pitchers attack hitters with aggressive pitching as they need not bat for themselves in the next half inning, thus avoiding any retaliation.

So focused are National League pitchers on their craft that they neglect batting practice.  The byproduct is the predictable bunt or strikeout in the 9th position of the NL scorecard– NL teams give away FOUR FREE OUTS per game.

It really should come to the surprise of no one that when the two leagues meet in direct competition, it is reminiscent of a chainsaw to a 2 x 4, advantage battle-hardened AL team.

Hold on baseball purists.  I understand the arguments against the DH.  I consider myself to be one of you.

I long for the original aspects of the game when strategy mattered and specialization was a communist idea.  I love timely pinch-hitting, hitting behind the runner, getting the bunt down, taking on a 3-0 count, getting the runner over, six-out saves, taking on a 3-1 count, three-man pitching rotations that pitch on three days and throw BP side-session in between.

But Hideki Matsui was just named World Series MVP (those damn Yankees), more proof that the designated hitter is not going anywhere.

I used to believe that the Wild Card would destroy the game.  It has since proven to be the best thing since the Iced Coffee with Vanilla Powder at the Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf (easy ice).

National League, it is with great reluctance that I type these words:  it’s time to evolve.  Give the DH some consideration.

Stop bringing a knife to a gunfight.

2 Comments

Filed under Baseball, Sports

Deja Vu All Over Again or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accepted the Yankees

I must preface: I hate the Yankees.

In fact, ‘hate’ is not strong enough a word. I loathe the Yankees. I abhor the Yankees. There just aren’t any words adequate enough to capture the full extent of my emotions.

Rooting for the Yankees is like hoping the star quarterback hooks up with the prom queen. If you like to see the rich getting richer, believe in trickle-up economics or hopes Starbucks sells another frappuccino then maybe the Yankees are the team for you. For my taste, if it came down to a choice between abolishing the Yankees of the H1N1 virus, I would actually think, “hasn’t that poor strain been through enough?”

Yet, despite my passionate distaste for pinstripes I am still able to contain my opinion for the good of journalistic integrity. Just because I hate them doesn’t mean that I can’t admire their significance.

To wit: The New York Yankees are the most important team in professional baseball.

For the reasons of business, commerce, politics, TV ratings and general interest the Yankees are the keystone species in this fragile ecosystem called the Major Leagues. Without the New York franchise in place, baseball would be slowly decomposing in a sweltering canyon with buzzards racing in to pick the carcass.

The success of the Yankees is legend; 26 world championships, an endless procession of Hall of Fame members, a myth immortalized in Hollywood pictures. To the victor go the spoils. So has it been for the Yankees this past century.

This is why the Yankees are so critical. Our reaction to them is polarizing. Only two possible opinions exist: Love or Hate. There is no neutral ground. No other team can generate that level of excitement.

The success of the Yankees is always assumed; it is a forgone conclusion. Any team faced with the task of beating the Yankees four out of seven times in the months of October/ November is staring at a near insurmountable obstacle. Because of this, beating them would becomes a sweeter outcome. The sting of losing to them (sorry Twins and Angel fans) will linger for a while.

Lucas didn’t make Darth Vader a ruthless badass because he felt like it. Vader was a ruthless badass because he had to be. The entire fate of the universe hung in the balance. It was Lucas’ way of upping the ante.

The Yankees reprise the role of the badass cyborg without a heart. They have been World Champions before and they will inevitably do it again.  Their mere participation in the post season raises the stakes.

Other teams create apathy among casual fans. “Who’s playing?” they pretend to care. The Yankees bring the element of extremes. People will tune in because they want to see them succeed. Or they will watch to enjoy witnessing their failure. But no matter what, people will pay attention because they are playing.

The Boston Red Sox erroneously believe that the Yankees are their arch nemesis. The truth is the Yankees play foil to all. They are everyone’s arch nemesis. They are the standard by which all teams, baseball or otherwise, are measured. Dynasties of every kind and in every arena are considered to be “the Yankees of _______.” Fill in the blank with ‘Women’s Collegiate Lawn Bowling’ and the analogy still applies.

Statistically, the Yankees were the best team in baseball this year. But the post season is a different animal. Statistics are meaningless; distracting, even.

Heart, faith, momentum. The intangibles win baseball games this time of year.

But the Yankees seem to have that, too.

In a search for the words that aptly describe the Yankees, a simple one comes to mind: it.

It is the word we use when we want to call attention to the qualities that make something unique. It is the word we use when every other adjective struggles to make an appropriate match. It is the word we use when no other will suffice.

Yoda had it, too, but Lucas called it the force. For the 2009 Yankees, it seems to be with them.

And, like it or not, baseball is all the better for it.

6 Comments

Filed under Baseball, Sports