As a baseball purist, I am a believer that the offseason between the 2011 and 2012 seasons may be one of the more memorable. I mean memorable for the fact major league baseball has once again astounded this fan with their complete ignorance. Let me explain.
Once upon a time, long, long ago baseball had two leagues, National and American. Teams in each league played all summer long against other teams in their league and the champion then had the right to go to the World Series and truly represent their respective league. The only other times the two leagues played one another were in the All Star game and perhaps an exhibition game here and there. It was a true rivalry; one that was sincerely felt by both players and fans.
In their infinite wisdom, one of the first offseason decisions was scheduled for the 2013 season. The powers that control things have seen fit to move the Houston Astros into the American League which results in both leagues now having an odd number of teams. The result, much like in other professional sports, interleague play will be continuous. The first result will be the continued erosion of the individual leagues and their identity.
It should also be noted that two of the games’ biggest sluggers, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both signed contracts for over $200 million which last for almost a decade. When looking into the situation one will also note that both of those players are playing well and may well continue to do so for at least 5 more years. It is totally understandable that both players were also signed by American League teams. Why you ask? American league teams have a decided advantage when it comes to the mega-deal, long term contracts. As a player ages he likely begins to wear down, is more prone to injury and realistically should not be in the lineup every day.
Of course American league teams realize that; however they have the option of taking the player off the field and using them as a designated hitter. That way all they have to do is swing the bat, and waddle down the baseline hoping they do not pull a hamstring or something. One has to wonder if the Yankees would have awarded Alex Rodriguez his second contract over $200 million if they felt they might have to actually use him in the field every day over the duration of the contract. National league teams do not have that option.
All one has to do is look at the huge contract the Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano a few years ago. He was productive to a point, but now there are three years remaining on the contract, calling for a salary of around $56 million, and he is a huge defensive liability in the field. If he were on most any American league team he would have been slotted in as a right handed designated hitter. The Cubs made a terrible decision when they signed him, not for the money they paid; but rather for the length of the contract. They may well have to write off a good $50 million of his contract and hope to entice an American league team to take him off their hands.
If National league teams want to sign a big bopper to a long term mega-deal, they have a much higher risk factor than their American league counterparts. That rule alone has taken a major element of “fairness” out of the game. When the boppers move from the AL to the NL as free agents the contracts may call for competitive salaries; but rarely are they for more than 4-5 years. The Cubs proved once again that National league teams that want to remain competitive cannot risk having a major portion of their payroll tied up in a high paid aging player that cannot, or should not play in the field most every day.
When are the folks in major league baseball going to figure out that American league teams have dominated interleague play and the All Star game for over a decade? I did a study a few years back and the average salary for the designated hitter in the American league was over $10 million. This is for the guy to sit on the bench and hit, period! National league teams do not have that luxury or payroll flexibility because they do not play the bulk of their games under the silly American league rules.
When an American league teams plays in a National league park, generally the situation is fair. The American league teams have to sit one of their normal starting hitters because the pitcher now has to bat. On the other hand, when playing in an American league park the home team has a huge advantage. They add another front line hitter to the lineup; where the National league team, is in effect required to play one of their substitutes. Normally a regular player will DH and the substitute player will be inserted in the lineup and play in the field.
The resulting inequity has resulted in more big boppers generally ending up in the American league, they do have more real power hitters in total. The statistics of American league domination are bearing it out.
To add to the situation, by having more marquee players in the American League, one would think it would attract more fans to their games. In turn that sharpens the advantage even further because with increased revenue they can continue to bid up prices and attract even more of the marquee players.
Of course the utter geniuses in charge of major league baseball got tired of players not wanting to play in the annual All Star game so they decided the team that wins gives their league home field advantage for the World Series, once again compounding the unfairness.
If they want to motivate the players to win, give the winning players and managers $100,000 each and the loser $1. Fine the players that opt out of the game with their nagging hang nails. Make them hefty fines. Take their fine money and add it to the winner’s pool. Don’t add to the unfairness of the game by having the All Star game winner determine which league has the home field advantage in the World Series. There are plenty of ways to motivate the players and managers to go all out to win without compromising the integrity of the game.
At least in the other professional sports that have an abundance of inter league play, the rules of the game are the same so neither league has a competitive advantage as a result. If major league baseball wants to follow the model of other sports, then do away with the DH. If they have to grandfather in all the current designated hitters in the same manner they did pitchers who threw a spitball when they made it illegal, then do so. However it is done – the DH must be phased out of the game. Let’s go back to playing real baseball where pitchers have to bunt and hit and actually run down the base line; while managers really have to strategize. To me, the strategic moves a National league manager has to make as the game progresses is one of the more exciting parts of the game. Each time a pinch hitter walks to the plate to hit for the pitcher, you wonder if that will come back to haunt them should the game go into extra innings.
When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon he said something like “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Moving the Astros to the AL will foster more inter-league play. At the same time two of the games’ biggest hitters and draws at the gate are moving to the American league because no National league team is willing to risk their future on a mega-deal over $200 million. Indeed it is one more giant leap backward for Major League Baseball.