File Under Mets’ Fan:  Why I’ll Be Rooting—Rooting I Tell You!—for the National League Tonight

Maybe it’s because I lived in a place that had one team from each league vying for attention.

Maybe it’s because growing up in the 80s, back when there were league presidents and umpires who worked exclusively for one league or the other, I was just able to sneak into the tail end of the era in which the players themselves had a strong sense of league allegiance.

Maybe it’s because the players I grew up with were clearly different from this bunch who seem willing to give up being officially recognized as one of the best players in baseball to avoid the perilous risk of straining an eyelash muscle.

Or maybe it’s just because I recognize the designated hitter as the blight upon the land that it is.

Whatever the reason, I buck what sportswriters (wrongly) tell you is the trend toward fans being neutral about the All-Star Game and how we just want to watch great players play the game at the highest level and heck we don’t really care which league wins.

I want to watch great players play the game at the highest level.  While they’re at it, I also want the National League to beat the pants off the American League.

I’m a loyal National League fan and always have been.  Despite being a Knicks’ fans, I’ve never felt any particular loyalty to the Eastern Conference.  I’m barely aware of the glorified luau that is the NFL’s Pro Bowl.  Hockey has abandoned the conference vs. conference format for their all-star competitions altogether.  Baseball, despite the abolishment of individual league offices, separate umpires for each league, and plenty of interleague player movement, still maintains a fairly sharp interleague rivalry, at least among the fans.  I’m only too happy to do my part to keep it alive.  So in that spirit, here are my reasons why I’ll be pulling for the Senior Circuit tonight—and that’s senior as in older, with more authority, and in charge.

  1.  Let’s start with the obvious—the bloody DH.  I’ve referred to it so often in those exact terms, I’ve started noting it down as BDH in my scorecards.  About the only good the DH has done is encourage an AL/NL rivalry.  It’s driven a wedge between American League fans and people who watch baseball.

Okay, okay, I know perfectly well the baseball they play in the AL is every bit as legitimate as the baseball they play in the NL.  But come on already, we’ve been playing baseball under two different sets of rules for as long as I’ve been alive.  How much sense does it make to play a major sport under two different sets of rules?  Do Western Conference teams in the NBA get to have an extra guard and start six players while the East starts five?  What rules would they use in the Finals under those circumstances?  It’s perfectly analogous to what baseball has somehow had to make work for almost forty years. And while it may have started with the Juan Beniquezes of the world for all intents and purposes pinch-hitting four times a game, it’s evolved to the point where now DHs are the likes of David Ortiz—key members of teams’ offenses, who when they have to sit out of interleague games or World Series games cause serious headaches for their teams, and who when they do get to play in games against NL teams, represent an unfair advantage offensively.  It’s created a completely artificial imbalance between the two leagues.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you the DH was a bad idea, this should clinch it for you—it was the owners’ idea.

Way back before the 1973 season, the owners decided they needed to add offense to the game.  They figured all fans cared about were seeing home runs and seeing the scoreboard light up like a pinball machine.  In other words, they figured the fans were as dopey as they were and couldn’t or didn’t appreciate great pitching.  It’s the same lame-brained thinking that led to steroids gaining such prominence in the game.  Steroids are gone.  Pitching is back.  Pitching never goes away for long in baseball.  The DH was a permanent response to a temporary state of affairs. That’s something the National League has always understood.  With everything the whole league has done to screw up the game, the NL at least had the good sense to not fix something that was never broken.

  1. It’s not only the National League, it’s the Natural League. In his famous monologue in the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis advocates for a Constitutional Amendment outlawing Astroturf and designated hitter.  The National League managed to realize Crash’s dream without having to add to the words of the Founding Fathers.

Artificial turf was a plague that once spread through every corner of baseball— Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Montreal, Seattle, Toronto, Kansas City, Minnesota.  It was everywhere.  The botanical equivalent of the Borg from Star Trek, artificial turf sought to assimilate every playing surface in the majors, make every park look the same and play the same, emphasizing a soulless fabrication over the natural.  It has finally been driven out of the game and is little more than a post-modern baseball curiosity like the Padres peanut-butter cup uniforms or Gary Maddox’s hair.

Yes, artificial turf has finally vanished from baseball—except in that same league that just adores its precious DH.

If you love plastic grass, go to Tampa or Toronto.  Teams in that other league.  The American League.  The league that is the last bastion of the abomination that is artificial turf.

  1.  I may have to root for the Phillies and Braves tonight, but it could be worse—far worse.   Every year at the Mid-Summer Classic, I’m put into the awkward position of rooting for people whose blood I was probably calling for only 48 hours earlier.  Other fans have to grit their teeth and do the same.  We can mostly stand it—for one night and one exhibition game.

I am not thrilled about having to root for two Phillies and three Braves tonight.  Phillies’ fans and Braves’ fans, I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.

But as much as an indignity as that is, as much as it was an indignity to root for the likes of Willie McGee and Whitey Herzog and Lee Smith and Andy Van Slyke and a whole rogues gallery of divisional rivals, it still beats the alternative.

This is why the worst year to be an NL fan (1983 springs to mind) still beats the best year to be an AL fan.

As much I might have to root for players from NL teams I don’t like and a couple I can’t stand, it still means I don’t have to sink to the lowliest of plains.  I don’t have to root for any Yankees. I will grudgingly cheer on Roy Hallday tonight.  I will grin and bear it if Craig Kimbrell manages to close out the game for the NL.

Icicles will hang from my nose in the hell that will have frozen over if I am ever forced to root for the Yankees in any capacity.

  1. The NL has history on its side.  Two words: Jackie Robinson.  Every team in the majors was ruled for too long by bigotry.  But it was a National League team that finally began to change that.

While Tom Yawkey was calling Jackie Robinson vile names as he worked out at Fenway Park, while the Tigers get to explain Ty Cobb for all time, it was the Brooklyn Dodgers  in the NL that led the way to the color barrier being broken.  Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox were among the last teams to accept players of color on their big-league rosters.

Babe Ruth was the best player of all time and an American Leaguer.  Jackie Robinson was the most important player of all time and a National Leaguer.  I’ll cheerfully lay claim to the latter over the former.

  1.  The NL may also have the present on its side…thanks to the best division in baseball.  That’s right.  There, I said it.

It’s been fashionable for some time now to think of the AL East as the toughest division in baseball.  Although to hear some people tell it, it’s populated by metahumans imbued by divine powers from Zeus himself, it really has been the toughest division in baseball for some time.

Its advantage is not nearly as clear-cut any more.

The team with the best record in baseball resides in the National League East.  Three of the five teams in the AL East are over .500.  Four of the five teams in the NL East are at or above .500.  The worst team in the NL East has a .473 winning percentage.  The worst team in the AL East has a .409 winning percentage.  Combined, the NL East has a .538 (246-211) winning percentage.  Combined, the AL East has a .531 (238-210) winning percentage.

Okay, so it’s not a decisive edge for the NL East.  It’s certainly not an AL East edge.  It’s no longer the uniquely elite division it’s made out to be.  That elite status was perhaps the primary argument for American League superiority the last few years.  It’s no longer a valid argument.

These things go in cycles.  For many years, the National League maintained a superiority over the American League.  Admittedly, the tables have been turned the last few years.  Regardless of what happens in tonight’s game, the odds are a lot more even between the two leagues, in large part thanks to the NL East.

Keep your C.C. Sabbathia, your Adrian Gonzalez, your David Price, your Jose Bautista, and your Matt Wieters.  I’ll put my Roy Halladay, my Jair Jurjjens, my Jose Reyes, my Jordan Zimmerman, and my Mike Stanton up against them any day of the week.

(I just said “my Roy Halladay.”   And “my Jair Jurjjens.” And my…well, again, I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.)

I may very well wind up having these words sprinkled over a heaping helping of crow and served to me by the end of tonight.  There will probably be at least one AL fan who will rebut everything I’ve said here.  I’ll take my chances.  It’s part of the fun.  It’s worlds better caring about an interleague rivalry that by itself makes baseball’s All-Star Game more meaningful, even as an exhibition, than any other major sport’s all-star game.

Besides, even if a bunch of AL fans do come after me for this, and even if they do  get on me tonight if the NL loses tonight, we’re talking about people who tolerate the DH, artificial turf, and the Yankees.  So what do they know?

 

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