Play Right

Sorry, comics friends, but this has nothing to do with the Justice Society

The All-Star break seems like the perfect time to talk a little baseball.

I’m very happy that the National League won this year’s MLB All-Star Game 5-1 — not just because the game decides home-field advantage for the World Series, a fact that I fervently hope affects my Phillies, but out of good ol’ NL pride. National League baseball is real baseball.

Kudos to 2011 MVP Prince Fielder for his 3-run blast and letting his kids hold the trophy.

Of course, I’m not so happy that the Phils’ magnificent Cliff Lee gave up the only American League run in the game, nor that three of the five Phillies selected for the initial roster couldn’t play, but starter Roy Halladay did us proud. (Cole Hamels pitched in a regular game on Sunday, which by rules enacted in 2010 made him ineligible to participate; meanwhile, position players Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco are both legitimately injured rather than taking some alone time in the afterglow of their 3,000th hits like Derek Jeter.) Also of course, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is still the skipper who ended the National League’s 13-game winless streak last year.

The real proof of Lee’s constitutional pudding, anyway, is his June record of five wins, no losses, three complete games, a 0.21 ERA, and a scoreless streak of 34 innings — plus the homer that he hit to cap a great at-bat last week. Lee’s homer, the first from a Phillies pitcher in two seasons and conjuring up nearly as much tongue-in-cheek Babe Ruth chatter as Wilson Valdez’s appearance on the mound back in May, is one of those things that makes NL baseball, real baseball, so exciting.

I can see the argument for the new practice of going with the AL’s designated hitter in every All-Star Game, regardless of whether it’s played in an AL or NL ballpark. There are already so many pitching changes by design that the rare need for a double switch combined with the desire to not overexert players in an exhibition game can really complicate things. Having the pitcher hit in regular games is just purer, though, and in fact it’s one of things that made returning to the Phillies attractive to Cliff Lee. During the mid-season stretch of interleague play — which I still think of as relatively new; then again, I still think of the network that aired the All-Star Game as relatively new — Phils legend Mike Schmidt visited our team’s broadcasting booth and surprised the holy heck out of me by speaking up in favor of the National League adopting the DH. While the DH theoretically leads to more hitting, more scoring, and fewer headaches for the manager in certain situations, I simply can’t see those supposed benefits outweighing the deficits that would be drawn on the game’s strategy, quirkiness, and history; the sole actual plus to me is that the DH means a manager isn’t compelled to yank a pitcher who’s throwing a fine game but not getting run support in the name of some new offensive blood.

What do you think about the designated hitter?

For that matter: How do you feel about interleague play?

And while we’re at it: Which NL Central team would you move to the AL and which team from the resulting AL Central would you then move to the AL West to balance out the divisions?

You can rejigger the divisions further if you like. Major League Baseball currently has five, five, and four teams in the American League yet five, six, and five in the National League. There is absolutely no reason for such a discrepancy, which is not only inelegant but flat-out unfair in playoff terms, when the leagues could both consist of three divisions with five teams apiece — other than the fact that no self-respecting NL team would want to move to the AL.

Now it’s on to the rest of the season. The Phillies’ 57 wins at the All-Star break ties the pennant-winning 1993 team for most in franchise history — and that’s with serious injuries having kept Chase Utley away for too long, as well as wreaking absolute havoc on the notion of a regular closer. I know that there’s still a lot of baseball left, but I look forward to watching my team beat yours on the way to and/or in the 2011 World Series. Blam wants an excuse to buy a new baseball cap.

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  1. Well, I'm an AL guy, having always rooted for AL teams in my conscious life (first the Brewers back when they were still in the AL and I was too young to remember my MN roots, then my heartbreaking Twins when I moved back), but I abhor the DH and would have no objections to seeing it removed from the AL (which, of course, will never happen).

    I love interleague play, and have yet to hear a compelling argument against it that doesn't ultimately boil down to "I don't like it because its not how things used to be" (which seems to be the prevailing reason behind most non-changes in baseball, like the expansion of instant replay (don't get me started on that); baseball can be a frustratingly conservative sport).

    I like interleague because it shakes up the list of opponents each year (I know the Twins will always play the AL teams and the Brewers, but the other NL interleague teams are different year to year, and it's fun to see the mix) and because its fun to see the Twins play some real baseball (no DH) occasionally (since we sure aren't getting to the World Series anytime soon...).

    As for re-jiggering the divisions, I like the idea I've heard about moving the Astros to the AL, and I'd just drop them into the AL West, which would prevent the need for any additional division changes.

    Otherwise, if we want to maintain the Rangers/Astros interleague rivalry, I'd put Pittsburgh in the AL Central and move KC to the West, which could create a Pirates/Phils interleague rivalry.

    Cole Hamels pitched in a regular game on Sunday, which by rules enacted in 2010 made him ineligible to participate

    And also helped contribute to the sheer dearth of "All Stars" this year. I read that roughly 30% of all active players this season were named All Stars, which is kinda ridiculous.

  2. then again, I still think of the network that aired the All-Star Game as relatively new

    For the record, Blam also thinks of the following things as relatively new: DVDs, cell phones, Paul McCartney's solo career, plastic, and the Louisiana Purchase.

  3. The designated hitter is an abomination against the world.

    I can't fault AL fans who live in or near AL franchises for being AL fans. Love of baseball is a beautiful thing. It's just that, like Blam said, NL baseball is real baseball; even the phrase "the pitcher hitting for himself" offends me in a way because the pitcher is a player. I'm all for specialized roles and strategy, but I also really appreciate players with all-around "tools" in any position.

    There's no denying that interleague play is fun, which to many is the end of the argument, but my qualms with it are less about tradition than about fairness. If the DH is an abomination, or The Abomination, then interleague play is... Wendigo? Sasquatch? Not as ugly as the Bigfoot from Six Million Dollar Man yet certainly not as adorable as Fozzie Bear... It's something kind-of charming but still a big, shambling mess, because it wreaks havoc, and not even a consistent havoc, on each team's road to the postseason. (As a Phillies guy with an admiration for Boston, like Blam, I do enjoy getting to see them play, but living in New York it's just as much fun going to Yankees games and rooting for the Red Sox there.)

    Given that the Pirates already think they have a rivalry with the Phillies that the Phillies pretty much ignore, moving them to the AL Central is an interesting plan that I'd get behind. Of course if they became our official interleague "natural rival" it would just illustrate the disparity of midseason interleague play. Would you rather be facing Boston or Pittsburgh?

    VW: dictine — 1. Bene's last name. 2. The chief chemical component of dictionaries. 3. A sharp, pointed schvanze.