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AL vs. NL: The Fathers' Day Massacre

   NL vs. AL: The Fathers' Day Massacre

Rick Kaplan

OAKLAND (June 19) - It seems to be the current fashion to say that the DH (designated hitter) gives the American League an advantage in interleague play.

Does it? Well, the AL doesn't need any more advantages than it already has because of its superior players. Fine. Take the Designated Hitter away. We'll all be better off without it.

While you're at it, give the NL aluminum bats and greenies. And four outs.

Ten of the fourteen interleague series completed yesterday were played in National League parks.

Thankfully, the AL's legally sanctioned one-dimensional, immobile sluggers who can't run or catch, and who pop out of the dugout like a cuckoo clock four or five times during a game, are banned in those sixteen National League ballparks.

In other words, no DH. Instead, NL-style small ball, and, presumably, a considerable home field advantage to the senior circuit.

Yet, the American League took 29 of the 42 games over the weekend. Including 19 of the 30 in NL parks.

Yeah, the DH is a plague on baseball. It is baseball's version of the boardwalk game where a ticket gets the most muscular buddy three chances to ring that bell on top of the pole. The DH is 157 lb. sub-tropical placekickers who, though unable to throw a block, or even a ten foot spiral, seem to be annually deciding Super Bowls with implausibly accurate trick kicks through 53 yards of a blizzard .

But, sorry, NL fans, the DH is still no excuse for the dreadful inferiority of your league. And inferiority is the meaning of those games over the weekend in your DH-less parks.

Jim Thome might has well have stayed home in Chicago. The White Sox menacing DH had three official at bats this weekend and struck out three times.

But the White Sox swept Cincinnati, with a cumulative score for the three games of 28-11. Against a Reds club that entered the weekend 2 and 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

Meanwhile, to demonstrate that not all DHs are refugees from the DL, David Ortiz started all three games in the Red Sox' sweep in Atlanta, did not make an error, and hit two home runs.

The NL West, whose "resurgence" we have been hearing so much about recently, lost 10 of 12 to the "declining" AL West over the weekend. Including an effortless sweep by Seattle of the Giants, immediately on the heels of the Mariners themselves being taken apart and swept by an undermanned Athletics club.

(So, by the logic of we-killed-them-and-they-killed-you-so-what-do-you-think-will-happen-when-we-play?, look for the A's, unexpected losers of two of three May 18-19-20, when San Francisco visited Oakland and got unusually dominant pitching from Cain and Schmidt in back-to-back games, to remind the Giants of who is the boss of the bay next weekend at Phone Bill Park.)

The Al Central took 11 of 15 from the NL Central, including the lowly Royals winning 2 of 3 in the Astros' park.

Can we make any conclusions based on one weekend? Is the National League really more comparable to the Pacific Coast League than the American League?

Yes.

The performances of individual players who have changed leagues are revealing.

American League players seem to frequently come over to the NL and perform at a high level. The statistical leaders in the NL are littered with former American Leaguers.

But the reverse is not true.

Nomar Garciaparra, formerly of the Red Sox (and a brief, injury-marred stint with the Cubs) leads the NL in hitting. Bronson Arroyo, a third or fourth starter while with the Red Sox, with an ERA well over 4, has been among the pitching leaders in the NL all season, with an ERA well around 2.5, and his Reds rotation-mate Adam Harang, an A's discard, has remained among the NL leaders in victories.

Roger Clemens went over to the NL and merely proceeded to put up the lowest ERA of his career, 1.87, at 43 years of age, in 2005.

Edgar Renteria, after spending a  miserable year in 2005 in the AL with the Red Sox, hitting .276 and making 30 errors (after only 11 in 2004 with the Cardinals), has returned to the NL with the Braves and was leading the league in BA until recently.

Alfonso Soriano, formerly of the Yankees and the Rangers, is now trying to pass the injured Albert Pujols in home runs. Carlos Lee, from the White Sox, is Milwaukee's best all-around player and an RBI machine.

Even Eric Byrnes, having been waived out of the AL last year, is only now starting to slip from among the NL league leaders in BA.

Perhaps most significantly, the New York Mets, probably the best team in the NL, have relied heavily on former AL stars. Pedro Martinez, from the Red Sox, is their ace, and Carlos Delgado, formerly of the Blue Jays and the Marlins, and Carlos Beltran, from the Royals, via the Astros, are key players and leaders for the Mets.

On the other hand, where are the comparable former NL players making an impact on the American League?

Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind. Mike Lowell, formerly of the NL Marlins, has been revived by Fenway Park and is hitting .315.

Jim Thome, however, doesn't count. Now DHing impressively for the White Sox and leading the AL in homers, he is actually a former Indian who spent a few seasons with the Phillies and is now back in the AL.

There have been numerous players, however, whom have come from success in the NL and struggled in the AL.

And I'm not even referring to Sammy Sosa. Adrian Beltre of the Mariners is an example, as his teammate Richie Sexon might also be considered.

Steve Finley, enjoying a decent year with the Giants and a career .276 hitter, batted .222 with the Angels last year before scampering back to the NL via free agency. Jeff Cirillo, a perennial .320 hitter with the Rockies, went to the Mariners and dropped to .205 in 2003. Back in the NL with the Brewers as a role player, he is currently at .323 in 93 at-bats.

Jason Kendall has never live up to his career .300 NL billing with the A's, struggling to get key hits and to throw out baserunners. Rich Aurilia tried out the AL as a Mariner, found himself hitting .241, 35 points below his career average and hightailed it back to the NL with the Reds where he is now putting up acceptable numbers again.

The next two weeks or so should tell us more conclusively whether these individual performances are indicative of a difference between the leagues or just quirky stats of no real meaning beyond a particular player's career.

But right now, what league would you pick in the World Series?

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