Though there have now been back-to-back entertaining All-Star Games (and this one, as we used to say at ESPN, “moved like a rocket”), the idea that the American League has gotten home field advantage for the World Series seven consecutive years based on a game played under rules that necessarily favor the American League, must somehow be corrected.
The obvious problem is the imbalance in the intensity of offense. Though there are two fewer American League teams, the total number of starting offensive positions is still just a ratio of NL 128/AL 126. But in that virtually identically-sized talent pool, there are, at minimum, 14 offensive positions in the American League (and thus 14 potential American League All-Stars) who do not have to have much, or even any, defensive capability. Even defensively-skilled American League All-Stars are all afforded the potential opportunity to play “half games” by filling in as DH’s; their National League counterparts must either play more in the field – and thus be more worn down – or sit games out.
American League pitchers also have a slight physical advantage. While their performances are certainly taxed by the fact of facing the DH, it’s not as if they have to get four outs every inning – and the trade off is, (virtually) never having to hit, and (virtually) never having to run the bases, unlike their National League counterparts.
Finally, the All-Teams-Represented anachronism — a rule left over from the days when it was assumed television viewership in each city depended on a representative from the team in each city — clearly hurts the National League. It might not show up in a given game, but over the course of the twelve years since the 16/14 split began, this must have an impact: the NL is stuck with two more Mandatory Choices, each year, than is the AL. Tonight, the question was, which of the four solo NL guys – Francisco Cordero, Ted Lilly, Brian McCann, or Ryan Zimmerman – was ultimately of less use to Charlie Manuel than, say, a Mark Reynolds pinch-hit appearance might have been?
The solution? Two more guys on the NL roster than the AL? Eliminate the mandatory team representatives? Hard to say. But giving the American League the home field in the Series based on what is deteriorating into a self-fulfilling prophesy, is madness.
CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCHES
Four years ago I was to throw one out before a game at Staten Island of the New York-Penn League and I called an old friend of mine, a former pitcher of some prominence, for advice. From Baba-Booey to President Barack Obama, the rules he gave me should be handed out in advance to all ceremonial first pitchers (and, after tonight’s great Obama looper, kept in the President’s mind for whenever he next takes the hill).
The first rule is: don’t take the hill. “That is not there for you,” my friend said. “All you can do there is fall off. Go to the front of the mound, the skirt, and move up just far enough that it looks like you’re on the mound but you’re really going to land on level ground as you throw.”
The second rule is: aim high. “Think about every first pitch you’ve ever seen,” he said. “The ones that the catcher has to leap for, or go over his head, some people might laugh but at least a few will go ooooooooh. The ones thrown in the dirt just get moans. When it doubt, fail upwards.”
But the last rule, he said, was the most important, and, chronologically, the first. “Try to get the actual baseball early. Or — screw it — just pick up any ball that’s handy. They don’t care. Get it as early as possible: ten minutes, half an hour, whatever. And just hold on to it and pretend it makes you less nervous.” I thought he was going to go all psychological on mine. “And as you turn the ball over in your hands, as you rub it, as you look at it, pick at the seams. Use your fingernails and just pull up on every thread. Just keep doing it, as many times, to as many pieces of thread as you can. Just keep doing it.” I asked why. “You’ll see.”
I got the ball probably half an hour before the first pitch, and, while dismissing myself as a moron for following my friend’s goofy advice, I decided to adhere to it. I picked at each thread. Nothing happened. No elevation. No loosening. No sense of having done anything to the ball. A decided sense of my friend, in a distant city, chuckling as he thought of me pointlessly pulling at red threads that wouldn’t budge.
I warned the Staten Island catcher P.J. Piliterre (who I was delighted to see in Tampa last March, in camp with the big boys; good luck with spelling that battery of Pettitte and Piliterre) that I would aim high, then trotted out to the front skirt of the mound, gave the seams a few final tugs, and fired. The immediate good news: it was relatively close to the plate. The immediate bad news: he might have to reach up for it.
Then the miracle happened.
A few feet in front of the plate, as unexpectedly and sharply as if it had been hit by a bullet or an arrow, my first pitch dropped, a good eighteen inches. Piliterre had to drop his glove to catch what would have been, dare I say it, mistaken for an off-speed overhand curveball, for a strike. Piliterre was laughing as he met me near the plate to give me the ball: “I see you’ve been picking at the seams.”