Outside editorial: Only one major league

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

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It's no secret that Major League ballplayers are better than their minor league counterparts. That's why they're in "the Show." It's also why there's no annual All-Star game between best of the majors and the best of Triple A. No one wants to see an obvious mismatch between the best and the not-quite-so-good.

But if that's true, why does Major League Baseball keep staging various contests between the American League and the National League? The NL loss in this year's All-Star game was its 10th straight exercise in futility. The AL has captured 10 of the last 15 World Series titles. Last season, in interleague play, AL clubs won 154 games and lost only 98. A Harlem Globetrotters game offers closer competition than that.

All the numbers confirm a big, honking difference in quality. Baseball Prospectus says the average AL player can expect to fatten his batting average by 10 points on a steady diet of NL pitching, while AL pitchers switching leagues generally reduce their earned run averages (and not just because they no longer have to face designated hitters). It's not unusual to see hurlers who are only mediocre in the AL turn into Top Guns when they switch leagues, or prized NL arms get strafed once they have to face top-notch batting orders.

You don't need Nancy Drew to figure out the reason for the gap. On average, AL teams spend 25 percent more on player payroll than those in the NL, and both leagues get what they pay for. The explanation may be the free-spending New York Yankees. AL owners have to compete with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, so they lay out the cash. NL owners don't, so they hoard it.

At some point, even the most loyal bleacher bum has to face reality. And reality is that today, there is only one major league, the American. So it's time for baseball to accept that fact and demote the NL teams to the minors, where they might be able to hold their own. Otherwise NL fans may start sounding like the parents at Little League games: "Good swing!" "Nice try!"

The NL had a lot of good years, and it would be a shame to see it relegated to the oblivion it has earned. At some point, though, even Tiger Woods will have to settle for the Senior Tour.



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