Tuesday, October 27, 2009


For the past three days, I've been a reluctant participant in the American League-versus-National League debate. Admittedly, this comes from frustration of the hearing the same dead horse being beaten since the start of the decade. It also comes from reading, watching and listening to countless numbers of New York Yankees fans discounting the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies chances of playing a tough World Series (and this Scribe believes the Phillies will win it). Yankee fans are quick to dismiss the Phillies because they play in the NL, an apparently inferior league to the one perceived as stacked and full of vast resources to build championship contenders.

After reading one of today’s posts in the New York Times “Bats” blog, “AL vs. AAAA?”, I’ve had enough. As the Amtrak Series is upon us (Turnpike Series sounds kind of boring), the continued debate of which league is better continues to rage on with two grossly overrated and ineffective measures; interleague play and the All-Star Game that shouldn't ever count.

While the interleague formula has been modified over the years, it is a good look at how the leagues are early in the season when no trades have been made to alter the landscape of playoff contention. If the AL and NL squared off in the second half of the season after the trading deadline and a change in the weather, there could be a completely different story. Even though Major League Baseball and associated media take a total of wins and losses for all teams during interleague play, it’s still an inconclusive measure of conference superiority because 15-18 games out of 162 tells a small part of the story for any team throughout a long season.

As for referring to the All-Star Game… well, it’s time that this aspect of the argument needs to be taken to the woodshed. Truthfully, though they are differing leagues and sports, you would never hear the Pro Bowl, the NBA, or even the NHL and MLS All-Star Games as litmus tests of opposite conferences.

When the National Football Conference won fifteen of 16 Super Bowls from 1981-1996, they had a slim 9-7 margin in the all-star contest over the American counterparts. Even though the game was the week after the Super Bowl, it’s still a collection of the highest-regarded players in the league. Even as the AFC took the mantle as the better conference since 1997, they didn’t assert absolute dominance in either the Super Bowl or Pro Bowl. The AFC has nine of the last twelve Super Bowl titles and eight of the last twelve Pro Bowl wins; yet this era has featured the closest Super Bowls in league history as a handful of plays could have easily kept the scales on the NFC’s side for a nearly three-decade stretch.

Since the turn of the century, the Western Conference has long been recognized as the superior side of the NBA and for good reason with the dominance of the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. It’s a lot easier to come to this conclusion considering that unlike baseball and the NFL, every team in the league plays each other at least twice in an 82-game season. Yet, that’s all fans and media members need to make this observation. Referring to the All-Star Game – one in which players understand that it’s an exhibition, not something to be taken seriously by any means – would be unwise as outside of the East’s five-game win streak from 1980-1984, neither conference has won more than three straight in the 49 year history of the contest.

Both the NHL and MLS have changed their formats several times over the years; the sheer consideration of the midseason exhibition as a measure of conference superiority would be even more absurd. Though the NHL has returned to the traditional East-vs.-West format, there are no ASGs during Olympic years as will be the case in 2010 when the league takes a break for the Vancouver Games. They had an ill-received North America-versus-World format from 1998-2002 that blended players of both conferences based on nationality as opposed to conference allegiances. Major League Soccer just puts together the best players in the entire league to play an English Premier League team as its All-Star Game.

The lazy use of the All-Star Game and interleague play is all the more reason why people need to invest themselves in sports packages (even if it’s just hitting up the neighborhood sports bar a couple of times during the week to see out-of-market games). You get to see a bit more than the capsules of highlights and national broadcasts, but truly watch how the other half lives, sort of speak.

Sure, the World Series is upon us and outside of New York and Philadelphia, most non-Yankees and Phillies fans may not be so engaged in watching the series and are content to counting down to spring training. Regardless of how you feel about either team or the baseball postseason as a whole, let us understand that brand name teams and a few games against non-traditional opponents do not a superior conference make.

Besides, the Washington Nationals took two out of three at Yankee Stadium back in June. Guess who's still playing?

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