A number of current MLB controversies have made it clear that the game is moving forward into a new era. One fan tries to find the best balance between past and present.
Baseball is an exhilarating yet frustrating mess of contradictions, and this fan is caught in the trap—like millions of other men and women (save George Will, whose pompous moral certitude about the sport is immutable)—of trying to reconcile “purist” instincts with the undeniable improvements in the game over the past several decades. Last weekend, for example, while watching a slew of inter-league contests via the MLB “Extra Innings” package (which, regardless of varying prices depending on your locale and cable provider, costs less for an entire season of televised games than one day at a stadium for a family of four), I finally switched gears and figured it was time for the National League to acquiesce and adopt the still-controversial designated hitter rule.
Heresy, I guess, but what the hell; if you’re a Milwaukee Brewers’ devotee, wouldn’t it be delightful to see the world’s tubbiest vegetarian, Prince Fielder, in the dugout, contemplating his next plate appearance, instead of anchored at first base? One league’s dominance over the other usually runs in cycles, but the N.L. seems mired in a slump that’s likely to run longer than the Great Depression, and this was evident once again over the weekend. Sure, the strategy required of an N.L. manager is more intricate than A.L. counterparts with double-switches and more sacrifice bunts, but the two leagues might be more competitive if older free agents (or crummy fielders) could extend their careers as a DH.
That said, and here’s one of those curveballs, I can’t stand inter-league play, even though it pumps up attendance and allows fans to see star players who were once a mystery aside from the All-Star game (which, of course, has devolved into a meaningless exhibition game instead of a proud showcase) or the World Series. My 13-year-old son, with whom I have the pleasure of sitting next to in our matching easy chairs in the homestead’s television room, adamantly disagrees, but I chalk that up to his participation in a fantasy league with a bunch of school buddies. I just don’t like the disruption of the season’s rhythm, the fake “rivalries” cooked up by MLB schedule makers—sure, the Cubs and White Sox make sense, but the Rockies and Tigers?—for the sake of novelty and profit.
I was watching the Rays-Pirates game on Saturday night and it was nearly impossible to tell which team was which: the Bucs wore the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, while the Rays donned those of the Jacksonville Red Caps, and it was all a blur. I can’t even imagine what Vladimir Guerrero, the great Angel, would look like in a 30s uniform: with his dreadlocks and shaggy appearance he already looks like a hobo out in right field. Dan Haren (who could double for one of the cavemen in the Geico commercials), Manny Ramirez, Jonny Gomes and Henry Blanco aren’t far behind, and that’s just off the top of my head. (That said, it’d be even worse if, by some stroke of bad luck, Vlad ended up playing for the Yanks and was forced to conform to the Steinbrenner family.