By Edward Overend, Lead Baseball Writer
It’s the age old sports debate, who or what is better, X or Y? It’s a debate I often find irksome as it can be indolent and facile, something a sports phone-in show clings onto when it has nothing of any interest to pontificate on, a ‘break in case of emergency’ topic often with no definitive or correct answer.
However, sometimes comparisons are fascinating even if it is still impossible to come to a precise conclusion.
As the baseball regular season dawdles towards its end, with few or no pennant races to be decided, what has become apparent is that the two leagues have had very different makeups this year.
In the National League, there are several teams with excellent records, records that would win post season berths on most occasions. On the opposite end of the scale, there are a whole raft of clubs that have suffered awful summers, not just losing more games than winning but miles off competing.
Over in the American League, you have an entirely different scenario. Here, outside of Toronto and Kansas City, everyone has been much of a muchness. Sure, you could point at Oakland as being dreadful but it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that they have gone into a tailspin.
So which is better, the ideal, parity or disparity? Is a league stronger for having a few outstanding clubs, towering over their competition, or when everyone is more or less equal and the winners determined by a few key series, injuries or stand out individual performances?
It’s a philosophical dispute for which I don’t have an answer.
Sure, some will point at the eventual winners of the World Series as proof that one or other league was superior this season but, as I’ve opined previously, a lot of results in the postseason are down to pure luck as well as skill, hindered as we are by the brevity of each series. The All Star Game is no reflection either, it being a one-off celebration rather than a true measure of ability.
As has been the case for the past few seasons, interleague records have again gone the way of the AL. But even that is not necessarily a true barometer as maybe they are favoured by the different playing conditions somehow. Perhaps having to field a DH is more of a hindrance to an NL team than not having to play one for an AL one. Who knows for sure?
Maybe it’s better to look to other sports to try and decide. Forget popularity, revenue and attendance for a moment and ask yourself if you prefer hockey, where most teams have a real chance of competing each year, or basketball where perhaps only a handful of teams have a shot at winning the entire thing.
One of the most attractive qualities, indeed strengths, of North American sports is the relative parity across the leagues. Whilst baseball does not have the salary camp that is imposed in other sports, there are other reasons that those with fewer resources can reasonably compete with the financial giants.
In soccer across the globe it can be somewhat predictable and repetitive as to who wins each year. Even in competitions with salary caps, a floor is not always imposed.
The only other league I can think of with a similar structure is the NRL (rugby league) in Australia which has a real turnover in who is strong at any particular time. For that reason, I believe, it is one of the globe’s most compelling competitions.
Financially, though, there can be no denying that the Premier League in England is as strong as anything anywhere. This would imply that the consumer is very content with the product they are receiving. So, in this case, parity is not the be all and end all.
The National League Central has three terrific clubs this year in St Louis, Pittsburgh and the Cubs. Are their records inflated though by being able to beat up on the also-rans? Would the likes of the Yankees and Angels have more wins if they too had a schedule with many series versus the Phillies and Braves?
A real indicator of the contrast in the leagues is the Wild Card race. The closest chasing team in the NL is the Giants at 9.5 games back. Across in the AL there are no fewer than NINE teams nearer to challenging, with only the Athletics more distant.
As I said earlier, I don’t think there is an answer as to which league is the stronger. I do, however, think there is an extremely marked contrast between the two.
Which you prefer is, of course, as ever, your choice.