American League: Short on strategy, long on boredom BASEBALL

July 26, 1993|By Rob Parker | Rob Parker,Detroit Free Press

Pop quiz: What do two baseball fans do if they have four hours to kill?

Answer: Go to an American League game.

Since coming to Detroit last spring and getting an up-close-and-personal view of American League baseball, I am totally convinced that I don't like the AL's style of play.

Boring, slow and tired are the best ways to describe the AL. Some games last so long that your 8-year-old son could return home with five o'clock shadow.

You don't think the games are too long? Then why do some teams hold "Soup and Blanket" night in late September?

On most nights, AL excitement might be a few bases-empty homers hit off some pretty weak pitching. At times, chess is more exciting.

Without question, the National League is truly the best league.

The NL offers an up-tempo game filled with great pitching efforts, spectacular defense and thrilling base stealing. Plus, it also compels the fans to follow the game and its strategy much more closely.

Managers must truly manage in the NL. There are so many decisions to be made during a close game -- pitching changes, double switches, pinch-hitters and sacrifice bunts.

Before AL supporters wonder how a game that produces so many runs can be boring, think again. Sure, the AL cranks up runs -- most via the home run -- but runs hardly make a game exciting. I'd rather see a nail-biting 2-1 victory filled with a big catch and a failed late-inning sacrifice than a sloppy, time-consuming, 9-8 triumph in which no runs are scored after the fourth inning.

This isn't to say that the NL doesn't have its share of high-scoring affairs. It does -- usually, when former AL pitchers start those games.

Seriously, though, the NL gives the fans the entire game -- not just what some think is the exciting part. The National League plays the game the way it was invented and the way everybody who has played organized baseball plays it, except the American League. That makes the game fun to watch, especially when you can get the whole package in under three hours.

"It's a completely different style of play," said Detroit pitcher Tom Bolton, who has spent his entire career in the American League, except for part of last season with Cincinnati. "It's all speed over there, and we're all power for the most part over here."

Says Minnesota's Dave Winfield, who started with San Diego before AL stints with the Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays and Twins: "The American League is better. It is. It has better talent."

That might be the only thing the AL has over the NL. San Francisco's Barry Bonds is the best player in the game, but the next three or four are in the AL -- possibly Ken Griffey Jr., Cecil Fielder, Juan Gonzalez and Kirby Puckett. All four have some incredible offensive capabilities.

"There are some legitimate power hitters over there in the NL," Bolton said. "But for the most part, they have guys who are going to hit the ball on that turf and run and run. Here, they're going to sit back and wait for the three-run homer."

NL ballparks force teams to work harder for runs. Most AL stadiums are nothing more than bandboxes -- including Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park and new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

In the NL, it's a challenge to leave Dodger Stadium or Shea Stadium. Riverfront, Busch, Veterans and Three Rivers could all be the same stadium -- not home-run graveyards, but not homer havens, either. The NL's artificial turf and deep dimensions make it smart to stack your team with line-drive hitters with speed.

The designated hitter, celebrating 20 years of ruining the AL, is the craziest idea added to baseball if we don't count the Chicken Dance. Some player who doesn't take the field gets to bat four or so times a game. The rest of the time, he sits in the dugout or clubhouse.

LTC The DH hardly makes the AL game more exciting; the ninth batter is still someone who is not a good hitter. In the NL, it's the pitcher. In the AL, it's a weak-hitting second baseman or catcher. At least the NL batter usually knows how to bunt.

So what's the big difference, other than a few more runs? Strategy. An AL manager never faces the dilemma of whether to remove a successful pitcher for a pinch hitter.

The AL is also too laid-back -- in every facet. Pitchers seldom challenge hitters who cram the plate.

Tony Phillips' reaction recently was no surprise when Scott Erickson sailed a fastball over his head. Although no one is comfortable with a purpose pitch -- which Erickson's probably was -- the NL noticeably likes to use it more than the AL.

Early in the season, I was amazed that Tigers hitters weren't going down left and right. An NL team couldn't score 45 runs in a three-game series, as the Tigers did in April, and not get a few close shaves.

"Coming into this year, I thought the way we hit the ball our guys would be getting knocked down once a week," Bolton said. "And it hasn't happened. We've gotten our butts kicked several times, and we haven't really knocked anybody on the floor."

Although the biggest brawl of the season was in the American League between the Orioles and Mariners, the man in the middle was Norm Charlton, the former Red. That's no surprise. Last season, Charlton hit Mike Scioscia with a pitch after he thought Scioscia was stealing signs from second base.

"It may be different from team to team," Bolton said. "With the Reds, [Rob] Dibble and Charlton would have taken care of it."

And where are Tigers pitchers when it comes to issuing a warning? Nowhere.

"I'm surprised at that myself," Bolton said. "... I don't know if it's because we think that if we go after somebody, they're going to go after one of our sluggers. And we really don't want that."

And neither do I. American League baseball, that is.

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