Please Explain: The National League (1983 to Present)

I know this is dangerous ground to be treading here, but the Senior Circuit has been an inferior product for quite a long time now. Since 1983, the AL has had 15 World Champions, while the NL has managed just 7. If the Oakland A’s of the late 80’s/early 90’s hadn’t of underperformed so badly during the post-season, this number would be even more skewed towards the AL. According to my rankings, the AL has had MLB’s best team 18 of these seasons. And I haven’t even mentioned the whole All-Star game or inter-league play disparity…

Now, I should mention 2 things before I go any farther.

  1. I’m an American League fan.
  2. I believe the NL rule difference (no DH) is the way the game should be played.

The disparity between the leagues has gotten even bigger this decade, even though the NL has won 3 of the past 6 World Series. Here is my ranking of the best 10 teams since 2001. Teams with an asterisk won the World Series.

  1. 2003 New York Yankees
  2. 2005 Chicago White Sox *
  3. 2002 Oakland A’s
  4. 2004 Boston Red Sox *
  5. 2004 New York Yankees
  6. 2004 St. Louis Cardinals
  7. 2002 New York Yankees
  8. 2002 Atlanta Braves
  9. 2002 Anaheim Angels *
  10. 2003 Oakland A’s

Last season 6 of the 7 best balanced teams were in the AL, with this year it being pretty close to the same. I know this piece reads like a biased attack on the NL, but I’m just following Please Explain principles. I’ve read a few theories in the past on this subject, but NL’s inferiority has to do with more than the favorite excuse that the Yankees and Red Sox spend more money than everyone else.

The NFL during this stretch has flipped between an AFC dominant period (8-2 in Super Bowls between 1998-07) and a NFC dominant period (14-1 in Super Bowls between 1983-97). In the NBA, since 1983, the Eastern Conference has won 13 world championships, the Western Conference 12. So Please Explain to me your theories on why the disparity between Major League Baseball’s two Leagues has continued for so long.

 

66 thoughts on “Please Explain: The National League (1983 to Present)

  1. 1.  It’s cyclical, I think, like a lot of things. The AL has teams in the four most desirable markets, NYC, Boston, Chicago and L.A. In all three of these where they share the market with an NL team, the AL team has won a championship much more recently than the NL team. Thus a presumably temporary migration of fairweather fans, and thus money, and thus higher payrolls.

    The NL’s two flagship franchises both face less than ideal situations. The incompetent Dodgers have been stumbling around like a drunk in a dark room for 20 years. The Cardinals, while they’ve had some success on the field, find themselves in what is gradually becoming a small market city.

    A lot of the small market AL teams have been able to overcome their handicap with smart management (Oakland, Minnesota, Cleveland), whereas the small market NL teams have generally flailed around and become laughingstocks (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati).

  2. 3.  The NL was dominant from 1958-83 because it integrated sooner and better, but you could argue that for the rest of history the AL has been the dominant league.

    I think the AL just got the better batch of cities. If the NL hadn’t abandoned Boston once and New York twice, things might be different.

  3. 4.  I can go with some of your point Eric, but the LA and Chicago part loses steam, as the Cubs and Dodgers have had larger budgets because of their popularity. Even with the more recent Angels and White Sox success, both teams have or should have bigger payrolls.

    I didn’t mention Mark’s point, as I wanted to focus on more recent times, but the AL has been dominant, except for the 60’s and 70’s for most of the history of the modern game.

    I think the best hope for the NL in the short-term is for the Mets to continue to play well. Being in the biggest market and having more young star players than the Yankees, much of the NL hopes lie upon their shoulders.

  4. 5.  My first response to Eric was to his No. 1 comment.

    I think Eric’s no.3 comment hits upon one of the elements. Nice.

  5. 6.  We need to have a “Please Explain: Why Is Letting The Pitcher Hit For Himself Even Remotely Rational?” I think I’m about the only defender of the DH I can think of; maybe I’m not and everyone else assumes this fight has been fought to its logical completion, which doesn’t make sense because the leagues really only exist for the purposes of staging a World Series contest. But really: the pitcher doesn’t see live pitching as a batter often enough to make him a valuable contributor (except rarely), he exposes his person to danger (collisions, etc.) and possible humiliation (how many times have you seen a pitcher make a stupid out?) on the basepaths. The game is dull as dishwater. Got a man on first with less than two outs? Unless you’re talking about Don Drysdale or Carlos Zambrano, the pitcher bunts. SNORE.

    As to the question of the day, the more recent reason — and I can’t remember where I read this (Baseball Prospectus?) — is that the AL teams are spending boatloads of cash signing amateurs, where the top NL teams are tending to sit on their bonuses.

  6. 7.  6 – It gets explained to you every time you bring it up. You don’t have to agree with it, but I’m not sure what you expect to be gained by rehashing it.

    “The pitcher doesn’t see live pitching as a batter often enough to make him a valuable contributor (except rarely).”

    –If the goal of a sport is just to make participants look good, I think that’s called a beauty contest. There’s ample opportunity for pitchers to make themselves better hitters, and there are clearly differences in quality among them.

    “He exposes his person to danger (collisions, etc.)”

    If there are six pitcher at-bats per game, that’s roughly seven or eight thousand per season. How many times are pitchers hurt while on offense in a season? Enough to create a whole new rule for them?

    Meanwhile, if you’re so worried about pitcher health, getting to face the pitcher in an opposing lineup instead of a DH probably does more to perserve a pitcher’s health than preventing him from batting, because that gives a pitcher someone he can somewhat relax against.

    “and possible humiliation (how many times have you seen a pitcher make a stupid out?) on the basepaths.”

    I see non-pitchers do it all the time, and no one calls for the shrink. Are we really worried about the psyche of a pitcher who gets thrown out on the bases? I think pitchers can handle it.

    “The game is dull as dishwater. Got a man on first with less than two outs? Unless you’re talking about Don Drysdale or Carlos Zambrano, the pitcher bunts. SNORE.”

    Actually, that’s not true, but even if it were, the situation does raise the question of whether or not to pinch-hit. And I know you say you don’t watch baseball to see managers manage, but you should know by now that others do. The DH takes a great deal of the thought out of a baseball game – that’s not a good thing.

  7. 8.  Not to be too blunt about it, but if watching a pitcher hit bores you, then the fault lies with you, not with baseball.

    One of the things that makes baseball (NL baseball, at least) beautiful is that it has avoided the uberspecialization that has overtaken football. In order to be a baseball player you have to be good at both offense and defense. That is a basic principle of the game. If you’re lousy at one, then you’d better be really damned good at the other. The decisions that teams have to make in balancing a player’s offensive contributions with his defensive shortcomings, or vice versa, is one of the most interesting dilemmas in baseball. Watching Jack Cust play would be a lot more interesting if he were in the National League, where every day a team would have to make the decision as to whether running him out there in left field was worth it.

    Also, the NL has more strategy because of the pitcher hitting. This is a fact. Some AL fans dispute this. Those people are completely out of touch with reality. There are few game strategy situations more compelling than the one in which an NL manager is forced to decide whether to let his pitcher keep pitching, or send up a hitter in a short-ditch attempt at scoring a run.

    As for myself, I love watching pitchers hit. Even when they’re lousy, there’s all the more delight when they get a hit. I mean, David Wells bunted for a base hit tonight. What in the world is more entertaining than that? Plus, a lot of these guys actually know what they’re doing. It’s just one extra nuance, one extra way in which a pitcher can make himself more valuable to his team. I’ve gotten so much pleasure over the years from watching a Dontrelle Willis or a Fernando Valenzuela or a Livan Hernandez hit.

  8. 10.  You’re not an “American League fan.” You are a White Sox fan, therefore, you pledge allegiance to the league that houses your team. Understandable. If you were a Cubs fan, you’d feel otherwise.

    I reject the American League on the grounds that it’s a fraud. I don’t like slow runners, but I wouldn’t want to have Ronaldo Nehemiah run the bases for my slowest hitters. It’s beer-league softball without the keg in center field.

  9. 11.  Glad that you didn’t mention interleague play as the same is rather misleading in that the Red Sox can stick Ortiz at 1B in a National League park but the NL teams must use a utility player as a DH at Fenway. In short, NL teams don’t have a David Ortiz on the bench and so NL teams are disadvantaged when having to play in AL parks as the AL teams use their regular good hitting DH and the NL teams must use their utility players. The other way of putting the point is that if the NL guys on the bench were good enough to be playing everyday, they would be, or else they’d be DHing in the AL [in which capacity more than a few NL has-beens have extended their careers]. For just that much more specifity in this regard, do you really think that the Dodgers would be DHing either Olmedo Saenz or Mark Sweeney if they moved to the AL? But that’s who the Dodgers would likely be using in interleague play as the DH.

    Re the WS, you might otherwise want to distinguish between “better league” and “better team”, what with the Yankees winning 4 WS in 5 years [since while the Yankees’ dominance proved them to be the superior team, it didn’t mean that the AL was better than the NL in those years].

    I won’t otherwise comment on the integrity [or lack thereof] of the All Star game.

  10. 12.  Incredible dialogue here with some of my favorite Toaster posters of all time. I seriously think I’m better off on the sidelines but here goes.

    Between ’91 and ’05, the Braves had fourteen shots at a World Series title. Had they won four of those, this might be a different conversation, no? They won once. The playoffs, depending on your perspective, are either a crapshoot or a measure of excellence. I lean toward the former opinion which doesn’t make them any less fun but I do wonder how my favorite league would be faring in this conversation if the Braves were a little more fortunate in October.

    As for your list of best teams since ’01, the ’05 Cardinals and the ’06 Mets are conspicuously absent IMHO. Again, I don’t think a great team should be punished because Lady Luck decided to smile in the other direction.

    Another point: the AL’s perceived superiority (okay, evident superiority) has a lot to do with the evil empire. The other AL teams, particularly the Red Sox, had to do something to catch up. It’s like Tiger Woods and golf. When he first started winning championships, the difference between Woods and the rest of the pack was so big it was disorienting. He’s still winning, of course, but he’s not crushing the field like he used to. Woods was–and is–like the Yankees, minus the cloven feet and 666 tatoos. The AL has a target that people want to shoot. The NL is missing that target.

  11. 13.  Yeah, I can’t add any theories, or even any clarity over whether the supposed dominance is real or just a perception, but I would like to say that as someone who grew up in the ’70s looking forward every year to the All-Star game and rooting hard for the AL (who never, ever, ever won), I am just glad that “we” are now somehow kicking butt in that admittedly meaningless exhibition. AL rules, baby! Yeah!

    Speaking of interleague/interconference rivalries, I also wanted to offer the following link to one of the more memorable and beloved Sports Illustrated covers of my childhood:

    http://tinyurl.com/2vtcnl

  12. 14.  This is too huge a topic to not comment, but here’s my response: It doesn’t matter if one league is way better than the other. All of the two-team markets have NL teams with enough tradition that their fans are hardly going to abandon them, and the one-team markets that don’t support their crappy NL teams will lose them. Which is good. Baseball did a lot of damage to itself by failing to realign to better fit new demographic realities once before (until the late 50’s Missouri was the game’s western frontier) and they’re now doing it again. If it’s impossible to run teams that compete and make money in Pittsburgh and Florida, so be it.

    Since I was a very, very little kid in a two-league city, it’s been intuitively obvious that the NL rules make for a much tenser, thinking man’s game. The pitcher having to bat also reduces the OOGY (one out only guy) thing, which I loathe.

  13. 15.  @ PDH5204

    I think the same thing, but you almost never hear that said. When an NL team gets to play a DH, most of the time it’s only a defensive upgrade. I think that pretty obviously favors AL teams in interleague play.

  14. 16.  15 I am not sure whether I agree with that. The Rockies always seem to have a bat or two who is positionally blocked who comes up and mashes when they get to the interleague portion of the schedule. Last year it was Ryan Shealy and this year it was Jeff Baker. Which reminds me, that’s another DH con — the NL teams face much tougher and much more interesting position battles in spring training and roster construction crunches around the trade deadline and draft.

  15. 17.  I think the only solution to address the league balance problem is: institute the DH rule in the NL and get rid of it in the AL.

    Just kidding!

    I think the two best arguments in support of the NL rules are: (i) it’s a fun surprise when a pitcher gets a hit at a key moment; and (ii) the pace of play is faster because NL rules discourage middle-of-inning pitching changes.

  16. 18.  I’m with Eric – David Wells bunted for a base hit last night! That was unforgettable. In the AL you get one note players who can’t field but can slug get to be DH. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like it as it is right now, a DH in one league and the pitcher bats in the other. Makes interleague play and the world series more interesting.

    Btw, with all the talk of AL superiority, and I agree right now it is the superior league in talent, no mention of the fact that the Cardinals, an NL team and not the one I would’ve pegged to even make the Series, won it all last year. The ’88 Dodgers won it all with a weak line-up (and a gimpy Gibson) because they had stellar pitching, but on paper they shouldn’t have won it all. games aren’t won on paper, and the AL can win the all-star games and seem to have the upper hand but when it comes right down to it stats don’t mean everything.

    Also, I think the gap will close very soon. When you look at the young talent influx hitting the NL, particularly in the NL West, with great young players coming to Arizona, the Dodgers, the Rockies especially, and the Giants’ young pitchers, if any of these teams also pick up a top player from the AL the superiority thing could be erased before too long. Could be, maybe not.

    Lastly, I do disagree with Eric on one point in 1 – the AL does not have a team in LA. 😉

  17. 19.  This conversation would have a lot more relevance in 1977 than in 2007, when there really was an appreciable difference in the styles of play between the two leagues. But free agency, interleague play, and the consolidation of the league offices have essentially ended the distinction between the AL and the NL. Aside from the DH rule, the division between the leagues now is utterly arbitrary. Can you really argue that there’s an “NL-style” of baseball, vs. an “AL-style”? There used to be, in the ’70s and ’80s, but not now. There isn’t even a difference in the umpiring anymore.

    As for why the AL is so much stronger, it’s just circumstance. Other posters have mentioned some good reasons (better management by small market teams, nuclear war between Yankees and Red Sox, etc.), but in the end, these things are cyclical. The NFC was dominant in the Super Bowl for 15 years, now things have evened out a little. In the NBA, a team like the Celtics, which would probably finish 5th or 6th in the Western Conference, is being mentioned as a possible title contender solely because they happen to play in the East. Yet in the ’90s, the East was considered the power conference.

    Eventually the Dodgers will get their act together and restore the NL’s tarnished pride. I have faith.

  18. 20.  18 And, I should add, young talent in NY, the Brewers, and so on…

    (Of course the AL’s weakest teams are also improving in that respect – like the Royals. On the other hand, whither the White Sox?)

  19. 21.  Scott:

    I don’t understand your criteria for “best” teams since 2001 (BTW, does that include 2001?), since you didn’t actually cite any.

    For me, such a list would have to contain ALL of the WS winners. Otherwise, you just come off as an AL fanboy.

    For example, the 2003 Yankees got their asses kicked by the Marlins in the WS, yet the Marlins are not even on your list and the Yankees are #1.

    WTF?

    The 162 game season and three rounds of playoffs ENSURES that the best team wins the WS, IMO (and the opinion of many). I think this is more true than any other sports championship, by far.

  20. 22.  Other young teams in the NL: The Pirates haven’t played a position player over 30 all year. Snell, Gorzelanny and Capps are all good, young pitchers. Marlins have two of the best young players in the game in Cabrera and Ramirez. Braves have McCann, Johnson and Francoer all under 25. Most of the Phillies position players are all at their peak and Hamels and Kendrick are under 24.

    things will start to even out.

  21. 23.  21 If the playoffs were a 162 game season, THAT would ensure that the best team wins the championship. An 11-to-19 game stretch doesn’t really tell you all that much about who the better team was. If Jose Cruz, Jr. catches one easy fly ball in 2003, the Marlins don’t even make it past the first round.

    To me, the NBA and the NFL have the best team win the championship far more often than MLB, simply because their sports are less subject to randomness by nature. You can physically outmatch someone in those sports, which doesn’t really happen in baseball.

  22. 24.  21 —

    If a team wins a game 7 in the World Series only because of a blown call, are we still ensured that the best team won?

    It seems wrong to suppose that the best team will always win in a 7 or 5 game series.

    About this DH thing — there are two issues.

    1) pitchers hitting
    2) hitters not fielding

    1) doesn’t bother me, while 2) seems a huge dilution of the game.

    I think the condition that every team member has to be on offense and defense while in the game is an essential part of baseball. The DH violates this in two ways.

  23. 25.  I wonder how much the economy of small market AL teams are buoyed by playing the Yanks. Whenever the Yankees show up to a small market NL grounds they pack the house for possibly the only series of the year (ie. the Rockies this year). This attendance and attention can be counted on in the AL to maintain interest which has been a sore point for some of the struggling small market teams in the NL.

  24. 26.  25 I wonder if that also might have a reverse effect on attendance, though — there are some years recently where AL fans may well have felt, “Ah, everyone knows the Yankees are going to win it anyway, so why bother?”

    It’s interesting to note that the NL has had a better average attendance than the AL for some 50 consecutive years now.

  25. 27.  To the critics of my post 21–I believe in the law of averages for that kind of stuff. The inferior teams are burned away in the crucible of the regular season. A blown call here or a missed fly ball there–you’re splitting hairs. That stuff happens all the time. It’s part of the game.

    How is the World Series winner NOT the best team that year? It may be up for debate, but IMO, the one arguing against it always sounds like a partisan (or an idiot).

  26. 28.  I only have a minute so I’ll be brief:

    I am a die-hard NL fan who adores the DH.

    For all the extra strategy that the NL supposedly has, I employ a small indicator that I call the Mom-Test. My mom is a nominal baseball fan who grew up in Atlanta just as the Braves arrived in town. She’s seen plenty of baseball, but wouldn’t know “OPS” from “Cops”.

    The Mom Test is employed in the following fashion: Take any given NL ‘strategy opportunity’, let’s say top of the 7th, visitors down 3-2, two out, runners on 1st and 2nd, pitcher up.

    What’s a manager to do??

    Well if my mom can correctly identify what 99% of NL managers do every single time in that particular situation, I declare that there has been no additional strategy added by having a pitcher bat.

    When my mom knows what will happen with great certainty, how much extra strategy can there be??

    Theoretically there should be more strategy with pitchers ‘hitting’, but there rarely is.
    Sure there are more choices for NL managers, but if they are never explored, are they really there?

    I’ll expound later, but it’s off to work….

  27. 29.  To comment 16 (don’t know how to link to comments)

    It’s useful to have Ryan Shealy bouncing around when you need a DH for two weeks, but it’s not nearly the same as having a ninth hitter you chose and signed with the intent of playing every day. The midseason DH thing is fun for NL teams to see how they look with that extra backup player in the lineup, but it’s a hyuuuge strategic advantage for the AL teams. Here’s a look at AL teams with serious World Series potential and what they gain from having a DH vs. playing NL style:

    Boston (Youkilis’s bat, plus the defensive upgrade of Youk over Ortiz at first), Cleveland (Garko’s bat, plus the defensive upgrade of Garko over Hafner), Anaheim (not sure of their everyday lineup but I think Willits or Anderson would be the odd man out without the DH), Detroit (Thames’s or Rayburn’s bat), New York (Damon’s or Giambi’s bat)

    Now here’s a look at what NL teams would gain at AL-park games if they get to the World Series:

    New York (Shawn Green/Jeff Conine DH platoon presumably), San Diego (Terrmel Sledge or Geoff Blum), Los Angeles (Luis Gonzalez), Milwaukee (Gabe Gross), Arizona (Tony Clark), Chicago (Daryle Ward or Mike Fontenot)

    There’s hardly a comparison. AL teams, by virtue of being able to build their roster around the expectation of a DH, have a massive advantage in DH-eligible games. Meanwhile, NL teams have some level of advantage in non-DH-eligible games, but it’s not nearly as wide and it’s tempered by the AL team having a starting-caliber player on their bench ready for pinch-hit duty. I believe that all things being equal, AL teams should win about 55 percent of interleague games just on the virtue of all this DH stuff. So this isn’t a full excuse for the NL’s poor performance in recent years. But it is at least one significant aspect.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a Mets fan living in an NL city and I really do wish they’d do away with the DH entirely. That said, I also admit that the AL just has more good teams right now.)

  28. 30.  As an addendum to the last point in the main story, if you want to talk about a league where some teams have shown a huge competitive advantage over the rest, the NBA is absolutely the place to start. Spurs, Pistons, Lakers, Bulls, Heat, Celtics, Rockets. What did I just list? Every team to win an NBA title since I was born (1984). Seven teams, 23 titles, in a league that expanded to about 28 teams early in that stretch.

  29. 31.  A blown call here or a missed fly ball there–you’re splitting hairs. That stuff happens all the time. It’s part of the game.

    Exactly! That stuff, that random stuff that has not much at all to do with who the better team is, happens all the time. This is why you can’t just state that the better team will always win a 7 game series.

    How is the World Series winner NOT the best team that year?

    The World Series winner is the champion. The mistake you make is assuming that being the champion is the same as being the best. Look, it makes no sense to state that the Cardinals were the best team in the major leagues last year. They weren’t even close! But they were the champions, and that’s really the goal, and congratulations to them for that.

  30. 32.  22 Agreed, good to mention the Pirates, although I still have doubts about the competence of their ownership or management (see: Morris, Matt – trade), and the Braves, although they did trade a good number of their best prospects in that Texeira trade.

  31. 33.  I’m surprised more people didn’t take me down for my top 10 teams of the decade. Looking through the stats, the records, and the balance of the lineups, these were the best 10 teams to me. I think this list really shows how the best teams in baseball rarely win. I do lean strongly on starting pitching and bullpen depth for my best teams.

    As Ken said, the playoffs are a crapshoot. I agree strongly with his post. The Marlins of 2003 and especially the Cards of 2006 were not very good teams.

    I like how this post has caused people to explore the game on a wider level than just the focus on their team or division. This is the thing I generally try to do here when I discuss baseball. Keep your reasons coming for the disparity, which is very real.

  32. 34.  33 I was wondering what the 2001 Mariners did to piss you off. But I guess you really meant since 2001, literally.

  33. 35.  you can go a long way in the postseason with two good starting pitchers. or even two avearge pitchers that get hot…but in the regular season two good starting pitchers may not even get you into the playoffs.

    the postseason is a crapshoot. that’s what makes it so exciting.

  34. 36.  With regard to the AL’s advantage in World Series wins:

    From 1983-1990, the AL won 5 of 8, with the AL winning two of the three 4-3 World Series over that time. Really, the two leagues were about even in the World Series count. From 2001-2006, the AL has only won 50% of the time. It’s 1991-2000 that is creating the disparity. The pre-strike Series were all very close, and it doesn’t take much to imagine them going the other way. As for the post-strike period, the Yankees had a damn good team. And as many others have stated, the playoffs are just a crapshoot anyway.

    I really hate to blame the AL producing better teams recently on the Yankees spending more than other teams, but I think it’s true. When one playoff spot is taken de facto by a team before the season even starts, it creates an arms race. It’s an arms race not necessarily won by teams trying to outspend the Yankees, but also by teams trying to out-develop and out-think them. From 1995-1999, the AL East won the Wild Card every year. From 2000-2002, the West in general had caught up, as development programs in Anaheim, Seattle, and Oakland finally began paying off. By 2005, almost the entire Central had done the same thing and currently has the best group of front offices of any division in baseball.

    In the NL, the Braves succeeded with a medium payroll and a phenomenal front office. There was probably a feeling that you weren’t going to beat them at their own game. But the fact that the Yankees at least appeared to be winning by overspending forced the other AL teams to be more aggressive in re-designing their front offices with men who could enact a plan better. I think we’re currently seeing the after-effects of that movement.

  35. 37.  29 You forgot to mention Colorado, who would could put Garrett Atkins at DH and platoon Jeff Baker and Ian Stewart at third, which would make their offense even better than it is now and make their infield defense (especially with Stewart, who as the lefty would get most of the starts) just freaking nasty.

    25 The Rockies also get huge crowds for the Mets, Cubs, and Cardinals every season; unless they were going to be put in the AL East for some reason, I doubt they’d want to switch leagues.

  36. 38.  Blackfish- I really like your comment, as it does a good job as any of explaining the disparity. I would argue that the A’s of the late 80’s to early 90’s were better than the NL, but didn’t finish the job.

    What I would add is that the AL continues to be the dominant league, even though they have only won 3 of the past 6 championships. Last season, I think all 4 AL teams were better than the NL teams and I actually believe the Tigers were the worst of the 4.

  37. 39.  Scott- I would agree that the A’s team should have won more. But I also happen to think the mid-80’s Cardinals and/or Mets should have won more, too.

    I also agree that the recent AL teams have been better than their NL counterparts, despite the WS results (hence the rest of my comment). My real point in all that was that the WS results weren’t as one-sided as they appeared, save during the period of Yankee dominance.

  38. 40.  Interesting question Scott, although I do think those 2004 Astros definitely belong on this list somewhere…my $.02 would be to suggest that in the next 3-4 years, the Mets may be the magnet that pulls the rest of the NL upwards while the old AL East (and perhaps the Twins and Angels) fall off a lot faster than people suspect now…

  39. 41.  I thought I had looked through all the teams, but I missed the 2004 Astros. I agree, I would slide them up to Number 9 on my list. I still think the starting pitching was a bit overrated, but having Beltran, Kent, and Lidge when he was lights out makes me really wonder how they weren’t even better than they showed.

    By the way, the next 10 on my list are mainly AL teams, as well, so I still don’t back off on the idea that the AL has been vastly superior.

  40. 42.  By the way, I don’t think that dominating the list of 10 or 20 best teams is the sole way by which we should judge the relative strength of the leagues. I’m willing to bet that the AL also had most of the worst teams in baseball over that time period, too.

    I don’t dispute the notion that the AL is superior right now. But I think the difference is overstated because the NL tends to be more balanced while the AL has more great teams and also more putrid ones.

  41. 43.  Take any measurement you want and I think it will show domination by the AL. Top team, power rankings from 1-30, and I do think inter-league play also demonstrates some this as well. The AL has just been a better league for a long time now and I don’t think it will change as much as some think. I do think it has to do with better upper management and outside of a couple GM’s in the NL, most of the best front offices are in the AL.

  42. 44.  I think to be fair when comparing leagues, you need to group the teams into three groups: 1) the NL, 2) the Yankees and Red Sox, and 3) the rest of the AL. I think if you compare group (3) to group (1), you’ll probably find something more like a slight advantage rather than total dominance. The game isn’t quite fair when one team is playing with two ringers. The balance of power between groups (1) and (3) will probably cycle back and forth over time, but the Red Sox and Yankees will likely persist as a step above.

  43. 45.  Which raises the question, how and why did the Red Sox become a recognized power, anyway? They were an also-ran from much of the 1920s through the early sixties. After that they fielded mostly good teams but rarely great ones. The size of the Boston market (he, he) hasn’t been growing appreciably, that I know of. How did they become second in command, all of a sudden?

  44. 46.  45 The size of the Boston market (he, he) hasn’t been growing appreciably, that I know of.

    Yes, it has. NESN started in 1984 and is now available on cable systems from New Haven, CT to Fort Kent, ME.

  45. 47.  45 : That’s a good question. My guess is that it has much to do with the giant piles of money owners John Henry et al have been throwing around for the last five years. The spending has been focused on attaining two related goals, I think: winning and increasing brand name recognition (which both lead to the ultimate goal, of course: more money). They’ve succeeded. I believe the Red Sox now lead the league in road attendance, something the Yankees have long had a monopoly on. They also rake in a ton of dough from NESN and though I don’t know the actual figures my guess is that they probably rank second to the Yankees in merchandise sold.

    The also-ran years you mention aided in the creation of this Red Sox monster. All those years of losing (especially the ones in which the losing included almost winning) produced a core of generationally-linked, unshakably loyal fans to serve as the sturdy foundation for the overhyped Jimmy-Fallon-fouled tower of babel that has been built on top of our Red Sox-capped heads.

  46. 48.  I’ll also point out that the Red Sox are 80% owners of NESN. Vertical integration is the “secret” for both the Sox and Yankees.

  47. 49.  Scott, the problem with this PLEASE EXPLAIN is your assumption that people “consume” baseball, so therefore a league can be “inferior product.” As Josh Wilker points out in #47, the losing myth actually builds a fanbase for some clubs (I’m looking at you, Cubbie fans). The ’69 Mets wouldn’t have been nearly as Amazin’ if they weren’t lovable losers for nearly a decade first.

    Unlike other entertainment, sucking generally does not turn baseball fans away, unless it’s the aimless suckage of a team like the Pirates post-Bonds. If a band put out terrible albums for years, they’d be done for (leaving room for someone like Dave Matthews who unexplainably has fans). Instead, living through the lean years becomes a badge of honor–one more reason baseball is the best sport. At best it breeds patience, at worst it teaches us to elevate masochism into an art form.

  48. 50.  47 The Red Sox currently have the nomnal lead in road attendance, but that’s really a fabrication. Because YS has approx. 20K more seats than Fenway, the Red Sox are guaranteed to have 180K more road fans than the Yankees. This swing alone more than makes up for the difference.

  49. 51.  I was always aware that this wasn’t a perfect example for Please Explain, but I tried to make it one as much as I could.

    Let’s say you take out the Yankees. For awhile, I think the Dodgers had the second highest salary level (and I think the Mets were up there as well), so I don’t think just the past 5 years should put the Red Sox in a different category.

    I know some of you don’t think there has been a big disparity between the leagues in quality, but I think that is wrong, especially from 88-07.

    The reason that has been given which I agree with most is the quality of GM’s being higher in the AL, especially since they have been ahead of the curve in Moneyball principles.

  50. 52.  I have trouble seeing the AL superiority in the period from 1988-1993, at least if you define superiority as having a larger number of great teams. The A’s were clearly baseball’s best team in 89-90 (in my opinion 1988 was a tossup with the Mets; they were the NL version of the A’s). However, from 89-90 there’s a general lack of memorable teams.

    From 1991-2, those Pirates and Braves teams were as good as anything the AL had, and in 1993 the NL had 4 teams that won 94+ games. Yes, some of that had to do with expansion, but I honestly believe they were at least comparable to the ChiSox and Jays (and there was no one else in the AL that year).

    I’d really point to 1995 as the year the AL started to take off.

  51. 53.  53 The Dodgers and Mets aren’t even close to the Yankees or Red Sox as far as payroll is concerned, and have not been for at least three years. CBS Sportsline lists the following for 2006:

    1. New York Yankees $ 189,639,045
    2. Boston Red Sox $ 143,026,214
    3. New York Mets $ 115,231,663
    4. Los Angeles Angels $ 109,251,333
    5. Chicago White Sox $ 108,671,833
    6. Los Angeles Dodgers $ 108,454,524

    ESPN has the following for 2004:
    N.Y. Yankees $182,835,513
    Boston $125,208,542
    Anaheim $101,084,667
    New York Mets $100,629,303
    Philadelphia $93,219,167
    Chicago Cubs $91,101,667
    Los Angeles $89,694,342

    I think that ignoring the fact that the top two teams in the AL out spend the “top” two teams in the NL by 25% – 75% is a bit disingenous. It’s also a not very useful to talk about the AL without the Yankees. The other GMs don’t build teams while thinking, “Well, I’ve got a team that’s good enough to contend for my division, but I won’t be able to beat the Yankees in the ALDS.” Plus, the wild card puts all teams in direct competion for a playoff spot, thereby increasing the pressure on teams in, say, the AL Central to go pick up the players that will put them in front of the Sox/Yankees.

    Prior to development of this major AL-NL payroll dispairity, the AL just had better GMs and less deadweight on the roster. I only know about the Dodgers, so you’d have to ask a Mets fan to tell you the tales of Steve Phillips Reign of Terror. You’re right, Scott, that the Dodgers had a huge payroll during the late 90’s and early 00’s but a ton of that was in the Darren Dreifort (poor mofo couldn’t stay healthy) and Kevin Brown (highly effective when healthy, but lost most of two seasons). Those were thanks to the Kevin Malone. At one point, Jeff Shaw was being paid $5,000,000 because of the Crown Jewel of Lasagna Boy’s time in charge.

  52. 54.  My argument might be a bit flawed for the 80’s. I didn’t do a lot of research on the concept, just more focused on the 90’s and current times. I went with playoffs teams for the 80’s and only felt the Mets were a great NL team during this period.

    I wrote above that the past 5 years that yes the Red Sox were right behind the Yanks, but before that I’m guessing the Dodgers were 2nd for quite awhile.

    In regards to Steve Phillips, I don’t think Omar Minaya has done much better with his fee agent decisions. Where he really hit the jackpot was that he had a few young players come up from the minors (who he had nothing to do with obtaining) that has set the team in motion.

  53. 55.  Ohhh Scott Scott Scott, Omar did raid the Marlins for Delgado and Lo Duca, did he not? And there was another big free agent starter that he picked up by throwing that New York $$ at, right? Somebody named Martinez? Bump that payroll up another $80 million, or give some other team (Phillies? please?) an extra $100 mil to work with, and surely they’d dominate just as much as the NYY of the last decade have.

  54. 56.  Scott:

    Two questions.

    1. What makes a “best team” for your list? Based on what?

    2. The 2003 Marlins beat the 2003 Yankees in six games. In head-to-head competition, the Marlins proved, without a doubt, that they were the superior team. How and why are the 2003 Yankees your #1 team? Isn’t head-to-head, multi-game competition the best yardstick here?

    Sports are about championships. I don’t care how great I thought the 2003 Cubs were: they shit the bed. Your list is full of bed-shitters. Anything short of a pennant, a league championship, is weak. Ten years from now, no one outside of Atlanta will remember how good their NL runner-up 2002 team was. Shit, I barely remember it now.

  55. 57.  BTW, the 2003 Marlins went 72-42 after starting 19-29. That’s a 102-W pace if sustained for 162 games. Championships are not won on a dropped fly or a lucky stretch. A lot of things have to come together for a long time to make it there..and then win it all, too.

  56. 58.  54 You’re probably right that the Dodgers had the second highest payroll in MLB during the ’90s. That doesn’t show the whole picture though. They had bad drafts, leading to a bad system, which caused the bad FO to make bad trades and bad FA signings. There’s never been a “rebuilding” period where the vets are shipped to restock the farm. Indeed, save the DePo years, LAD front offices have always been buyers in a misguided attempt to compete. The only difference now is that there have been a series of good drafts, and some of the prospects are getting through.

  57. 59.  Scott Scott Scott checking in here. I agree completely with the notion that give many teams the ability to spend liberally like the Yankees (or the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, and Cubs to a smaller point), they would eclipse the achievements of their opponents. I think Minaya has not shown that he could do the kind of work that the top GM’s have done, like Beane, Schuerholz, and Ryan.

    I made my list of best teams on the basis of looking at their regular season achievements as team records, who they played, and what the individual talent level demonstrated. These are more like power rankings. Kind of what I think a well-developed baseball computer game would spit out, if they played each other over a 162 game season.
    The 2003 Yankees were loaded everywhere, but met up with a couple starting pitchers who shut them down in the series. Same thing happened when they lost to the Diamondbacks. Let me offer that I root for the AL, except when the team in the Yankees, so there is no bias towards the Yankees teams, I can guarantee.

    As was mentioned by Ken, other sports have done better at coming up with the most deserving team to win it all. This makes baseball’s post-season more exciting in some ways. I just wanted to come up with a list of who I thought were the 10 best teams over the past 6 seasons. Last season the Cards might have been the 10th best team in all of baseball, but caught fire at the right time and played a team in the Tigers who self-destructed in the World Series.

  58. 60.  “The 2003 Yankees were loaded everywhere, but met up with a couple starting pitchers who shut them down in the series.”

    You mean Brad Penny and Carl Pavano?

    Beckett lost game 3 and won Game 6, but everyone seems to only remember Beckett. Fox/Joe Buck/TV have a way of doing that.

  59. 61.  56 Championships are not the best measure of best team. 1960 is the perfect example of that. If course, there is no reward for being the “best”, only winning championships. Still, when the topic is ranking all time teams, championships are not really that important when the disparity is as great as there was between the Marlins and Yankees in 2003.

  60. 62.  Awesome discussion. I would acknowledge 36 and 49 as the posts that explain it best from my perspective. However, my main point would be this:

    Abolish Interleague Play

    Even though players can move from league to league more readily than in the 70s, even though the style of play is a little more similar between the leagues than it used to be, and even though the umpires are now common, as opposed to two separate pools, it is really only interleague play that allows any direct comparisons between the leagues.

    Quite frankly, the main draw of the World Series is that you never know what is going to happen. You especially don’t know what’s going to happen if there’s no basis of comparison between the fact that the AL team has seemed better than the NL team earlier in the year, since the two leagues are like two different environments — do run totals seem lower in the NL because of superior pitching, or larger ballparks, or…? This was the great part of baseball before IL play, and it has been ruined.

    Think about 1988. The Dodgers took the series 4-1. Fairly convincing, even though everyone thought that the A’s were far better.

    Think about 1996. The Braves won the first two games, and it looked like they had the Yankees goose cooked. Yanks run off 4 in a row… anyone see that coming? I sure didn’t.

    Basically, I want to render the question moot as to which league is superior by returning the game to the way it was when you couldn’t compare the leagues as easily as you can today. Keep the Wild Card, for all I care. Just get rid of the abomination of Interleague play!

  61. 63.  57 “Championships are not won on a dropped fly or a lucky stretch”…but they are lost on blown calls, see Denkinger, Don.

    I am not a Cardinal fan.

    In the era of eight team post-seasons we are essentially playing the season to see who has the right to have the week of their lives at the right time.

    It just doesn’t have that much to do with who is best…the best team is the one with the best record after 162 games. Anyone with reasoning power would grant that 162 games is a truer measure of ability than is 11. If not, based on the last three games, Jayson Werth is the greatest hitter ever, 10 for 13.

  62. 64.  61 With a name like williamnyy23, I guess you’re not biased, huh? “Championships are not really that important when the disparity is as great as there was between the Marlins and Yankees in 2003.” I don’t get why the 2003 Yanks were all that great. They were fairly pedestrian. The won 101 games. They had the 3rd lowest ERA in the AL, 5th best BA, 4th SLG, 5th SB. Above average all, but leader in none. There is no “disparity.” The Marlins completely kicked their asses. Not even close, really.

    63 “eight team post-seasons.” Even so, it’s the most selective of the three major sports: 8/30, vs. 12/32 in NFL and 16/30 in NBA.

  63. 65.  64 Just because the NBA and NFL are even more of a crapshoot doesn’t mean that the MLB champion isn’t just the best team over three weeks, not necessarily the best team of the year.

    If the 2007 playoffs had been played in April, we might have crowned the Brewers as the champs—does anyone think that they are the best team in baseball, really??

  64. 66.  56 – I hate the Yankees as much as anybody, but to contend that, because the Marlins won four games out of six over the course of a week and a half conclusively proves anything about the actual relative qualities of the teams is patent nonsense. It takes a lot more than six games to tell anything about who is the better team — it takes more than seven games, or ten, or fifteen. Examples of this abound. In 1999, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the season series. By your test, the better team. Then in the playoffs, they got burned in five games by those very same Yankees. How can this have happened? Because not even twenty games are enough to prove conclusively the better team, and even if they were, tacking on seven more isn’t any guarantee that the better team will win the majority of those games.

    Some days, a guy walks six guys, strikes out three, gets the bounces and throws seven shutout innings. Sometimes a guy hits two four-hundred foot shots just wide of the foul pole and goes 0-for-5 on the day. Sometimes entire offenses — good offenses, even great ones — quit for a day. Sometimes they quit for several days in a row. Did you know that the 1998 New York Yankees, probably the greatest team of the last 30 years, scored just one run on consecutive nights during the playoffs — against the likes of Charles Nagy (ERA of 5.22 that year) and Paul Assenmacher? That the 2001 Seattle Mariners, one of most fearsome offenses of the 21st Century, were bounced by the Yankees in just five games because they could cobble together more than three runs just once in that year’s ALCS? Do you suppose that is truly indicative of the talent level of a team that scored 927 runs in a severe pitcher’s park while playing in the toughest division in baseball? Clearly not.

    Though the playoffs are not strictly a crapshoot perhaps, the best team does not always win — not even close. This is so obvious as to be axiomatic. We’re not talking about Derek Jeter’s defense here; we’re talking clear, visible-to-the-naked-eye, confirmable-with-evidence facts. History is littered with short-series victories by inferior teams: Not just the 1988 Dodgers (twice), or the 2006 Cardinals (three times running), but the 1960 Pirates, the 2000 New York Yankees three times in a row, the 1987 Minnesota Twins twice, the 1954 Giants . . . since the implication of the multi-round playoff system, they’re in fact commonplace. To assert that a list of the best teams of the last five or six years would consist entirely (or even mostly) of World Series winners is to engage in a pleasant but total fiction.

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