Disorder in the Court

In a midseason judicial donnybrook, two of SI's leading baseball advocates slug it out before the bar over which league is better
July 14, 1991

CLERK: THE SENIOR AND JUNIOR CIRCUIT Court is now in session, Judge Landis presiding. The National League has brought suit against the American League for obstruction of the game, for failure to comply with the laws of baseball and for general malfeasance. Joining in the suit is Francis T. Vincent Jr., commissioner of baseball. Attorney for the plaintiff, the National League, is Steve Rushin; representing the defendant, the American League, is Steve Wulf.

LANDIS: Will both parties please approach the bench? I am holding these proceedings during the All-Star break so as not to disrupt your busy summer schedules, and while I realize there are deep divisions between the sides....

RUSHIN: Pardon me, your honor. The American League East is anything but a deep division.

LANDIS: Mr. Rushin, any more remarks like that, and I'll hold you in contempt.

WULF: I believe we of the American League are the ones being held in contempt, your honor.

LANDIS: Gentlemen! As I was about to say, I know there is a long history of animosity between the two parties, but I will not tolerate any name-calling or shenanigans in this courtroom. Is that clear? Good. Mr. Rushin, you may proceed with your opening argument.

RUSHIN: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is your duty today to uphold Justice. And Sandberg. And Bonilla and Gooden and Hershiser. It is your duty, in short, to uphold the entire National League. Hold it up next to the American League. I am confident you will conclude what is right: That all things considered, the swift winged foot of the National League kicks the American League's ample butt.

The American League stands accused of playing bad baseball. Frankly, it's a wonder the league can stand at all, given the cumulative weight of its players, who are generally big and fat and stationary. "Lumbersome" is the word Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Miller, a former American League manager, chose to describe players in that league.

I intend to prove that the National League plays harder, plays faster and plays the game the way it was meant to be played. I will demonstrate that the designated hitter is an idea whose time has gone. Bye-bye, Balboni. I will elicit expert testimony to the fact that the most difficult thing that American League managers have to do is maintain straight faces while addressing each other as "Sparky" and "Stump."

Finally, I will give details, graphic but necessary, of the American League's most heinous crime—its predilection for endless, torturous, narcolepsy-inducing games. Games that feature full counts on every batter. Four and a half hour games uninterrupted by rain. Games whose high dramatic points too frequently come when Scooter Rizzuto reads that "expressed written consent" disclaimer with two outs in the ninth. This, ladies and gentlemen, is American League baseball.

LANDIS: You may proceed with your opening argument, Mr. Wulf.

WULF: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my adversary would have you believe that my client, the American League, plays baseball that is boring, slow, witless.

RUSHIN (sotto voce): That league does have Mike Witt, Bobby Witt....

WULF: Your honor, my adversary is attempting to disrupt my delivery.

RUSHIN: That's an American League specialty.

LANDIS: That'll be all, Mr. Rushin.

WULF: AS I was saying, the American League is accused of playing inferior baseball. The league of Williams, Mickey, the Babe...

RUSHIN (sotto voce): No-Neck, Klutts, Margot Adams.

WULF: ...must stand here before you and listen to these scurrilous attacks. Let me point out that the baseball commissioner himself has lined up on the side of the National League. He doesn't like long games. He doesn't like the designated hitter, and he is working to see that the DH is eliminated.

Well, I have news for the commissioner and his chorus of purists: Some people think the DH was an ingenious refinement of the rules that generates more offense, just as the moving of the mound back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches did 98 years ago. As for the length of American League games, I see nothing wrong in providing the fans with more bang for the buck. If you love baseball, as I think you all do, you should be grateful for the added pleasure.

Doubtless you will hear about the National League's exemplary record in All-Star competition. Granted the National League is better at midsummer exhibition games in which no pitcher goes more than three innings and most hitters get just one at bat. But it might interest you to know that in interleague games that really count, in the World Series, American League teams have 276 victories to 230 for National League teams.

Quite frankly, my client is tired of the accusations. That is why the American League welcomes this trial and the opportunity to clear its name. We will set out to prove through evidence and testimony that the American League is not inferior. In fact, we hope to show that the American League is actually the superior league! Its ballparks are better. Its players are better. Best of all, because of the designated hitter, fans at American League games don't have to watch pitchers intentionally walk Punch-and-Judy number eight hitters like Spike Owen.

LANDIS: The plaintiff may proceed with its case.

RUSHIN: Your honor, I'd like to introduce the following exhibits into evidence: box scores from the four hour and 11 minute game between the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox on May 15, and from the one hour and 45 minute game between the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 3. And last, and certainly least, I submit the Chief Wahoo on-deck circle from Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, emblematic of baseball's worst franchise and an insult not only to the national pastime but also to our Native American brethren.

WULF: Your honor, my client wishes to disavow any connection to the franchise in Cleveland.

RUSHIN: NOW, your honor, I'd like to call my first witness, infielder Wally Backman of the Philadelphia Phillies, who spent one miserable season with the Minnesota Twins.

CLERK: Raise your right hand and place your southpaw on The Baseball Encyclopedia. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

(Backman nods.)

RUSHIN: Mr. Backman, how would you characterize the American League vis-à-vis the National League?

BACKMAN: It just seemed to me that the game was a little bit friendlier in the American League. In the year that I spent there, there wasn't anybody who came into second base to take you out on the double play. I mean, there was nobody.

RUSHIN: Was it your experience that American League games were longer?

BACKMAN: Hell, every game over there is 3½ hours. I don't know why every game has to be so damn long, but they are.

RUSHIN: Could it be because American League pitchers are such nibblers that they refuse to throw fastballs even when they're behind in the count? Could it be because it takes so long for the Detroit Tigers to waddle to the plate? Could it be because Carlton Fisk turns every conference on the mound into Yalta?

Thank you, Mr. Backman. You may spit now. Your witness.

WULF: Mr. Backman, you imply that American Leaguers don't play as hard as National Leaguers. Sir, can you tell me, which league does Kirk Gibson play in? No need to answer, Mr. Backman. It's the American League. No further questions.

RUSHIN: The National League calls Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mitch Webster, a former American Leaguer....

Mr. Webster, would you define for the court the difference between the National League and the American League?

WEBSTER: The difference is like the difference between exciting and boring.

RUSHIN: Thank you. That will be all. Mr. Wulf?

WULF: Your honor, I ask that the court disallow this man's testimony. Mr. Webster was batting .125 when he was traded from the American League earlier this year, which not only speaks to his state of mind, but also to his inability to hit that good American League pitching.

RUSHIN: Your honor, the man was playing for Cleveland.

LANDIS: Point well taken. I'll allow his testimony to stand.

RUSHIN: Thank you. We now call San Diego Padres pitcher Larry Andersen to the stand....

Mr. Andersen, you once pitched in the American League. What's the difference between the leagues?

ANDERSEN: There's a lot more strategy involved in National League games. This is not a slam on American League managers. I'm not saying they couldn't manage in the National League, but....

RUSHIN: YOU sound puzzled, Mr. Andersen. What is it?

ANDERSEN: Why do they have a Manager of the Year award in the American League? Really, with the DH rule making it so you don't have to worry about pinch-hitting for the pitcher, how tough can managing be? All you have to do is make out a lineup and put nine bashers in there and let 'em go. I think they ought to have a Pitching Coach of the Year award in the American League because all you have to do is be able to manage your pitching stall. And if you can't do that, hopefully you'll have enough bombers in the lineup to overcome not being able to do that.

RUSHIN: AS its final witness, the National League now calls on the commissioner of baseball, Francis T. Vincent Jr....

Mr. Vincent, tell the court what comes to your mind when you're watching, say, the White Sox and the Red Sox play a four hour and 11 minute, nine-inning game?

VINCENT: My concern is that we're seeing a deterioration in the process of moving a game from the first inning to the ninth inning.

RUSHIN: Thank you, Mr. Commissioner. No disrespect intended, but that sentence was much like an American League game: too obtuse and too long. By the time we reached the end, we had lost all interest. But we know what you mean. If the defense has no further questions, then the plaintiff rests its case.

LANDIS: Are you ready to proceed with your defense, Mr. Wulf?

WULF: I am, your honor. Before I call my first witness, I would like to introduce the following items into evidence. This is a videotape of the 19 intentional walks issued last year to Pirate second baseman Jose Lind, issued not because he's a particularly feared hitter—he had only one home run—but because he bats eighth in the order, in front of the pitcher. This is a piece of the original AstroTurf laid down in the Astrodome in 1966, the bad seeds of which have spread to five other parks in the National League and done much more harm to the game than the designated hitter. And this is a typical National League scorecard, filled with double switches and other hieroglyphs. If you can decipher it, you're a better man than I.

For my first witness, I wish to call Mr. Todd Benzinger....

Mr. Benzinger, having played first base for the Red Sox of the American League for two years before you were traded to the Cincinnati Reds of the National League, what is it that you like about the American League?

BENZINGER: I enjoy going to the ball-parks in the American League. I'd rather go to Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium than to the newer National League parks. What's the deference between Three Rivers Stadium and Veterans Stadium and Busch Stadium and Riverfront Stadium? Nothing, except for the colors of the seats.

WULF: So you think the American League has a greater sense of tradition?

BENZINGER: I like the way the American League is going back to the old style of baseball, maybe not in the style of play, but in the atmosphere it's trying to create. The new Comiskey Park is kind of a retro ballpark. And the new one in Baltimore is going to be awesome. It's supposed to be an old-time ballpark, and I like that.

WULF: What about the National League?

BENZINGER: There were a lot of things that happened in the late 1960s and early '70s—the ballparks, for example—that baseball is still trying to overcome. Look at the music back then, disco and Billy, Don't Be a Hero. The uniforms the Reds wear now went out with those songs.

WULF: Thank you. Your witness, Mr. Rushin.

RUSHIN: Mr. Benzinger, I remind you that the American League's game, not its ballparks, is at question here. Do that league's awesome, retro parks contribute to a higher quality of play? Isn't, in fact, the opposite true?

BENZINGER: The way the parks are in the National League—the way teams are built for speed to take advantage of those big parks that have AstroTurf—position players are a lot more multifaceted over here. If you had a relay race between the guys in the National League and the American League, we'd be done before the American League was halfway through its players.

RUSHIN: SO much for the players. Are National League managers also more multifaceted than their counterparts in the other league?

BENZINGER: Right now in the American League a manager can go through a game and not make any changes. John McNamara did that many times when I was in Boston. He wouldn't make one decision. He'd just sit and watch the game.

RUSHIN: Mr. McNamara, I might add, was recently fired by the Indians and replaced by Mike (the Human Rain Delay) Hargrove. Now, that's a step forward for the American League. One final question: Did you find a difference in the length of games in the two leagues?

BENZINGER: There were a lot of long games in Boston. We called them Boston Marathons.

LANDIS: YOU may step down.

WULF: The defense would now like to call Joe Nossek to the stand....

Mr. Nossek, as a man who is a coach with the Chicago White Sox and has played and scouted in both leagues, I have a few questions about the differences in the leagues. There are obviously more stolen bases in the National League. Do you think that's because the players there are faster?

NOSSEK: There are fast players in our league, too. I think the big difference is that teams in the American League do more to stop the running game. They pitch out, they hold the runners on. Look at the two toughest teams in the National League to steal on: Pittsburgh and San Francisco. That's because their managers, Jim Leyland and Roger Craig, came over from the American League, where they learned to pitch out more.

WULF: SO you're saying American League managers are more into the game than National League managers?

NOSSEK: I wouldn't say that. But this notion that National League players are faster because they steal more bases is false. They steal more because they play more on artificial turf, which dictates a running game, and because the other teams allow them to steal.

WULF: Some people say American League managers don't have to do anything but fill out a lineup card.

NOSSEK: I know that's not true. Our manager, Jeff Torborg, is constantly in the game, making adjustments, pitching out, using the bullpen and the bench. And there may not be a smarter manager in baseball than Tony La Russa of the Oakland A's.

WULF: One last thing, Mr. Nossek. Do you like to watch pitchers hit?

NOSSEK: Not particularly.

WULF: Thank you. Your witness.

RUSHIN: Mr. Nossek, you were a coach with the Cleveland Indians, were you not? Thank you. No further questions, your honor.

WULF: We now wish to call Hal McRae....

As someone who's the manager of the Kansas City Royals, who spent the early part of this year and all of last season as the hitting coach of the Montreal Expos and who has also played in both leagues, Mr. McRae, you are aware that much of the criticism of the American League centers around the designated hitter. What do you think about the DH?

MCRAE: I was a DH, and you don't want to bite the hand that fed you. But even if I was just a fan, I would like to see the DH. The game is more interesting. I don't think anyone enjoys seeing a pitcher batting. I don't think the majority of pitchers enjoy batting. Look at our club. If we don't have the DH, then George Brett, who has a knee injury, doesn't play. What would it do to our franchise if George Brett didn't play?

WULF: Do you think the players are better in the National League?

MCRAE: The last time I thought about it, I thought there were more young stars in the American League, more young power hitters.

WULF: Thank you, Mr. McRae. Your witness.

RUSHIN: I have no questions.

WULF: In that case, we would like to call our final witness, Mr. Steve Rushin.

RUSHIN: Objection!

WULF: Your honor, we only have one question for Mr. Rushin, and it goes to the heart of our case.

LANDIS: Very well. Please take the stand, Mr. Rushin....

WULF: Just off the top of your head, Mr. Rushin, please name the National Leaguers who you think are well on their way to the Hall of Fame.

RUSHIN: Let's see. Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Dwight Gooden, Dale Murphy, Ozzie Smith, Tony Gwynn.

WULF: An impressive list. Almost as impressive as this one: Cal Ripken Jr., Kirby Puckett, Carlton Fisk, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Winfield, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, Rickey Henderson and Don Mattingly. Those are all American Leaguers, by the way. The defense rests, your honor.

LANDIS: Very well. You may proceed with your closing arguments. Mr. Rushin?

RUSHIN: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you need ask yourselves but one simple question as you deliberate today: Do I want my children watching American League baseball? The American League hit into some 600—600!—more double plays than the National League last season, while the National League stole roughly 250 more bases even though there are two more teams in the Junior Circuit.

Consider that while you deliberate. It says that American League players are immobile homes. Sam Horn, Pete Incaviglia, Cecil Fielder, Mark McGwire—these men couldn't outrace their own bunts down the first base line. Of course, these men couldn't bunt to save their own expansive hides, either. Not that their managers would ever conceive of something as creative as, say, the sacrifice.

You have heard Larry Andersen testify that American League lineups feature "nine bashers." That ninth basher is known as the designated hitter, ladies and gentlemen. The White Sox's ninth basher is named Cory Snyder, and the last time I looked he was batting .190. In the meantime, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a pitcher, Orel Hershiser, who is hitting .417. Even American League players are opposed to the DH—I have a knee-high stack of affidavits in my office attesting to this fact—and the commissioner of baseball is trying to rid the game of this nonposition, as well.

My adversary has made ridiculous, obfuscatory charges in this room. I wouldn't be surprised to hear him next accuse Judge Landis of corking his gavel. He has told you that artificial turf has been more damaging to the game than the DH. I remind you that both leagues have artificial turf. In fact, the American League has only two fewer turf parks than the National. And speaking of ballparks and my worthy adversary's contention that American League parks are the repositories of tradition, I submit that you can't sit in the bleachers at Wrigley Field and watch an American League game, can you? My adversary would have you believe that Kirk Gibson plays in the AL. In fact, he plays in neither the AL nor NL but is a lifetime member of the DL. You have heard today that the American League's longer games are somehow more entertaining—much as Roseanne Barr is more woman than Julia Roberts. And my adversary has alleged, somewhat pathetically, that the American League has more stars. I ask you: Which league won the All-Star Game 11 consecutive times from 1972 to '82? The National League. I beg you to do what is right. Get this hulking monster off our streets.

WULF: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard ample testimony deriding the American League. The league of Rickey Henderson is too slow. Managers like Tony La Russa are dullards. The American League players are friendlier, as if sportsmanship is a dirty word. The games are soooooo long. I submit to you that this notion that American League games are interminably long is a myth created by sportswriters worried over a few extra minutes at deadline time. I checked with STATS Inc., and the people there confirmed what I had suspected: This year American League games have been, on the average, only six minutes longer than National League games. Big deal.

And if American League games are longer, it's not because of pitch counts or sluggers sashaying to the plate. It's because my client has an extra batter in the lineup and there's more offense in my client's games. Would you rather watch an .077-hitting pitcher like Jim Deshaies take his cuts or someone like Paul Molitor or Harold Baines? As the videotape of the Jose Lind intentional walks shows, a National League batting order effectively has two holes. In the American League, the opposing pitcher gets no such rest period, and, consequently, the potential for a come-from-behind rally is greater.

You also heard Mr. Benzinger talk about the better ballparks in the American League. I submit to you that eight of the 10 most attractive ballparks in baseball—Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Comiskey Park, the SkyDome, Anaheim Stadium, Royals Stadium, Memorial Stadium and Tiger Stadium—are in the American League. Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are the National's representatives. There is more artificial turf in the National League; there is more tradition in the American League, despite its junior status.

If you like the Drake Relays, then the Senior Circuit is for you. If your idea of a ballplayer is Casey Candaele, fine, he's the quintessential National Leaguer: a pesky, versatile guy who's perfect for those all-important, oh-so-memorable double switches in which one of those oh-so-astute National League managers goes through the oh-so-mind-taxing task of simultaneously yanking his starting pitcher and second baseman and replacing them with a reliever and the substitute second baseman. All this done just so the reliever won't have to be pinch-hit for anytime soon. And I suppose Cecil Fielder, the quintessential American Leaguer, couldn't make a National League team because he's so slow. Hah!

In a few minutes, you will leave this courtroom to confer among yourselves and decide whether the American League is guilty of inferior baseball. Before you reach a verdict, I want you to consider this: The National League will have to sweep the next 11 World Series to even draw close to its younger brother.

RUSHIN (sotto voce): Keep sending the A's and we will.

FIVE ILLUSTRATIONSROBERT KOPECKY

EXHIBIT "A"

RUSHIN
"The American League's most heinous crime is 4½-hour games."

WULF
"If you love baseball, you should be grateful for the added pleasure."

EXHIBIT "B"

RUSHIN
"The National League stole 250 more bases than the Junior Circuit last year."

WULF
"If you like the Drake Relays, then the Senior Circuit is the league for you."

EXHIBIT "C"

WULF
"Would you rather watch a pitcher who bats .077 or Harold Baines?"

RUSHIN
"Thanks to the DH, the typical American League player is an immobile home."

EXHIBIT "D"

WULF
"Artificial turf, a National League creation, is a greater crime than the DH."

RUSHIN
"You can't sit in Wrigley and watch an American League game, can you?"

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)