How Did the National League Get So Exciting?

by Kolby Solinsky
Editor, White Cover Magazine

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The words “National” and “American” — perhaps surprisingly — are psychologically and fundamentally opposed. Not in an academic way, mind you, but a historic one. Whenever some Communist or recently-ruled-by-and-Authoritarian-who-disobeys-the-Western-World country nationalizes its stuff, it flies in the face of America, and American values.

Cuba kicks out Texaco and McDonald’s, but later regrets losing the Big Mac. Panama nationalizes its industrial fort and continues to sell drugs to American living along the border. Iran takes its oil back from Britain, France, and the United States, and a future Canadian prime minister solves the problem.

It’s why the National and American League(s) have their differences, as well.

The American League is fun. It’s the home of wild, wacky uniforms and thrilling out-of-nowhere Cinderella stories. It’s the league of the 2002 Anaheim Angels and the every-five-years Oakland Athletics. It’s the site of countless Yankees-Red Sox violent scrums and wars, and it’s where Joe Carter and Kirby Puckett are World Series heroes. Nope, legends.

The National League, by contrast, is boring. It’s the home of pitching. So much pitching, in fact, that those guys also get a shot at batting. Every. Inning.

It’s where the Managers play, not the players. It’s the home of Tony La Russa (with St. Louis) and a winning Jim Leyland (with Florida) and Dusty Baker. Even their thrilling historic moments – the Braves slide to kill the Pirates in 1992, or the Steve Bartman play, or the Luis Gonzalez RBI – seemed to come along as one-offs and tongue-in-cheek postcard pixellations.

Everything put you to sleep. The odd flash of brilliance was like a shooting star. It woke you up for a couple minutes, but then you fell back into a deep slumber.

Gonazlez’s RBI, after all, wasn’t exciting because it won the World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was exciting because it came against Mariano Rivera.

The brave Braves slide was snuffed out in the next round by the eventual two-time World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays. The Bartman play resulted in failure and fan torture, not anything of substance.

The Cubs are loveable losers. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Red Sox handled their sh*t.

And, you can’t imagine a more boring champion than the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

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Suddenly, though, the game seems to have changed. For whatever reason – and, once the A’s and Orioles were dismissed – the National League is far more thrilling, far more visceral, and far more addicting than the American one.

The Tigers are hardly popcorn material, and the aging Yankees are a dead-end story. The Red Sox have been cast out of town. The Blue Jays haven’t gotten it up in 20 years. The Athletics can’t even win an Oscar. The Rangers are dead meat. The Mariners are about to become the only Major League team to never play in a World Series.

(*Once the Nationals make it, that is.)

Now, the Cardinals are the team that came back down 6-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS. The Giants are the first team to ever win a National League best-of-five series after losing the first two at home.

Last year, the Cardinals returned two powerful Texas serves for match point, and then won the whole thing in the ensuing set.

The National League has the young managers. The National League has the unheralded but deserving sluggers, like Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Buster Posey, and even Troy Tulowitzki.

Carlos Beltran goes forgotten, until he blasts another and another and yet another dingy into the bleachers.

(*Yes, I know, he was originally a product of the AL’s Kansas City Royals. Won a Rookie of the Year there, too, in fact.)

Somehow, some way, the National League has become the American League, and you can’t tell me you’re not picturing a Cardinal or a Golden Gate Bridge as a triumphant background for FOX’s upcoming end-of-the-year montage, like the one at the top of this article.