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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Ban the American League

Is it only the presence of the designated hitter that makes games in American League parks so intrinsically boring? Is it the knowledge that the Mets are just passing through? That these games couldn't possibly count even though, after 13 seasons of this, they obviously do?

The Mets are 4-3 in A.L. parks in 2009, though it would be more gentlemanly to describe them as 4-2-1 vis-à-vis Friday night, and we'll surely take a winning road record wherever it's compiled, but boy are these games a contest of endurance when it comes to paying attention. That includes the sublime (when Omir hit the replay home run off Papelbon) to the ridiculous (the aforementioned gum on our shoe from Friday) to the inane, which was Tuesday at beautiful Camden Yards.

OP@CY is my favorite park still in operation and second only to old Comiskey Park all-time. Regular access to Oriole home games was one of the reasons I used to revel in MLB Extra Innings. But you put the Mets there and…yawn. Better to yawn in victory than defeat — by their defensive unpredictability, I glean that O's is obviously derived from castill-O — but still. I've watched the Mets hit every town in Ban Johnson's wildcat circuit since 1997 and I am almost never captivated. I went to Baltimore the first two years of Interleague play and saw them play the Birds three times and, as theoretically awesome as it was to see my favorite team play in my favorite park, the sensation was somehow less than scintillating. And that was when we had guys who could hit home runs out of a bandbox.

I haven't been a kneejerk Interleague basher, at least not in terms of relying on the common complaints you hear this time of year. I get why it exi$t$. I don't automatically dismiss the non-glamour matchups, a.k.a. any that don't involve the Yankees or Red Sox. I'm not going to roll my eyes at some putrid pairing of perennial basement dwellers because you never know when a series between two such teams won't look so bad (Rays vs. Rockies three seasons ago would have been the skunk at the garden party, but now they're the last two Cinderella stories facing off and they've both been sizzling). I've never subscribed to the notion that it's not fair we have to play six games against a well-funded neighbor while whoever we're fighting for a postseason birth inevitably gets a half-dozen shots at the Dregsville Dimwits or Kansas City Royals. We live in New York — we should play the other team from here if we're going to do this at all, and I like the home and home for it gives each fan base a chance to howl at the moon.

But these games, when in the A.L. yard, inevitably trend several degrees south of interesting, no matter the novelty or the occasional throwback appeal of a Fall Classic rematch like that which is in progress. Part of it is the hit & run nature of it all, the unfamiliarity of the opponent, the strangers passing in the night. But mostly, when we're the road team, it's the frigging DH. The frigging DH has been in the A.L. rulebook for 37 seasons now and I still see it as a cheap, transitory gimmick. For 150-some games every year I don't worry about it. For however many times we visit the places where it's allowed to roam free, I hate it. I despise it. I detest it. Somebody hand me a Thesaurus so I can find other things to do to it.

Gary Sheffield just hit a couple of homers at Yankee Stadium III as the DH. If it weren't for naked self-interest, I'd figuratively throw them back. I don't want the Mets to have a DH. I don't want anybody to have a DH. It may save Sheff some wear on his knees, just as it may have kept Piazza's bat in the lineup once upon a time, just as it gave Beltran a break in Boston…but it's wrong. It's not baseball. It's phony. It's a fraud. It's a sham. (Thesaurus, please…) It's a tenth man who doesn't do anything most of the time. Where I'm from, we call that someone who's not playing.

I'm not saying a darn thing you haven't heard before or perhaps thought yourself. That it's been repeated incessantly doesn't mean it's not worth restating when it's in our face. There is no defense for the DH, and I don't mean in the Delgado Shift sense. I don't care if it let Hank Aaron hit 22 extra homers or that it gave Edgar Martinez a Hall of Fame career or made David Ortiz lovable and beneficial to the Greater Good. It's artificial. The National League doesn't play on artificial turf and it doesn't use artificial players — artificially enhanced on occasion, but it's nine men and pinch-hitters and managers making decisions and complete games being actual complete games. It's baseball! Our National Pastime! What they've got in the American League is a longer, noisier, watered down imitation.

But as long as we're indulging them, good to do it more or less the way we did it Tuesday night. Nobody played ball like David Wright, who is presently batting .365, or a point a day to keep the doubters away. It's a bit of a weird .365, with more strikeouts than you usually see and, to date, a paucity of power (which makes him fit in perfectly among the popgun Mets), but it's freaking .365 which, if you're from Long Island, you understand as freaking awesome.

And the .365 was only the second-most impressive thing about David as we went about humoring the American League with our guest appearance Tuesday. Did you see him read the riot act to Mike Pelfrey on the mound during the righty's now-regular middle innings cry for help? That was just the warmup act. Pelf was out of the game already when David commenced to lecture him about the facts of life on the bench in the bottom of the sixth. He went on for several minutes and appeared to rise several decibels as he proceeded. In that episode, David Wright was a stand-in for every single one of us — fans, bloggers, what have you — who has wanted to grab a Met by the scruff of the neck and shake him for not maximizing his potential. That was toughlove David was dealing (seemed to be giving a bit of it to Brian Schneider as well) and it's what I've been dying to see any Met give to another Met these past three seasons. Maybe it happens out of camera view regularly. I'm guessing no. Later Pelf seemed pretty pleased to have been singled out for the older man's attention. David said something about lending guidance to the younger players.

David Wright is 26; Mike Pelfrey is 25. Way to take care of those kids, Dave.

In other positive news, Sean Green and Pedro Feliciano continue their stellar setup work even as Bobby Parnell slumps. Together they retired six consecutive Orioles and haven't been the cause of any discomfort lately. They have worked so well in tandem that I have come to consider them Sedro Greciano. They could be Pean Feen, but I like the first formulation better.

You know what makes a game in an American League park really interesting? Being distracted for the first several innings of it by METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball, which is arriving in Manhattan, Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet your favorite Skyhorse Mets authors — Stanley Cohen (A Magic Summer), Jon Springer (Mets By The Numbers) and yours truly (Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets) and dig on pizza, beer and shared hatred for the designated hitter rule while we relive the 1969 World Series and wallow in other great Mets moments. Details and directions here.

How's that? You still haven't secured YOUR copy of FAFIF: AIPHOTNYM? Or a copy for a loved one? Don't despair, just get to a Metropolitan Area bookstore or let your fingers do the clicking at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. We wouldn't want your dad and/or grad to go without a copy. Or you! Also, it makes everybody better informed for when they join the discussion at Facebook.

16 comments to Ban the American League

  • Anonymous

    I don't know, Greg…
    Earl Weaver, Tony LaRussa, Whitey Herzog & Billy Martin each earned their “genius tactician” tags while laboring under the DH.

  • Anonymous

    Earl Weaver's genius predated the DH, Tony LaRussa was consistently out managed by Bobby V, Whitey Herzog was more Rat than genius, and Billy Martin was mainly an abusive drunk.
    The DH is such an abomination to the game, it's fitting that a Yankee was the first DH…

  • Anonymous

    I'm reminded of a Howard Stern rant from the mid-'80s about how critics were declaring Prince and Bruce Springsteen geniuses. “You know who's a genius?” Howard asked. “The guy who invented the VCR. That's a genius!”

  • Anonymous

    The DH gimick was adopted by the American League in the hope of stirring more fan interest (aka attendance) by creating more offense. ala the national league So why doesn't the junior circuit now get rid of it since fans prefer more strategy ala the senior circuit?.
    Because the player's union would never go for it (even so, when did either the player's union or ownership ever do something out or pure love for the game?).

  • Anonymous

    During one of the CBA negotiations, it was reported the owners offered to expand rosters to 26 — creating, in essence, 30 new jobs — in exchange for phasing out the DH. The players rejected it since the 26th man would likely be a minimum salary player (like those minimums are so bad) and the DH offed would be highly compensated.
    I'm sure the owners weren't looking out for the good of the game (they never have), but it would have been good for the game. Same Players Association that hocks on players who want to take less money to play where they want to play instead of going for the biggest contract possible isn't interested in a better game. They're interested in higher ceilings for one-dimensional veterans. And games in American League parks remain generally unwatchable.

  • Anonymous

    Today my UPS driver, a MFY fan, complained about his team having to forego the DH for the next couple of weeks. I chided him about how his team would have to play real baseball for a while.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    As always, you're right on target! If anything, more players are getting less playing time because of the unnecessity of the bench. In turn, more players make less than they could because the one player who is DHing causes the rest of them to remain sitting on the bench.
    Player's Union? It should be called the Union of Elite Players and Steroid Users, since those are the type of players who seem to control it. Of course, the fringe player can always count on them coming to their rescue when they might be suspended for a game.

  • Anonymous

    Ban the American League? For what? Being better than the National League? Winning every All-Star Game every time (well, every time there's been a conclusion) since 1997? Admitting that pitchers can't hit and no one wants to see rallies killed by toothpick-wielding scrubs?
    Besides, Greg, if you hate the DH that much, then I guess you'll want to give back Games 3 and 4 of the 1986 World Series, which your team won while using the DH. (In fact, his initials were DH.) So instead of the Curse of Kevin Mitchell, can we say your team hasn't really won since 1969 and recognize the Curse of Joe Foy?
    One of these years, probably after Bud Selig meets Walter O'Malley again, a Commissioner who actually respects the game will admit that a team has 25 players, not 9 (or do you really want Jose Reyes pitching and Johan Santana playing shortstop?), and the DH will be in the NL like it should have been from 1973 onward.
    Let's not forget, for years, fans of NL “real baseball” had half the league's teams playing home games on plastic grass. Hypocrisy is unbecoming.
    No one's saying you have to like the American League, or even admit that it's superior. But to ban it? I think you're just jealous. Add it up: Pennants won by New York's NL teams, any and all of them, 34 (and that's including Brooklyn in the 1880s American Association); Pennants won by New York's AL teams, 39.
    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to prepare to watch the Yankees beat the Washington Nationals. Should be easy, right? Well, we're not the Mets, and this is not September.

  • Anonymous

    The headline was supposed to read “Ban the American League ballparks as venues for regular-season contests in which the Mets are scheduled, for the junior circuit's rules tend to make for soporific affairs,” but I fell asleep thinking about the languid pace of those games and my head hit “post” before I finished typing.
    Besides, without a Ban, there'd be no American League.

  • Anonymous

    Uncle Mike,
    It's simple – in baseball, players are meant to play both sides of the ball. As stated above, the DH was a gimmick meant to boost offense, in order to attract fans who otherwise found the game too boring. This mentality is also why MLB turned a blind eye to PED's. The Sosa-McGwire home run chase was bringing people out in record numbers – people awed only by brute force, too thick to find appeal in baseball strategy and subtlety. So shouldn't you be elsewhere, throwing poo at a wall?
    I don't really understand your reference to the DH in the '86 Series. Met DH's were 2-12, for a .167 average, not a whole lot more than you might expect from a pitcher. So implying that the Mets might have won due only to the extra offense provided by the DH is ridiculous.
    And for being so smug, you might want to note that your Yankees just lost to the Nationals. Ha, you'd think they were playing Boston.

  • Anonymous

    I do believe Uncle Mike is the first “troll” I've ever seen on FAFIF.
    Well, the first one who has identified himself, anyway…

  • Anonymous

    The argument by supporters of the DH is why give the pitcher an advantage by facing only eight hitters and having a rally short-circuited by the ninth spot. Needless to say, that hole in the lineup plays right into the strategic beauty of the game. Football is too over-rated as being a strategic sport since deceptive strategy is less skill and more a manuever of brute strength against brute strength on rush plays to create holes for the running back (why else would there only be a certain amount of what are called “skill positions” ? But that is another story.
    My solution has always been a compromise. Have one designated hitter for each pitcher. When a pitcher is taken out, so is the original designated hitter and vice-versa. Every pitching change means removing the current designated hitter. The advantages are numerous. It keeps nine hitters in the lineup BUT retains having to tie together the pitcher and batter strategicaly because it:
    – forces managers to leave pitchers in tight situations if he doesn't want to lose the bat of the pitcher's specified DH coming up the next half inning (i.e., like in the national league a pitcher is not relieved because his spot in the batting order is due to hit and it means using up an arm to get only one out ).
    – forces good hitters like Matsui or Ortiz to become complete players and be liable for their defensive inefficencies.
    – forces managers to probably place the DH in the lower part of the batting order since pitchers are probably apt to change.
    – enables managers to pinch-hit for designated hitters but forces them to weigh this against having to make a pitching change afterwards.
    – forces decisions to be made regarding late inning defensive replacements weighed against the loss of batters like Matusi or Ortiz now playing the field.
    – forces the use of more bench players.
    – and if the manager so choses, there doesn't have to be a designated hitter assigned and the pitcher can bat, thus enabling him to save his bench strength and applying the DH rule later.
    This enables junior circuit games to be less boring and enables senior circuit games to be less frustating with rallies is stymied by the pitcher at bat. It also will demand more of AL managers.

  • Anonymous

    Now THAT'S genius!
    I vote for Joe D.!

  • Anonymous

    Charlie,
    Yeah, I guess I come up with a good one now and then…..
    Thanks for your vote.

  • Anonymous

    As a National League fan, I'm fine with the DH rule as is. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see it abolished; but as long as we don't have it, who cares what the lunkheads in the junior circuit do? (9 – 12 vexatious games per year aside.)
    I don't think it affects the competitive balance of interleague games that much. AL clubs carry one big banger most NL teams don't , but that same oaf has to play the field (or ride the pine) in NL parks. If anything, it works to our advantage that our #9 hitter has experience sacrificing runners over, is moderately more capable with the stick, and can run the bases without his foot exploding into shards.