As The Baseball Leagues Merge

I haven’t always been a baseball fan. When I was 11 the Washington Senators left for Texas and I transferred all my loyalty to football. But when I moved to San Diego in 1995 I began to follow the San Diego Padres of the National League’s Western Division. At the time, with the exception of Spring Training, the All Star Game, and the World Series, their teams never played each other. On the plus side when the best teams of each league met in the World Series there was a mystique as they knew very little of each other. On the minus side American league fans virtually never saw Tony Gwynn play. Conversely National Leagues fans were also denied Cal Ripkin.

That changed in 1997 when baseball started inter league play. All of baseball played by the same rules with one exception: the designated hitter. In 1973 the American League ruled that one player didn’t have to bat but would be replaced by a batter who didn’t play in the field. Since pitchers virtually always bring up the rear in batting average it’s assumed they wouldn’t bat.

So what did they do since 1973 when teams from different leagues play? They decided that they would play under the rules of the home team. National League teams in American League parks were allowed a designated hitter and American League pitchers in National League parks had to bat. In fairness since most players play for multiple teams most American League pitchers had some experience in the batter’s box.

But this year the National League has also decided in the designated hitter. And I have to confess I’m saddened by this. I like the idea of all players playing both sides. It also called for creativity on the manager’s part. Most pitchers don’t pitch the entire game and the manager has to decide when he is “done.” But if he is pitching well but will bat the next inning, do you substitute him for a stronger batter? The hall of fame pitcher Greg Maddux famously worked hard in his batting skills knowing it would increase his chances for staying longer in the game.

This also means that the lines between the leagues have further blurred. I’m guessing that the number of times a team plays someone in the other league will grow to the point where we’ll lose track of which teams are in which league.

Oh well, I guess change is inevitable.

But I’ll still watch.

Ukraine and Russia: This Is Going To Be Much Longer And Much Bloodier

As I write this it’s been about 6 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. When Vladimir Putin invaded he expected a quick and easy victory; he didn’t expect Ukrainian resistance to be so fierce. This was partly due to bad advice he was given by his advisors. Dictators often run into this: they demand absolute loyalty from those around him and they tell him only what he wants to hear. Nobody is willing to speak truth or power because they will be fired or worse.

But what happens when a “quick victory” doesn’t work out? Well, nothing good. Rarely does an aggressor recognize the obvious and pull back. And we need only look at several examples from the 20th Century.

  • During World War II Germany fought a war on two fronts: The Soviet Union to the East and the Allies to the West. In 1943 Germany lost the Battle for Stalingrad and Soviet troops began their march toward Berlin. In 1944 Allied troops landed in France and began their march toward Berlin. It was clear that Germany couldn’t win the war but Hitler refused to surrender and the war continued until May 8, 1945.
  • Meanwhile, in the Pacific, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 intended to defeat America’s ability to stop Japan’s quest to conquer much of East Asia. But the next year American forces defeated Japan in the Battle of Midway. It wasn’t easy or fast but American forces were able to begin “island hopping.” In other words we were able to occupy islands that gave us closer and closer access to Japan. Many of us recognize Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa from high school history class. Long after it was clear that Japan could prevail they refused to surrender and they only gave up after two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • In the 1960s the United States began a policy of supporting South Vietnam against the Communist North Vietnam. We sent advisors and then troops. In 1967 Defense Secretary Robert McNamera asked for a comprehensive report on US involvement in Vietnam, going back to 1945. We now know this report as the “Pentagon Papers.” The report was leaked in 1971 and it reported the American people were regularly lied to and that there were grave doubts as to whether the war was winnable at all. And yet we fought until our withdrawal in 1973.

I don’t think any of us want Putin and Russia to successfully conquer Ukraine. Given his fixation on restoring the old Soviet Union he may then set his sight on the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

But a war that goes badly for Putin also goes badly for Ukraine. We are already hearing reports of murder of civilians and other atrocities. We can only pray.