A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, George Milkov came to the U.S. at age 19 and graduated from Queens College, alma mater of Paul Simon, Jerry Seinfeld and Ron Jeremy. Before joining The Magazine in 1998, Milkov worked for Newsweek International, Esquire and—we suspect—the Bulgarian intelligence service. "Back in the Cold War, it was the right hand of the KGB," he says wistfully. "I'm not at liberty to discuss it." The 35-year-old Milkov, an associate editor in our research department, speaks four languages … including baseball.
I. PURPOSE OF INVESTIGATION
For much of this decade, there has been widespread domination of the National League by the American League in the All-Star Game, the World Series and interleague play. This trend violates the best interests of baseball, not to mention good business practices. It has happened in plain sight, yet the commissioner, the players association and the media have repeatedly looked the other way. This is disgraceful.
The need for an independent investigation became obvious following the 2007 World Series, during which the Boston Red Sox of the American League outscored the Colorado Rockies of the National League 29-10 en route to a four-game sweep. It was the third such Series sweep by an AL team in the past four years. Also, over the past three years, AL teams have beaten their NL counterparts 56.5% of the time in interleague play, including a 154–98 bloodbath in 2006 (see Fig. 1, below). On top of all that, we could find no evidence that the NL had ever actually won an All-Star Game, although there are indications that it might have happened at some point during the first Clinton administration.
This report, based on dozens of interviews—all conducted without the cooperation of the players association—describes how and why the American League gained such a significant competitive advantage. Other investigations will no doubt turn up more names and fill in more details, but that is unlikely to significantly alter the description of baseball's "American Century" as set forth in this report.
The problem is serious. How could we all have let this happen? And what is to be done?
II. THE CASE FOR AL SUPERIORITY
According to testimony from many of our witnesses, the National League is a major league the same way that Luxembourg is a member of the European Union.
Former Yankees manager; had a 113–79 interleague record; won four World Series
"I know one thing: There are no soft spots on the American League schedule."
Nationals assistant GM; 1990 World Series MVP for Reds
"I've always loved the National League, but I think the AL is stronger now than the NL ever was. An All-Star team made up of just Yankees and Red Sox could compete with a National League All-Star team. It's unfortunate."
Red Sox first baseman; played eight-plus seasons in the National League
"The American League is better top to bottom. The bullpens are better. The rotations, even on the weaker teams, are stronger. Teams that struggle in the AL would do well in the NL. In Detroit, they know they have to be aggressive, so they traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. That's what I'm talking about. They're already stacked, already a really strong team, but in the AL, you always have to reload."
Phillies chairman; son of longtime NL president Warren Giles
"I'm 0–6–1 in the All-Star Game since being named honorary National League president. My dad won 17 out of 23. They really took it seriously back then. The NL wanted to be better in every way. And my dad was the kind of guy who was so competitive, he'd want his team's charter to take off before the other team's charter and land before the other team's charter. I also think he wanted to get the first martini."
Giants outfielder; postseason hero for the Red Sox in 2004
"If you're a pitcher going to the AL, you're like, Oh man, look at all these lineups you've gotta go through. Torii Hunter said Johan Santana is going to dominate in the NL because the AL is so superior. The interleague numbers don't lie. They've gotten the best of us."
III. THE DESIGNATED HITTER DILEMMA
The AL adopted the DH in 1973 to boost offense. But the DH is also used in interleague games in AL parks, giving AL teams a clear advantage (see Fig. 2, below).
Padres first baseman; played nine seasons in the AL
"AL teams are better equipped to play an NL style than NL teams are to play an AL style. In the AL, the DH is a 30-homer, 100-RBI type. There aren't many of those guys who aren't starting in the NL. Very rarely do you have a bench guy who's capable of that."
Angels outfielder; 11-year AL vet
"The DH is a pretty big edge for the AL. Guys know how to hit as a DH. When NL teams come in, you have a guy who might never have been a DH the whole year, and I think that makes a difference. When a guy is DHing, he has to sit for two or three innings before he hits again. It's tough for him to produce. But a regular DH, a guy like David Ortiz, knows how to do it. He's programmed to do it. And I think it makes a difference in the World Series."
Braves third baseman; 14-year NL vet
"If NL rosters were built around a DH, you'd have much better offenses in the NL as well."
IV. THE YANKEES AND RED SOX SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY
This is a recurring theme in our interviews. Other teams blame this Eastern bloc for driving up salaries and the talent level across the AL.
A's general manager; his resource-maximizing philosophy was profiled in Moneyball
"You're always forced to compete with what's around you, and the Red Sox and the Yankees have had such a ripple effect on everybody else in our league. They spend money, and that forces the Jays to spend more money and the Tigers to spend more money, and because the Tigers spend more money, then the White Sox have to spend more money. And because the Angels got swept by the Red Sox last October, they went and spent more money. And when the Angels spent more money, the Mariners had to upgrade. In the National League, you really don't have that pair of teams that are pushing each other."
Brewers infielder; 12-year NL vet
"In our league, everyone feels they have a chance to compete without spending a ridiculous amount of money. And if you feel like you're competing, then from an owner's perspective, you're not going to spend more if it's coming off your bottom line."
AN ANONYMOUS AL GM
Granted immunity in exchange for testimony
"Why does the NL stink? Well, the Mets and Dodgers are probably in the best position to make the others around them react, but they really haven't been consistently good in what they do. The Mets are an older team with a bad farm system, and the Dodgers have been all over the place in recent years. The thing about the Red Sox and Yankees now is that they spend a lot of money, and they're also pretty smart about what they're doing. You look at the Red Sox and Yankees, and you aren't saying, Wow, in three years, they're going to be in trouble. You're saying, They're good now, and they're going to continue to be good, because they have so many good young players. Three years ago, you wouldn't have said that about the Yankees, and you can't say that about the Mets and Dodgers yet."
V. WE MUST LOOK TO THE FUTURE
A simple change could address this disparity, right now. You might call it a designated solution.
In the course of their work, my investigators encountered many people who believe, as Red Sox infielder Alex Cora puts it, "the game will fix itself." As we say in Bulgaria, Haide stiga be! Are you kidding me!
It would be nice to say that to slow the arms race between the Yankees and Red Sox baseball should work toward a salary cap, but given the history of strife between the owners and the players, that's not likely to happen. "How about a stiffer luxury tax?" offers Chipper Jones. "That would even things out." But when asked under oath if the players association would approve such a change, Mr. Jones replies simply, "No."
The two leagues formerly were separate businesses with separate governances, but that distinction went the way of the Soviet Union years ago. So why not do away with them altogether? Realignment could offer many benefits, including a Northeast Division in which Boston, the two New York teams, Philadelphia and Toronto would be free to spend each other into oblivion. If MLB is not willing to take that logical step, then maybe, after 35 years of the designated hitter in the AL, can we at least standardize the rules? As Tony La Russa says, "Play the same game. Either both leagues should have the DH, or both should not have it." The man might wear sunglasses in the dugout at night, but he's still a visionary. The commissioner must act to protect the integrity of the game and institute the DH in the National League. For the sake of competitive balance, and for the sake of America.