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Jim Henneman: Despite All-Star Whiffs, Balance Of Power Shifting To National League

July 10, 2019
The American League has now won seven straight All-Star games and 25 of the last 32, but the score of last night's win against the National League is much more indicative of the difference between the two leagues than those numbers would indicate.

The 4-3 victory continues the second-most dominant stretch in All-Star history (the NL won 19 of 20 between 1963 and 1982). But it wasn't enough to dispel the notion, or dispute the evidence, that the balance of power between the two leagues is changing faster than the climate.

All of the dynamics (that's old school for analytics) have been trending ever so steadily in favor of the NL, which, after an earlier period of domination has suffered through a series of beatdowns in these midseason showcase events -- as well as interleague play the last couple of decades.

There were some indications of a power shift earlier, but the first real sign came last year, when for the first time in 15 years and only the fifth time in the last 23, the NL logged a winning record in interleague play: 158-142 (.527).

It doesn't appear to be a fluke. At the midpoint of the season, the NL was trending upward with an 89-73 (.549) record this year -- even though its best team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, had played only four interleague games (3-1).

The fact that the AL holds only a slim 10-9 advantage in World Series played this century is more indication that the most recent All-Star results are more of an illusion than indication of superiority.

One more very significant factor -- the American League has more teams (five) in full rebuild mode than the National League (one), which doesn't bode well for the immediate future. 

***

Baseball's "midsummer classic" has its flaws and is more gingerbread than a souped-up hot rod, but make no mistake -- it is, by far, the best All-Star game offered by the four major sports. It's also the only one that offers defense, which is not a coincidence.

The celebrity softball game is long overdue to follow the Edsel into oblivion, and the ever-changing Home Run Derby could use another facelift (how about hitters swinging against an "Iron Mike" machine instead of personal pitchers?), but the game itself is the same. The lone exception being that it is played at a much higher level than an average regular-season game.

The number of players who bail out of the game, some legitimately and some not so, is an ongoing cause of concern, and the selection process will always create controversy. Trey Mancini was the poster boy this year, not just because he wasn't originally selected -- but because he was also passed over when Hunter Pence, the AL DH, was replaced by an infielder (Gleyber Torres).

For the most part, the players have genuine interest in being showcased with the very best of their peers, so somehow the game survives. And last night it thrived in a brisk two hours and 48 minutes in a game that had a little bit of everything.

***

The Home Run Derby continues to survive, mainly to fill three hours of reality sports entertainment, and never fails to stir the pot. This year they had a player from the American League, Matt Chapman, replace a player from the National League, Christian Yelich, which is how they ended up with four players from each league in the competition. It's complicated.

It was a nice touch that a player making the major-league minimum salary, Pete Alonso, nearly doubled his earnings by winning the million-dollar prize. The guy he beat out, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is also making the major-league minimum and finished second even though he had 34 more home runs than the winner.

Because the format is identical to match play in golf, with no carryovers, Guerrero lost despite hitting 91 homers to Alonso's 57.  It's also complicated, but it's happened before.

It reminds of the celebrity "home-run hitting" contest that was held when the All-Star game was played at Camden Yards in 1993. Actor Tom Selleck was the only participant to actually hit a ball over the fence (he cleared the right field scoreboard) but basketball star Michael Jordan won the "home run" contest with a fly ball to center field that was deemed to have traveled farther, although falling considerably short of the warning track. Also complicated, but not known to have happened before.

Not willing to rest on his laurels, Jordan announced his first basketball retirement three months later -- and was in the Chicago White Sox spring training camp in Sarasota, Fla., the following year. 

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com 

Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/Gary Sousa/PressBox