The 2013 baseball season has begun. The Mets are 1-0 albeit it is unlikely they will have a winning season this year. But there is nothing like an April afternoon with the sun shining and new green grass on the field and those urban flowers known as baseball box scores are once again in bloom. There is one big difference that made this opening day very different than in the past.
This is the first MLB season with an odd number of teams (15) in each league. That means instead of pockets of the season allocated for interleague play, there is one interleague game going on all season long along with seven league games. It does not damper the enthusiasm of opening day and the start of another pennant race, but it does diminish the meaning of MLB being a circuit of two distinct leagues, the National League and the American League.
For many years, the NFL (National Football League) and NBA (National Basketball Association) have been operated as single-league circuits with two conferences. The conferences are used for post-season affixation and the balance of the schedule (who plays who the most) are determined by conference alignment. What made baseball what is was through the entirety of the twentieth century has been the tradition of two distinct leagues, and until 1997 did not even play each other in regular season games, and the diversity of the two leagues. Although I never liked the designated hitter, there were a lot of other distinctions that identified the two leagues. The National League was the first league to require an ear flap on the batting helmets while the American League was the first league to require wearing the hard had when running the bases. The National League was the first league to provide inside-the-chest protectors to home plate umpires, resulting in a higher strike zone in the American League while their umpires continued to look over that big shield to make the call. New York once had three teams with two out of three in the NL (New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers) resulting in a rivalry that was once even bigger than Yankees-Red Sox. The irony is the designated hitter is the only thing left that distinguishes the leagues.
The NL and AL are still leagues in title, but there are no more league offices or presidents; only the Office of the Commissioner remains. The same umpires work games in both leagues equally and each team with play twenty-two interleague games; the DH or absence thereof determined by the home park. You can call them leagues just like the former Soviet Union called themselves the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the individual Soviet states were not republics; they were not even sovereign in their own rights—they were under the control of the Kremlin based in Moscow, Russia. The National and American leagues of Major League Baseball are leagues in title, but are now conferences in practice.
They wanted both leagues to have three five-team divisions for scheduling and post season probability equity. From 1998 – 2012, the National League Central with six clubs and the American League West with four were exceptions to the rule. In theory, it is harder to win a division six teams wide than five teams wide and easier in one that is only four teams wide. I thought the second wild card was supposed to be the equalizer.
Well, as far as watching the game on the field is concerned, it is still baseball, the greatest game ever invented. There are still strikeouts and home runs, runs, hits, and errors, sluggers and pitchers, swinging away and suicide squeeze bunts. I was born in 1962, the same year the Mets became one of the first National League expansion teams, healing the wounds during the departure of the Giants and Dodgers after the 1957 season. So Take Me Out to the Ball Game—One, Two, Three Strikes—You’re Out! Let’s get down to business and play ball!