It may be time to finally eliminate the charades known as the American and National League. Just tell it to the Judge — Aaron Judge.
The Yankee slugger’s 62 home run season has been roundly celebrated as a new American League record. But there’s a good chance no one will ever break that A.L. mark, as the American League and National League are facing extinction.
With next year’s schedule increasing interleague play from this year’s 20 games to 46 games (28.4 percent of the season), it’s only a matter of time before half the games will be against teams in what is now the other league.
“I don’t think there’s any difference in the leagues,” said Bobby Valentine, who played and managed in the N.L. and the A.L. in a career that began with the Dodgers in 1969. In light of the new schedule and this year’s permanent addition of the designated hitter to the National League, Valentine told Deadspin, “I often wonder if they should have one MVP, which I think they should.”
Former National League President Leonard Coleman is fine with the separate leagues and awards. “Early on there was stiff competition between the leagues, but I think that’s pretty much evaporated,” conceded Coleman, who headed the National League from 1994 till 1999, when his position was eliminated with MLB consolidating the two leagues into its office. “You can keep them for tradition’s sake,” he said over the phone.
But if things go Valentine’s way, it could be goodbye to an MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and a host of other double awards, following the example of the NFL, which makes no distinction between AFC and NFC when it comes to awards.
“That’s what I would prefer,” said Valentine, who added that he would merge the two sets of stats. “If I had the highest batting average next year, or hit the most home runs, had the best ERA, I’d like to think I was the best in baseball,” and not just in one league.
Coleman proposed a simple solution to the stats issue: “You can merge them yourself. You got a National League batting champ, you got an American League batting champ. You know who had the highest average in Major League Baseball. It’s right there in front of you.”
A potential change in baseball would follow what the NFL and AFL did with their awards and stats when their merger took effect in 1970.
Later today, Judge is likely to win his first MVP award, after his historic season. But with the intermingling of the leagues, there remains a question over his home run record.
With all due respect to the Yankees’ right fielder, should there be an asterisk next to his 62? And before you Yankee fans jump all over me, it’s not for the same reason that players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa have earned their figurative asterisks.
Another area where the two leagues becoming one gets murky is league records. Is 62 home runs really an American League record when Judge slugged 10 of his home runs against National League teams?
Those include a pair against the pitching-poor Pirates, who finished with the second-worst record in the NL, and one against the Reds, who tied the Bucs with 100 losses. (The Mets helped him the most of any NL team, allowing three 4-baggers; the Brewers and Cubs each gave up two.)
When Maris was aiming at Babe Ruth’s hallowed record of 60 homers (Babe did it in the 154-game schedule that was then in effect in 1927), baseball’s commissioner, Ford Frick, declared in the middle of the 1961 season (which was lengthened to 162 games when the A.L. added two new teams that year): “If the player does not hit more than 60 until after the club has played 154 games, there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule . . .”
Although there was never an actual mark in the record books, Maris’ 61 was often scoffed at. But even those Frickers couldn’t deny that Yankee right fielder smashed all his home runs against only American League teams.
Valentine and Coleman both agree that Judge is the legit American League single-season home run record holder. As Coleman put it, “Judge plays in the American League. He hit 62 home runs. That’s the record.”