Not so many years ago, two baseball fans were discussing the state of the American League pennant race when an eavesdropper interrupted them with a brave but futile "What about the race in the National?" The American Leaguers withered him with scorn: "Buster," they told him, "we're talking about the big leagues." It was about the same time another baseball seer was moved to observe sourly, "All baseball is divided into three parts: the A merican League, the National League—and the New York Yankees." Then he thought a moment and added, "On second thought, you can scratch the National League."
But that was the past. It is almost midseason 1956 now, and there is probably no clearer or surer fact in baseball than that things have changed. The evidence is in. It's the American League which is beginning to look bush. The National League is becoming the bully boy of baseball. The game has undergone a revolution, and it is the purpose of this article to explore the scope of that far-reaching change.
In order to do so it is necessary to refresh oneself on the extent to which the National League was tyrannized by the American League in the 30-odd years before the overthrow. Since 1923 and up to 1955 the National League had lost 22 out of 33 World Series and 12 out of the first 16 All-Star Games. More often than not, it had lost humiliatingly. To be sure, the New York Yankees were the palace gang behind the tyranny. Of the 22 American League Series victories, the Yankees had won a staggering 16—six of them in four straight. In the All-Star parade of American League victories, it was usually Yankee bats which had cowed the National Leaguers into submission.
The situation became so bad that a loud braying was set up from time to time to "Break up the Yankees!" But the cold facts of the matter were that not even this would have let the senior league out of the dungeon. The truth was that the factors which made the National League peculiarly inferior to the Yankees also made them inferior, as a group, to the rest of the American League.
But let's begin at the beginning:
The beginning was the 1923 World Series. The New York Giants and the New York Yankees were meeting in that one for the third time, and I like to think this was baseball's first Armageddon. More than a world's championship was in contention. Actually, a baseball revolution was at stake.
The Yankees, in all truth, represented the new order—the home run and the big inning. The Giants were old-style players—the bunt and the one-run-lead boys. Symbolically, it was a struggle between Babe Ruth and John McGraw. Ruth was the trail blazer of the long-ball era. McGraw was fighting the rear guard for the gaslight brand of ball. It was McGraw's idea baseball should be played the way it was when he was a kid—before the turn of the century—a fast-running, fancy-fielding brand of the game in which the ball was little more than a dead beanbag and there was no room for wild-swinging sluggers.
McGraw's Giants, who had won the 1921 and 1922 Series from the Yankees, went down in the 1923 World Series—and with them went an era. The long ball won out and, although McGraw totally failed to perceive it, the Yankees' Babe Ruth had made a new game of baseball and had sown the seeds for three decades of American League domination.
The American League was quick to capitalize on the facts of life in baseball, even to shortening the fences and jazzing up the ball. Its teams began to scour the bushes for strong-backed young sluggers who could fit the new concept of the game. If the pure science of baseball had been sacrificed in the process, no one seemed to mind, least of all the fan, who soon showed he much preferred the home run to the no-hitter and the booming triple to the deft bunt. The shutout became a statistical rarity.
Meanwhile, saddled with the McGraw legacy, the National League continued to play McGraw baseball. The result was disaster. World Series degenerated into full-dress batting rehearsals for the American League sluggers, and it should have been evident to the National League it was trying to win an atomic war with bows and arrows.