Now, AL is on the upswing


Everyone knows that success and failure in baseball come in cycles -- for players, for managers, for teams, even for leagues.

The cycle that has the American League riding high right now has so many facets and such powerful momentum, the National League has to wonder if their junior partners will defy gravity and never come back down.

"A few years ago, everyone talked about the National League this way, with their young talent and the American League didn't have it," said Frank Robinson, the Orioles assistant general manager and former Most Valuable Player in both leagues. "Now, they talk about the American League. And you could see it coming for a little while, now."

For sure, the most recent era of National League dominance came to an end when its superstars of the 1970s and '80s, like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, Steve Garvey and the like, stopped playing baseball and started working on their Hall of Fame eligibility. Once they cleared the stage, they took with them things like the National League's domination of all-star lists, of All-Star Games, of World Series highlight films.

Now, it's the American League's turn. It sports a six-game winning streak in the All-Star Game. It has won three straight World Series and four of the last five. And though the National League has Barry Bonds, the American League has three of the four most glamorous players in the game in Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas and Juan Gonzalez.

The National League has its budding stars, too, like Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Phil Plantier. But the National League, try as it might, simply cannot nominate one marquee player, let alone three, who is as young (25 years or less at the start of the season) as the American League trio.

"Talent of that magnitude is difficult to come by," said Fred Claire, the general manager of the Dodgers. "Those American League players certainly have that type of talent."

Frank Robinson agreed. "There's no one who compares to those three at that age that I can think of," he said. "They're just very talented and gifted, what I call the very special types who come along only every once in a while."

Indeed, no National Leaguer in the age group of that trio has done what Gonzalez, Griffey and Thomas have in the past three seasons: rank among the top 10 in home runs and runs batted in per season. In fact, the only National Leaguers to even appear on both lists were the 29-year-old Bonds (35 home runs per season, 114 RBIs) and the 30-year-old Fred McGriff (34, 104).

"When you see kids like that, my grandmother could tell me they're good," Joe McIlvaine, the general manager of the Mets, said of the American League trio. "They're tough to top, those three guys."

That alone would be enough to cause various shades of green when it comes to league envy; but the American League has even more to brag about: four new, fan-friendly, state-of-the-art ball parks opened since 1990.

This gives the National League even more reason to be called "the senior circuit." The last National League park introduced in something other than an expansion season was Olympic Stadium, the now-infamous monstrosity in Montreal. That happened in 1977.

Olympic Stadium was the last in a chain of multipurpose cookie cutters to be built for National League play. Unfortunately for the National League, that style is now considered by fans and critics alike as aesthetically unpleasing.

By contrast, four of the last five AL parks introduced -- Camden Yards, Comiskey Park, Jacobs Field and the Ballpark in Arlington -- were built solely for baseball.

The National League, with one team (Florida) playing in a football stadium and only two in parks dedicated solely to baseball (Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium) is in need of relief in this area.

It will come next season when the Colorado Rockies open Coors Field, the first pure baseball park built in the National League since Dodger Stadium in 1962.

"They're on quite a run," Leonard Coleman, the new president of the National League, said in Cincinnati Sunday. "But it's cyclical. We've got some tremendous young stars in both leagues. The National League will be fine."

Winning an All-Star Game would help. Or a World Series. Anything to give the league hope that what goes around comes around, including major-league bragging rights.

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