Wassell: Are Seahawks still top dog, or has rest of NFC West caught up?
Recently, I’ve been taking a look at three topics and giving thoughts on each, so for now, I’ll continue that process. Today, I’ll look at issues involving the power dynamics in the NFC West, the Universal Designated Hitter and who won MLB’s public relations war.
• Who’s set up best for prolonged success in the NFC West?
With youngins like 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, and Rams coach Sean McVay (we’ll see about quarterback Jared Goff) in the division, common sense tells us that those teams are positioned to overtake the Seahawks as long as each continues to improve.
Have the 49ers done this already or did they just have a monster year? We’ll see.
For Murray especially, the future is very bright, but the Cardinals still have team building to do and they need experience being a strong team before they become a contender.
The Rams are a wild card in the division given their mix of young and old, salary cap issues and a QB that desperately needs a strong running game to aid him as Todd Gurley once did.
But let’s not count out the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is 68 years old. In normal human years, that’s about 59. There’s no reason to think that he couldn’t coach for another 10 years given his energy and passion for coaching. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will be 32 in November. As quarterbacks keep themselves in better shape and the league protects them with rules emphasizing their safety, could Russ make it past age 40? Barring severe injury, it’s definitely possible.
The biggest X-factors as far as the Seahawks are concerned are whether general manager John Schneider will hang around with the team for another five years or so, and if he can restock the team full of players capable of bringing another championship home
I’m confident that Schneider can keep the Seahawks at a contending level in his sleep. He’s proven that. But how will last year’s and this year’s draft picks develop? If they falter, it could be a rough next few seasons. If they don’t and he can find one more marquee player on defense, look for the Seahawks to alternate first-place finishes with San Francisco for the next three years with Arizona waiting in the wings.
• I prefer the AL and NL playing under different sets of rules
I’m not a baseball purist. In fact, being a purist means you can’t budge on any of baseball’s traditions. I can’t imagine such an existence. We must always move forward, especially with a sport that is crying out for new fans and testing the patience of its diehards.
When the designated hitter was introduced to baseball in 1973, it was done so as a way in which the American League could compete with the harder-hitting National League. It wasn’t that the AL couldn’t win a World Series – it could. The NL at the time was destroying the AL in All-Star Games (from 1963 to 1982, the AL won just once in 1971), but who really cares about that? It had more to do with AL teams not being as entertaining. Most of the game’s offensive stars were in the NL and with no interleague play, AL fans didn’t get to see guys like Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.
The DH has done its job over the last 47 years and the two different sets of rules between the leagues has made things more interesting. What will an NL manager do in the World Series in an AL park? What about the opposite? The American League has its brand of hard-hitting baseball while the National League can do things like double switches and turn the late innings into a game of chess. With so much homogenization of the game, especially given interleague play throughout the season, the difference just spices it up a little bit.
Now, I know many of you are thinking that it’s unfair to the NL because they don’t build their teams with DHs in mind, so once the postseason or an interleague game arrives, they aren’t prepared with a star hitter to come off the bench and become the equivalent of a Nelson Cruz, for example. The other side is that a team that has a Nelson Cruz wouldn’t be able to start him in an NL park without putting him in the field. It’s a sound argument, but let’s look at the evidence:
Since 1997, the AL has won 3,166 games while the NL has won 2,898. With a difference of only 268 wins/losses over 23 years, that’s not really very much of a disparity in my opinion.
Additionally, with the World Series using different rules in accordance with home field advantage, the same concerns exist. Since 1986, the DH has been used in the Fall Classic in AL parks only. American League teams have won 18 World Series and the National League 15 (remember, no World Series in 1994). Also, fairly equal.
If MLB wants to unify things for the next two years, as was reported Wednesday is likely to happen, I’m OK with that, but my fear is that it’s an unnecessary step that does away with a little bit of quirkiness that makes baseball cool. And once they remove it, it’s probably not coming back.
• The owners saved the 2020 MLB season
On Tom, Jake and Stacy, we joke around about me being a supporter of billionaire owners with no regard for those poor millionaire players. I don’t naturally side with either, I just take things case by case and examine the facts. If that leads me in the direction of the evil empire, so be it.
Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association, has done a masterful job in manipulating this current labor dispute in his favor. If a deal is reached, his players will have gotten full prorated salaries, a season longer than 48 games and expanded playoffs. Additionally, he and many ballplayers let the world know that they were ready to go and simply needed to be told when and where (they didn’t carry on about that billion-dollar grievance they were threatening the owners with, but I digress). Clark and the players stood their ground and were willing to not have a season if it meant getting shorted any further on their salaries. I don’t blame them one bit.
But if they stood their ground and it was the owners who ultimately gave in to the union’s demands, shouldn’t we be thanking them? The party that caves is the one that sets things in motion, otherwise we just have a standstill. I’m not saying we as fans need to thank the owners for losing the battle, but even if you side with the players on labor issues, they are not the ones who saved baseball this season. The owners came up with the proposal that is likely to be met with the union’s approval. They gave in. It’s because of their action that we’re actually going to have a season.
I don’t expect many of you to agree with me on this because you probably have your minds made up already one way or the other. I’m simply throwing a caveat into the mix. We can side with the players on morality all we want, but don’t mix up the union getting what it wanted with saving the season. Those are two very different things.
More from Tom: Why won’t Kurt Warner let it go with Seahawks’ Wilson?