- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Take the American League and give five runs in tonight’s All-Star Game.

It doesn’t matter that Ozzie Guillen left the league’s best hitter (Travis Hafner) off the team.

The AL was 154-98 (.611) in interleague play this season. The AL is 8-0-1 in the last nine All-Star Games. And the AL has won six of the last eight World Series, the last two in sweeps.

The American League has seven teams that could win the World Series this season. The National League has one.

The American League is better, much better.

But it isn’t because of the designated hitter or because it has all the big-market teams or because these things are just cyclical.

It’s because the American League is smarter, much smarter. More specifically, the AL teams are run by the smarter executives.

Of course, money doesn’t hurt.

The biggest of the big-market teams, the New York Yankees, put together a mini-dynasty, winning four World Series in five years from 1996 to 2000. Only a couple off days from Mariano Rivera kept them from making it six straight.

The Yankees upped the ante for the other American League teams. They had to spend more money, get smarter or some combination of both.

They did just that.

Billy Beane became general manager of the Oakland Athletics. You know his “Moneyball” story by now.

John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox. He made 28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest general manager in baseball history. Epstein hired Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, and wooed Curt Schilling away from the National League. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first in 86 years.

The White Sox hired Ozzie Guillen. He and pitching coach Don Cooper put together the best pitching staff in the league. They won the World Series last season, their first in 88 years.

The three most important acquisitions of this past offseason, in retrospect, were Jim Leyland, Jim Thome and B.J. Ryan — all by AL teams.

The Detroit Tigers, who have the best record in baseball, wouldn’t have hired Leyland as their manager if they were in the National League. But in the American League, they felt pressure to compete.

The White Sox, who have the second-best record in baseball, traded for Thome because they knew, even after winning the World Series, they needed to improve.

The Blue Jays signed Ryan to a $47 million contract because they are in the same division with the Red Sox and Yankees. They also are just five game back.

These teams made big, splashy, million dollar moves — and smart ones.

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