ST. LOUIS

Imagine a National Football League in which AFC teams can try the two-point conversion after touchdowns and NFC teams can't, and then there's some sort of weird compromise in the Super Bowl.

Imagine a National Hockey League in which the Eastern Conference settles games with shootouts and the Western Conference goes with multiple sudden-death overtimes, and how that would be resolved for the Stanley Cup.

Imagine a National Basketball Association . . . ooh, never mind. Sore subject.

We are directing this conversation, of course, toward the World Series, which has been integrating its different leagues with different rules since the designated hitter came into existence in 1973. It feels particularly relevant this year, in this Cardinals-Rangers matchup, because the teams are so similar and because St. Louis manager Tony La Russa is so active that he always evokes comparisons with his adversary -- Texas' Ron Washington, in this instance.

You could argue that the Cardinals prevailed in Game 1, 3-2, at Busch Stadium, partly because they're more accustomed to the National League game. Because La Russa chose Allen Craig to pinch hit for St. Louis starting pitcher Chris Carpenter in the sixth while Washington went with Esteban German to pinch hit for reliever Alexi Ogando in the seventh.

Craig delivered a tiebreaking single, German struck out to strand two runners, and there was your ballgame.

And today we wonder, should it really be this way? The league disparity is fun, but it's also quite silly. Isn't it finally time to get the two leagues on the same page?

"National League is a different type of game," Washington said yesterday before Game 2. "There's all kinds of moving parts and . . . it just comes down to the players execute in whatever position you put them in. And last night, Craig executed and we didn't."

This is pretty much a dead subject around Major League Baseball circles. Next season will mark the DH's 40th in American League ball, and few if any of the 30 clubs have voiced any major beefs over the status quo. You play by the home team's rules in interleague play, both in the regular season and postseason.

I recognize there can be a certain delight in trying to determine whom the NL team will use as its DH in AL parks, or whom the AL club can bench in NL parks. Yet should this really be the way it goes? Should you build your team for certain conditions and then be required to adjust your personnel on the fly for the most important games of your season?

"The only thing I've said is, I like the National League style because it shows you more of the whole game," said La Russa, who managed the White Sox (1979-86) and Oakland (1986-95) in the AL before joining the Cardinals in 1996. "But I never want anybody to misunderstand. Surviving an American League season is a real gut test, and you get so tough because you play those games with those stacked lineups and they go on forever."

The MLB regular-season schedule can be fun, too. But it's completely devoid of logic or fairness, what with teams taking on random interleague opponents.

If I were commissioner, I'd eliminate the DH, because I enjoy the NL's strategy and because pitchers who actually can hit should be rewarded. But I'd be rather content, too, with the DH existing in both leagues.

There's no outcry anywhere of which we know. That doesn't make it right, though. Fairness should trump fun.