In 1997, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig introduced baseball fans to the marriage of the American and National Leagues. And the baby makes three: “interleague play,” when an NL team faces an AL team, before only happened during the World Series, the All-Star Game, spring training, and exhibition games, all of which did not impact a team’s official win-loss record and division division standings.
But with the expansion of interleague play to a string of 15-18 games, that is approximately 10% of a team’s 162-game schedule, and will certainly impact their race to the pennant for better (with some teams) or for worse (for other teams).
In small doses, interleague play can be exciting. After living in two-team towns for most of my life, I understand the particular thrill of a Dodgers-Angels or Yankees-Mets series. I like to imagine a special summer holiday, one where team flags decorate doorsteps by day, and as dusk falls, so do rolls of toilet paper and dozens of eggs about thy neighbor’s house. These neighborhood rivalries make interleague play worthwhile.
Worthwhile. To an extent. I believe this to be a case of all-good-things-remain-good-in-moderation. Keep interleague play reserved for special occassions. Make it remain a rarity.
MLB Columnist Richard Justice makes an argument that opposition to interleague play is primarily from old-fashioned folks, you know, those dangerous change-fearing types. He paints a colorful picture of interleague play that is, for my tastes, desperately too sweet to swallow. Justice says:
First, it’s a chance for National League fans to see the American League’s biggest stars, and vice versa. For instance, Astros fans will get a chance to see Josh Hamilton this weekend after hearing about his exploits the past several weeks.
[...]How about AL fans who’ve heard about but never seen Tim Lincecum, David Wright or Joey Votto, or NL fans having a chance to welcome Derek Jeter to their ballpark?
Okay, great, so interleague play is a wonderful opportunity to greet never-before-seen heroes to your hometown. But honestly, is it as disgustingly sentimental as it is hyped up to be?
Yes, the Dodgers welcome Derek Jeter in sunny Los Angeles, but as our Yankees writer, Stacey says:
The Dodgers have not played at Yankee Stadium yet which really bugs me. I’d love to see the Dodgers here. The Yankees have played there twice.
So much for giving AND taking.
The real argument here is the unevenness of interleague team match-ups. When, suddenly interleague play is more than a cute exhibition series; it has grown into more than novelty. Interleague play interferes with a team’s drive for the pennant, because they must abruptly change pace and face a team they might face less than once every few years. Our Cardinals writer, Christine says:
My biggest problem with it is how the scheduling is done. For example, the Cards are playing the White Sox right now for the first time since 2006 after playing them every year from 1997 to 2001. And the Yankees and Red Sox have been to Busch Stadium once in the 15 years of interleague play, yet the Cards seem to play the Tigers every year.
Not to mention the whole DH-Pitcher-Hitter shenanigans that surface when the AL and NL face off. Our Red Sox writer, Becca says:
I think interleague is unfair to al teams (this theory is instantly discredited by the fact that al teams usually win, but hear me out). AL teams have to play without a dh in interleague, which isn’t how their rosters are built. NL teams never have this kind of disadvantage, and actually get to use a dh sometimes, which is like extra credit.
Furthermore, match-ups for interleague play are imbalanced. One AL East team may face the low-ladder NL team, and another AL East team goes up against the every-year-NL-contender. Now you can see where a few extra wins can make a great impact on a team’s standings.
Are there any strategies to improve interleague play? Perhaps developing a more fair-and-square route of scheduling. Twitter user Nicholas Garcia (@nickgarciataria) suggests this:
A home and home series among identically placed teams from the previous year. Example: 2nd AL Central vs 2nd NL Central.
Which sounds almost perfect. Almost. Because sometimes Really Important Things occur in the off-season. Like when stars shift their alignment and sign with a new team. And say, maybe the stars no longer shine as brightly as they did before. And sure, there are teams that are always the best, teams that are always the worst, and teams that are always, eh, comme ci comme ça. But then there are also the dramatic look-at-me-flip-floppers that catch us off guard… The year is 2012: Nationals-Orioles-Phillies-RedSox, anyone?
If we count on a team’s past-season record (note: I did not say post-season) to influence interleague play, then there are chances the past performance will not be indicative of future performance.
So again, we face the risk of imbalanced scheduling. How can we avoid this conundrum? The answer is simple:
If the number of interleague play series is decreased, baseball fans still have the best of both worlds: 1. The excitement of an interleague rivalry (albeit sometimes a forced rivalry), and 2. Limited interference with a team’s divisional standings.
So how ’bout it, Bud? Stop spreading the plague.
Do you have a favorite baseball tradition? Is there a particular ghost of baseball past you would like to revisit? Ever wonder why they do what they do, and when they started doing it? If you have a suggestion, question, or submission for Throwback Thursday, contact Elise by tweeting @Elise_Myers.