|Interleague Play: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.||| Print |||Send|
Written by Laura K. Nist (Contact & Archive) on June 02, 2003
Good for the owners’ pockets, but of course. Baseball is a business after all and many teams have been losing revenue so, as the means to an end, interleague play is just another promotional device that is being used to increase attendance. And to some extent, it has worked. Fans have been coming out in droves to see the series between the Cubs and White Sox. The Subway Series in New York is a big draw as is the Bay Bridge series between the Giants and A’s. At least that is what MLB would have us believe. Giants fans fill Pac Bell park regardless of the opponent so does it really make a difference if they are playing the A’s or the Rockies?
Don’t get me wrong, there is some good; without interleague play fans in Pittsburgh would never get to see Ichiro, A-Rod or Roger Clemens and fans in Baltimore would never get to see great players like Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux. Watching Barry Bonds hit a home run or Greg Maddux shutdown the opposition is something that every fan should have the opportunity to experience. You may have to wait a while before they appear in a city near you but, maybe someday if you are lucky and the rotation works out (and the moon and the starts are in perfect alignment) then, you too can see Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson dueling it out against your team, if they don’t retire first.
Creating regional rivalries? The Giants and the A’s meet each other in spring training and other pre-season exhibition games so interleague play is not such a novelty. Because of the proximity of the teams, fans can go to A’s games or Giants games at any time during the season. The same holds true for other regional rivalries: Mets-Yankees, Dodgers-Angels, Marlins-Devil Rays (although I can’t imagine anyone who would actually want to see that match-up) And as a Giants fan if I want to see the Indians or the Rangers play, guess what? I go to an A’s game.
Besides, who cares about these contrived regional rivalries when it is the divisional rivalries that really count when September comes along. What about teams that are in the heat of a pennant race in their division? Rather than fighting it out with their division rivals, they have to play teams that have no bearing on their division race (unless they lose of course). Last year the main difference in the AL West race was interleague play: The A's were 16-2 against the NL, while the Angels were 11-7, so even though the Angels had a better record against AL teams, they ended up four games out of first.
All that these interleague match-ups do is to throw a monkey wrench into things. Let's say that San Francisco and Los Angeles are fighting for the West Division title. They must play an American League team and one of them could easily gain an advantage over the other because of the schedule. Why? Well, it isn’t balanced. The Dodgers will face the Indians, who are fighting for a place in the cellar with the Tigers, while the Giants play the Twins, who are currently on top in their division. Oakland plays the Braves and the Giants while Seattle plays the Padres and the Mets. Whoever plays the Orioles would be in a better position than a team that had to play the Yankees. In the past, the wild card winner in both leagues has been so close that it was decided by one game. When the races are that close does it really make sense to give one team an advantage by having them play weaker teams than another?
Then there is the designated hitter issue. American League Teams are at more of a disadvantage by interleague road games than National League teams because often times their key hitter is missing from the lineup. NL teams have an advantage here as they can use a DH on the road, which may bring more power to their offense and allow their pitcher to go more innings. (Don’t misunderstand, I am not advocating the DH, I am merely pointing out the inequities that it causes)
Another negative issue that opponents of interleague play argue is that it may alter lifetime and single season league records. For instance, Roger Maris holds the AL record for home runs in a single season (61) from 1961 – years before interleague play. But what if an American League player hits 61 or more home runs in a season and a handful of the home runs just happen to be against National League teams during interleague play? How would this be listed in the official records? Perhaps with an asterisk?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than watching a Detroit-Tampa Bay series, interleague play brings us these match-ups: Tigers vs. Padres, Devil Rays vs. Marlins and Brewers vs. Orioles. If MLB is trying to boost attendance and interest how can these match-ups be justified? Most fans will only attend or watch interleague games if those match-ups are more interesting than the games they replace.
So, that brings us right back to where we started – the desire of MLB to increase attendance and interest. Maybe it is time for MLB to look at other ways to increase the appeal of the game because as far as I’m concerned, interleague play ranks right up there with the designated hitter and Astroturf – and that is not good.