OK, come on. You can admit it. We already know. Interleague play was a bad idea from the start, and it’s becoming a disastrous practice now. But wait, you may protest, now we can see teams play each other who would never ordinarily face off. I’m sure you’re thinking Mets vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. White Sox, that sort of thing. They can’t all be these artificial geographic “rivalries”. How about the Kansas City Royals vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, or the Seattle Mariners vs. the Washington Nationals? *Yawn*
So, what so wrong with interleague play? Let’s start by reviewing what’s right about it. Oh, right, seeing contests that otherwise wouldn’t happen, except in a World Series. Actually, not such a plus, as it turns out. Also, it was supposed to boost interest among those marginal “casual fans” that mean so much to revenue enhancement. Sure, there was a temporary boost in attendance when the program first started, but a review of MLB attendance over the last few years shows little difference between now and before interleague play began. The novelty has worn off. Now, let’s review the negatives.
In the first place, the two leagues have different rules. One in particular. You know the one I mean. Now personally, I would rather that they abolish the designated hitter rule, for a whole host of reasons, but that’s the subject for another post. If the two leagues are to play each other during the season, they should have the same rules. Otherwise, one league suffers, and that’s the American League. Not because they are at a competitive disadvantage (the AL has consistently beaten the NL on a seasonal basis since interleague play began) but because the AL teams are thrown out of their rhythm, having to bench either the DH or some other player to make room for the DH, and because pitchers are sometimes injured swinging at pitches, since they never otherwise do it, and are out of the habit of hitting.
Also, interleague play complicates the schedule incredibly. Interleague play takes 18 games away from the 162 regular seasons schedule, which means that the league schedule is reduced to 144 games. In the American League, each team plays each other in its division 18 times (in the Eastern and Central Divisions), more in the Western (because it is 4 teams instead of 5). If we take an AL East schedule for example, 18 games against each of 4 divisional opponents is 72 games. That leaves 72 games for the 9 interdivisional opponents, or 8 games each on average. That’s it. Because the divisions are of unequal size, these games are distributed unevenly. So we have the ridiculous situation where Boston plays a 3 game series in Seattle, then sees the Mariners for a series in Boston, and that’s it for the whole year. In addition, to make the schedule work, the travel schedule is incredibly tight, teams are sometimes whipsawed back and forth across the country, and everything is screwed up if there is a rainout involving a non-divisional opponent, resulting in the ludicrous situation where games are delayed for hours waiting for weather to pass, or are played in conditions that would normally be considered unfit for play. Sometimes, teams must play at night in one city, then in the afternoon in another.
Speaking of the schedule, it is of course, also not only unbalanced, but unfair. Does it really make sense that, after 162 games, if the Cardinals and Cubs played even all year, St. Louis should win the NL Central vs. Chicago because the Cards got an easy pair of series against the lowly Kansas City Royals while the Cubs had to struggle against the red hot White Sox? There was a time when the balanced schedule was a basic value of baseball. With a 14 team American League, that’s not really possible, but interleague play throws any faint attempt at balance right down the toilet.
Finally, there is the sentimental reason. Most of us grew up eagerly looking forward to the World Series, even if our own teams had no hope of getting there. It was the only time we got to see teams from the two leagues face each other in games that mattered. Now, those teams meet during the regular season, and the first time it happens, the sports media hype the event as “the first time these teams have met since 1912.” Sure, because it was scheduled that way. No big deal. It is exciting when both teams labored all season for the right to have that meeting. Otherwise, it’s just a contrived event. Taking away from the specialness of the World Series, and of the separateness of the two leagues, in my opinion, ultimately means lower ratings and less interest in the Series, and erodes the base of baseball loyalists. Now, we’re no longer talking “revenue enhancement”, we’re talking core revenue.
If you like seeing top hitters sitting out whole series, pitchers sent to the DL after straining oblique muscles in the batter’s box, or watching two teams try to finish 5 innings in a downpour, then you are saying, “what’s the big deal?” If seeing the World Series reduced to just another playoff series, then I guess interleague play is OK with you.
Baseball has made big mistakes before. Disco Night at Comiskey Park. 50 Cent Beer Night at Cleveland Stadium. The 4th MLB expansion. This is the only one that is repeated year after year.
The Basic Agreement is coming up for renewal. Enough is enough. It’s time to stop the madness. Abolish interleague play. Give us our season back.