With another year of interleague play in MLB upon us, it’s time for the annual whining and complaining about the inequities inherent in the system.
Interleague play was created 15 years ago in an effort to stimulate interest in baseball, and of course, increase attendance at ballparks. At the time, MLB was recovering from the effects of the 1994 strike and needed a boost at the turnstiles and in the media. And this “gimmick,” as some have referred to it, turned out to be successful. Attendance at interleague games has consistently averaged about 12% higher than the rest of the regular season.
Of course, some interleague matchups are more attractive than others. Who doesn’t like watching the intra-city series, Cubs-White Sox, Yankees-Mets, or the Dodgers and the other “Los Angeles” team, the Angels? Some so-called rivalries are more manufactured than real. Take the battle of the Sunshine State, pitting the Rays against the Marlins, and the series between the Rangers and Astros for bragging rights in Texas.
But in order to have the “natural” rivalries, you need a dud or two, or rather, four or five. With 30 MLB teams, not every series is going to create a buzz, in the stands or in the media. Padres- Mariners? Twins-Diamondbacks? Who cares? Some years we get lucky. This year, the interleague scheduling Gods gave us Cubs-Red Sox, the first time the Cubbies have played at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series.
But some critics fail to recognize that intraleague games aren’t always marquee affairs either. Pittsburgh-Arizona? Kansas City-Seattle? Those matchups aren’t likely to put a strain on any of the participants’ ticket offices.
There are a number of other arguments against interleague games. AL teams are built for a DH, which can’t be used when games are played in NL parks. But what’s even more ridiculous is that the two leagues play by different rules in the first place. Clear that issue up – one way or another – and the no-DH-in-NL-parks argument disappears.
Another oft heard complaint is the uneven degree of difficulty in the schedule, even for teams in the same division. This year, the NL Central plays the AL East, at least on paper. But with only 15-18 interleague games, the reality is quite different. In addition to the Red Sox, the lucky Cubs drew the Yankees. Their division rivals, the Cardinals, play the three AL East teams other than the Red Sox and Yankees. That’s fair?
But baseball is already an inherently unfair game, even without interleague play. At which point during the season teams play each other, and who’s pitching, can have a dramatic effect on a team’s record. Would teams rather have played the Red Sox during their 2-10 start or during their 22-10 streak? Is facing Josh Beckett the same as facing John Lackey?
Teams need to win their division in order to guarantee a playoff berth, the sine qua non of a successful season. Yet the divisions are uneven. The AL West consists of four teams, the NL Central has six, and the other divisions have five. Teams in the AL West need beat out only three teams to make the playoffs, while a team in the NL Central has to beat out five. That’s fair?
Teams play an unbalanced schedule within their own league, meaning teams in the AL Central play a maximum of 16 games, combined, against the Red Sox and Yankees, while teams in the AL East play them 18 times each. Yet all teams compete “equally” for the Wild Card. That’s fair?
There have been suggestions that MLB adopt a schedule similar to the NFL, where out of division games match teams based on the similarity of their previous year’s record. But such a schedule would also be open to criticism. Are the 2011 Cleveland Indians the equivalent of the 2010 team? Would teams who were expecting to play the 2009 version of the San Diego Padres have been happy about playing them last year?
There’s no way to insure a “fair” schedule. But here’s an idea. MLB could contract two teams and then have the remaining teams play every other team (27) an equal number of games (6), regardless of league. Now there’s an idea guaranteed to bring out the whiners and complainers!
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