This is an article that was originally published on HardRockSports.com.
As the second round of interleague baseball kicks into high gear, HardRock Sports columnist Scott A. Ham takes a look at why it’s time to put this puppy to rest.
Interleague play must go. I was thinking of leaving the column with just those four words, the simplicity making a profound and long-lasting impression on you, the reader. Then I saw the crowd at Shea Stadium Friday night to watch the Yanks and the Mets enter round two of the New York Subway Series and realized it may take a little more than that to make my point.
So here I go to type more words to convince you of my theory. But first, let me preface this tirade by giving you a little history of my baseball gripes: I hated the three divisional system when it was first put into place but have learned to live with the need for it; I hated the idea of a wild card system drawing out the playoffs another series and creating races for second place within a division, but, because of the three divisional system, realized it was necessary to maintain some competition; and finally, I hate the fact that Major League Baseball obviously juiced the ball after the ’94 season to increase the offense, then, in the bogus name of LIMITING offense established a universal strike zone that the umpires have all but ignored. Still, it’s a great game and I’ll watch it until the day I die.
The fact is that changes are made in sports for one reason and one reason only: money. The 24-second shot clock in basketball was an attempt to speed up the game and draw more viewers. Three divisions and the wild card became much more acceptable to baseball owners when revenue from another round of playoffs entered the picture. Heck, even volleyball abolished the side-out rule because they thought it was slowing down the game and boring people to death.
When sports like volleyball take action, you know there’s a problem.
And now we’re left with interleague play. When interleague play first came into fruition a couple of seasons ago, it was given the purpose of allowing fans in other cities to see the superstars of baseball that would never visit their town. Ken Griffey Jr., Arod, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza. All these players would be making three game appearances in venues they’d never played before and revitalize the game amidst the dragging post-strike era. Sounds reasonable, but the problems for the traditionalists lied in how these changes effected almost a hundred years of tradition. American and National league teams weren’t supposed to meet until the World Series. But in the name of revenue, baseball pushed on.
They gave us many reasons why interleague was good for the sport. A couple for instances:
As above, fans in different cities get to see the players in person that they never would.
It would seem that way given the outline MLB designed. The original plan was for the first two seasons to rotate divisions. In the first year, the AL East would play the NL East. The next year, the AL East would play the NL Central, etc. This way, you get to see everyone.
But that’s not how it worked out, is it? Instead, everyone has played the same division for the last three seasons. Major League Baseball found out that there were some geographical rivals in Chicago, New York, and California drawing sell-out crowds that wouldn’t exist if the Devil Rays played the Astros. Now, not only has everyone played the same division in each year, but the Yankees and Mets play TWO series just to draw the crowds. Boston draws the Braves twice to the Yankees once creating a clearly unbalanced schedule.
Interleague play gives fans the rivalry games they want to see.
Sure, in Chicago, New York, California, even Texas. The Mets drew 54,000 people Friday night. How about the games that nobody cares about? Milwaukee at Detroit drew 23,000. 10,000 showed up for Toronto at Montreal. In the midst of battles for small market teams to increase revenue, interleague play has clearly benefited the teams that are “making too much money.” That goes against everything Major League Baseball claims they are trying to do.
Regardless of these minor drawbacks, there are major flaws in the system, most notably the effect on the schedule. In the NL Central, there are six teams compared to the AL Central’s five. To correct the problem, St. Louis doesn’t play Cleveland, the team with the best record in baseball, at all, creating a huge advantage for them in a tight pennant race. Al Leiter attributed the Mets missing the playoffs by one game in ’98 to the three games they had to play against the Yankees.
Worst of all, to accommodate the large number of interleague games, the schedule against same division teams has suffered. Teams play other teams in their own division 12 times over the season, two series at home and two on the road. Against teams outside of their division, sometimes they play ten games, sometimes twelve. For instance, the Yankees play the Central division Tigers twelve times this season, but the Indians only ten. This creates advantages and disadvantages for certain teams in how often they play the stiffer competition. The importance of determining pennants by playing teams within your division is completely lost when you don’t play a significant number of games against them. Likewise, the rivalries that have formed in the past and can be built today are given less chance to develop.
Simply put, interleague play has done nothing for baseball but unbalance the competition, create wider gaps between the small and large market teams, and conflict the exact goals it “attempted” to achieve by implementing the games to begin with. I beg of you, Mr. Selig, tear down that wall.