Interleague Play, Please Go Away
Once upon a time there was separatism between the American League and the National League which I look back fondly on. 1997 was the first year where AL and NL teams would play against each other during the regular season. 1997 was a good year for me, but alas an ever-changing time for Major League Baseball. You see, the separate lives of the two leagues really made the World Series that much more special and unique in the way in which it pitted two stranger teams against each other in a battle for the golden crown. Unfamiliar pitchers, rare matchups, and alien ball parks gave the Fall Classic an extra facet to enjoy. There was an intriguing mystique inherent to the World Series which featured the unsurpassed team of each league. After 15 years, I feel that this special league differentiation has been somewhat watered down. Maybe I’m stuck in my traditionalist ways, but I just don’t care for Interleague Play.
Smack dab in the middle of the season, it seems like we take two weeks out of our regularly scheduled programming to transcend leagues. Just as we are getting into the groove of the season, we are forced to manipulate our lineup with a designated hitter, and we venture into exotic lands like Seattle and Oakland. The thing is, these games count. So it is quite possible that added losses during Interleague Play can impact the pennant races.
I’m perfectly happy with the traditional exhibition Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels rather than the two three-game sets they now play during the regular season. I understand that some may like these rivalry type matchups, but I’d rather play additional games versus our National League West Division rivals like the San Francisco Giants than against those other guys down Interstate 5. Obviously baseball is a business, and some of these geographical rival sets were created in order to bring back the fans to the ballpark after the 1994 players’ strike. Isn’t a exciting division race more thrilling than a six-game set with a team in which we will have no other games played against unless we both happen to get to the World Series?
The Dodgers never fare well in Interleague Play. In fact, the National League as a whole hasn’t done well against their American League foes. The NL has only had a winning record against the AL in Interleague Play in four seasons (1997, 1999, 2002, 2003). The Dodgers currently (up to Friday night’s game against the White Sox) have played 245 Interleague Games since its inception in ’97. They have a record of 112-133. So far our Boys in Blue are .500 this season in Interleague Play after winning two of three in Seattle but losing two of three at home against the Angels. They still have nine more Interleague games to play: three with the Chicago White Sox, three with the Oakland A’s, and three more with the Angels. After we wrap up the final Freeway Series game with the Angels next week, we don’t get any break as we go straight from Anaheim to San Francisco to battle our true rivals. The All-Star Break can’t come soon enough for the Kemp-less Dodgers.
The Interleague scheduling seems random at times too. For some reason it seems like we’re always playing the White Sox. There are many teams which have never crossed paths in Interleague play as well. The Dodgers have never hosted the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees have never hosted the Dodgers. The sad thing is even if the Dodgers ever are scheduled to play at Yankee Stadium, it would most likely be impossible for the average fan to buy a single ticket. Remember how they didn’t make single-day tickets available when the Yankees played at Dodger Stadium? If these geographical rivalries and unique matchups are made to attract more fans, then limiting access to said games to the VIPs is hypocritical.
Unfortunately next season we will see even more Interleague Play when the Houston Astros move over to the American League. Each league will have 15 teams, and this will force Interleague Play to be scheduled throughout the season. Which means there will be Interleague Play, gasp, on Opening Day! There will also be Interleague Play down the stretch and during division races.
Imagine if the Dodgers have to play their Opening Day Series in Seattle. Woe is me! Let’s hope the schedulers are already hard at work making sure these atrocities don’t occur. Baseball, like life, evolves and changes with the times. Who knows what the game will look like in another 15 years. Perhaps there will be no AL or NL, and the designated hitter will be utilized throughout the game. Robots and video playback may replace umpiring. Yet the fundamental roots of the game will always remain. Bat. Ball.