You Want to Fix Interleague Play in Baseball? Expand It!

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on July 2nd, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

Every year around the time of interleague play in major league baseball, where the American League competes against the National, the topic of its relevance comes up and whether or not it should be continued.

The usual tired arguments against interleague are trotted out: “Sure the New York Yankees/Mets or Chicago Cubs/White Sox are great but who cares about the Arizona Diamondbacks playing the Cleveland Indians?”

Next we hear that it is not balanced and it is not fair because some teams play a tougher interleague schedule and that can affect pennant races. For example, if team “A” from the American League plays a first place National League team, while team “B” fighting for the same division lead as team “A” plays a last place team in the NL, then team “A” is at a disadvantage.

And lastly of course, interleague play is an in your face reminder that the leagues play under a different set of rules and we have to hear about what it means to play with and without a designated hitter and the disadvantages of that.

When talking about a solution to interleague play, the answer from most broadcasters seems to be to eliminate it. However, shortly after voicing that opinion we get the condescending, “yeah but the fans still like it and attendance is up.” Funny how analysts suggest players and owners think of fans when debating labor and strike/ lockout issues but we seem to be an inconvenience with this issue. Like adding the wild card, and instant replay, interleague play is a great and overdue update to the game. The answer to any problems it may cause is to give us more of it and not less.

Everybody playing everybody eliminates any competitive advantage or disadvantage.

Let’s start with the match-up issue. Yes, natural rivalries are the best part of interleague play, but all the games are good to me. Fans may not get as excited about the Boston Red Sox playing the Pittsburgh Pirates as they would for the Red Sox vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, but you know what? The Red Sox vs. the Toronto Blue Jays nineteen times a year isn’t too exciting either. In case anyone has forgotten, major league baseball has the longest season by far of the major team sports. It is double the length of the NHL, two games short of being double the NBA and over ten times longer than an NFL season. In basketball and hockey every team plays every team.

In baseball the interleague schedule can be set up so that you play all teams in the other league for three games. One season you’re at home and the next you’re on the road.

Wrigley Field in Chicago is a special place to play a ballgame. A team (and their fans) that only plays there one series every other season appreciates and enjoys it more than a team that plays multiple series there every year. Would you rather see the Houston Astros play at Wrigley for nine games or see them play there for six? This would then allow an AL team to play in Chicago for three. And rather than play games seven eight and nine in Chicago, the Astros can play three games in beautiful Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Further, The Washington Nationals vs. the Los Angeles Angels might not sound exciting on its surface, but what if the Nationals have a young phenom making a come back like Stephen Strasburg, or the Cincinnati Reds’ young stud Aroldis Chapman? Young players are brought up and hyped. Why not give every city and team a chance to get a look at these players, and let every team and city get to go up against Jose Reyes, Justin Verlander, and so on?

Every year has surprise players and teams so you never know when a great match-up might happen. In the process, you will shed some of the excess and boring intraleague match-ups and the good ones will take on even more meaning because they won’t be so excessive. Yes I’m talking NY Yankees and Boston Red Sox or L.A. Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

To DH or not to DH?

I saved the hardest argument for last. The two leagues don’t have to have the same rules for this to work but it would be easier. Time to join the 21st century National League and add the designated hitter. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard broadcasters, when talking about hitting, comment on how a player needs to hit everyday to find his stroke or his rhythm. Pitchers do not have that opportunity. And with few exceptions, they are not professional hitters.

Further, I don’t like seeing opposing pitchers get to weasel out of a pitching jam by pitching around the guy batting 8th like he is Babe Ruth and then getting out a pitcher to save his inning. I don’t like seeing a pitcher pulled in the sixth inning of a great one run game for a pinch hitter. A manager pulling off the logistics of a double switch doesn’t impress me. And pitchers like Mark Prior and Chien Ming Wang never being the same after suffering injuries running the bases should never happen.

I respect the principle of holding on to a boring part of the game because you think it is part of the game. There is a certain integrity to that. But there is also a stubbornness to it. Games do change, they do evolve and the evolution of the DH, makes the game better. It protects pitchers from certain injuries, lengthens careers of players who can no longer play the field, and enables managers to give half days off to everyday players by taking a rest from the field for a day.

It is time for the two leagues to get together on this and make it happen one way or the other. However, what is more than likely is to hear commentators rolling out the same opinions for the next ten years and then maybe some movement. Wow, does Congress moves faster than baseball?

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in-depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

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