Interleague play became a part of the baseball schedule in 1997, after years of waiting for a Subway Series or a Red Line Series or an all-Texas Series that never come to be. The closest thing I can remember to a Classic in my lifetime with two teams geographically near each other was in 1989, when the Athletics played the Giants, and the earthquake made that Series seem less momentous.
I know some people don’t like interleague play. I get together with my Dad and siblings for breakfast on Saturday mornings, and baseball is often part of the conversation. My brother declared recently that as commissioner his first act would be to do away with interleague play. Dad of course is a purist, who sometimes yearns for the days when the biggest changes in the game were things like not letting outfielders leave their gloves on the field when batting.
Fans of any sport don’t like long-standing traditions to change, and I understand that. 90% of the time when a change in baseball is discussed I’m going to be against it. I just can’t help it; I really like interleague play.
Interleague play regionalizes baseball. Lots of fans will travel to see their team play in different ballparks; when the ballpark is a short drive away this becomes easy enough that a fan won’t require an overnight stay, in hotels that are getting more expensive to help pay for those ballparks. Even fans that wouldn’t travel too far to see their team might do so if it’s only 50 or 60 miles—or in the case of New York, Chicago, or the Bay Area in California, a short train ride.
Regionalization makes for great rivalries, too. Visiting fans in a ballpark are mildly annoying to home fans; sometimes this can escalate and create enough animosity to fill up a ballpark with excited fans. I hate seeing idiotic violence at games, but I don’t doubt Mets fans get excited about beating the Yankees, and it makes for exciting baseball with much sweeter victories and tougher losses.
Conversely, the nature of interleague play is such that with interleague games on the schedule, the number of games between East and West Coast opponents is reduced, which is also a good thing in my opinion—it reduces travel headaches for players and teams, and fans don’t get nearly as excited about seeing a team from the other end of the country anyway, unless they were beaten by them in the playoffs the previous year. I’d rather pay to see the Phillies play the Orioles or Red Sox over the Giants or Padres (although the Dodgers have enough tradition to make them worth the ticket).
My only beef with interleague play is the designated hitter rule. With pitchers never batting in the American League, they have to learn how to do it whenever they play in a National League ballpark, which gives the National League team an advantage. I’ve been following how National League teams don’t know what to do about using a designated hitter in American League parks, but I don’t buy how that could be a problem. How hard could it be to put the best hitter on the bench in your batting order?
As long as we have the DH in one league and not the other, I suppose we have to live with that. It gives the National League an advantage in the World Series too. I’d rather see baseball change that tradition than keep it for tradition’s sake.
That said, I like seeing the Yankees play the Mets, or the Orioles play the Nationals, or the Cubs play the White Sox. The battle for the bragging rights of a geographical area steps up the emotions of fans and pumps up crowds.
Interleague play makes for some of the more exciting games on the schedule, and since they’re bringing in big crowds for those games, baseball won’t be getting rid of it. Owners motivated by dollar signs are as much of a tradition in baseball as wooden bats.
But in this case, I’m okay with it.