Fifteen Years of Interleague Play and I’m Still Not Sure

Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets: He who homered to defeat the Yankees in round 1 of the 2011 Subway Series.

In 1997, I attended the first so-called Subway Series of the regular season between the Yankees and the Mets. It was at Yankee Stadium, and the Mets humiliated the Bronx Bombers by a score of 6-0. Pitcher Dave Mlicki handcuffed the Stinkees.

(Often at a game, when one is distracted from the action, the roar of “the friendly fans” lets you know something good is happening for your home team. Except at these Subway Series games, in which the crowd is screaming equally for one team or the other. You never know when to look up from your scorecard or peanuts for the right cue to do likewise. There is no room for distraction.)

I’m not sure I understand the mathematics, but the first interleague games were played fourteen years ago, though this marks fifteen years of interleague play. (This must be akin to one’s first, actual birth-day, which means the one-year-old is really celebrating his or her second birth-day.) For cricket followers: interleague refers to play among teams of the National League and the American League. Before 1997, teams within each league only played outside their respective leagues in the World Series. When a fan follows a team in one of the two major leagues, that fan usually is a fan only of that league. Moving allegiance or even general interest from the NL to the AL, or vice versa, is akin to a religious conversion.

The players probably detest these games, essentially exhibition games that nonetheless count in the standings. They are forced to learn rosters and the strengths and weaknesses of players they do not normally face. When two teams are in the same city, six games of the interleague schedule feature home-and-away games of the teams fighting within their respective cities for fan allegiance (that is, money). The Subway Series features home-and-away series between the Mets (NL) and the Yankees (AL). The Freeway Series consists of six games between the Los Angeles Dodgers (NL) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (AL). The Chicago Cubs (NL) play the Chicago White Sox (AL), and Oakland (AL) plays San Francisco (NL).

In trying to establish interesting match ups, the schedule-makers this year have the Boston Red Sox of the American League playing the Chicago Cubs, in Boston, for the first time since the 1918 World Series, the very same a pitcher named Babe Ruth took the mound for the Sox in their last championship till 2004. But many other games include “rivalries” that do not exist: this weekend Texas and Philadelphia, Houston and Toronto for example. (Though the Rangers and the Astros set up a geographic rivalry.)

Many moons ago, I felt that limited interleague play would boost interest. People in various cities would get to see a team they rarely would. (The Yankees playing in Denver would be a novelty: in fact, it has been.) And it would be fun to see, for example, the White Sox at Wrigley, since neither team often finds its way to the World Series. But now, I find myself less and less interested in interleague play: games that can skew the standings in almost grotesque, Fellini-like ways.

Is this sour grapes? Am I bitter that the Mets have (temporary! I hope) bragging rights in New York town?

More to the point, I wonder how you feel about fifteen years of interleague play.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
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