A purist comes to grips with interleague games

The brain, of course, knows that interleague play has been good for baseball. Last year, attendance during interleague games was 33,606. That is 12.1 percent higher than games played by teams within their own leagues (data found here).  The biggest crowds of the season at Citi Field are when the Yankees play their interleague games there. The Athletics gain tremendously in attendance when the Giants come over to their dank, old stadium. Interleague play turns the ticket machines on overdrive and more money in the coffers for the sport is always a good thing.
And the novelty is always kind of refreshing during the season. With the schedules as they are now and seemingly endless runs of games within a team’s same division, a team getting a chance to play somebody different is sort of exciting. So there are good reasons for interleague play and Bud Selig is not wrong in saying that it is good for the sport.
But there is a clumsiness about it. Every year there are complaints that the interleague draws are unfair. In the past, was it unfair for the Giants to get six games against the A’s when the Dodgers drew six games against the Angels? Those match up have flip flopped a bit as teams are weaker and stronger in the course of seasons, but you get the idea. And going outside the regional match ups, there seemed to be a randomness on how teams got their interleague assignments.
But that is not the only discomfort. The biggest discomfort comes from having to play under two different sets of rules depending if the games are in a National League park or an American League one. Since the AL has the DH and the NL does not, this rules difference ruins things a bit. Of course, Yankee fans will never forget what happened to Chien-Ming Wang during interleague play when a guy who was never asked to hit and run the bases had to with disastrous results. Not only are American League pitchers not prepared to hit, but the National League teams are not built to accommodate a designated hitter.
These facts are borne out in the statistics. Last year, American League designated hitters had a .770 OPS. When the National League was able to use the DH, their OPS from those batters was only .657, a full 113 points less. Conversely, National League pitchers had an OPS of .361. That is pretty pathetic and a real reason that the NL should adopt the DH too. But as pathetic as that sounds, when American League pitchers had to bat, their OPS was .299. Many AL managers will tell their pitchers to simply take their strikes and get back to the dugout. The biggest difference is in the on-base percentage. AL pitchers walked only six times in 312 interleague plate appearances.
Of course, these inequities follow into the World Series when the rules change again depending on the home team. The obvious would seem to be to make the DH the norm during all interleague games. But despite the obvious benefit of allowing National League cities the benefit of seeing David Ortiz hit without exposing them to his inglorious turns at first base, having the DH all the time would give the American League a clear advantage during the contests.
If I was not a fan of interleague play as it stands now, just wait until next season when it will happen all the time. With fifteen teams in each league, whenever all thirty teams are in action–which is five out of every seven days of the week, at least one National League team will have to play an American League team. Such a fact is why the designated hitter should become the rule of all play starting next year. But that will never happen. But if it did, the National League would not have a disadvantage at the DH position in the lineup during interleague games and the AL would not be disadvantaged by having to bat pitchers.

The old guy inside me longs for the days when a Yankees – Mets World Series would mean the first time all year that the two teams met. But those days are gone and it is acknowledged here that it is good for the game. Next season, we will have more of it than ever before. But that does not mean I have to like  the way things stand now.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

6 thoughts on “A purist comes to grips with interleague games

  1. I can relate to your mixed feelings. One of my old bosses always said, "Change is good." I'm not sure if even she believed it.
    But while we're on the subject it really is time to get rid of the "no DH" rule for the National League. As far as I know, they're the only professional or college league in the world that doesn't use a DH. It's time for them to get with the program.

  2. I'm in my middle 40's, an "old guy" by some measure, and I'm never going to stop loathing it. I hate the no-DH NL game, the overblown double switches, and the carnival sideshow element of the interleague games. Hate.

    But baseball no longer chases me as a fan, and my kids love it, so I'll nurture my hate all by myself.

  3. I apologize for the formatting issues. Tried something experimental. Did not work. Sorry about that.

  4. I'm still bitter over the fact that Game 1 of the 2000 World Series was not the first game that ever counted between the Yankees and the Mets. Bud Selig robbed us of so much.

  5. I've always liked the DH and was a fan of inter-league as it gives us fans a chance to see that one great player from that one NL team that the average fan could never see.

    The attendance of these games supports that, hopefully they'll rotate those games that you could see each NL team in your park every 3 years or less…I thought it was designed this way, but it seems to have some teams that vget skipped.

    Plus it is great to see the Yankees come to Colorado and lauch some bombs versus Tulo & co.

  6. I have mixed feelings on this issue. I dislike the effect on the WS and the All-Star game, which really, really used to be a grudge match that the players took more seriously (OK, I have read the story about the AS game in the mid-fifties that went into extra innings, which upset Mickey Mantle and others because it was cutting into the cocktail hour and Yogi exhorted Stan Musial to "do something" when he came up in the 12th – The Man homered to end the game so maybe it wasn't always that serious).

    On the other hand – since i lived for a long time in the Philadelphia area I could get to see the Yankees play there occasionally and now that I'm living in the DC area I can see the Yanks play the Nats in addition to the games in Baltimore. So, I guess I can't really knock it too much.

    Anyway, the argument about attendance is pure BS and has been debunked many times. The games are played mostly on weekends in late May to mid June which is when the weather turns nice and school is letting out. Even the midweek night games get a boost because who wants to sit through a night game in 45-degree weather in April? It's also mostly related to the natural rivalry games. I doubt that Royals-Pirates or Mariners-Astros games are drawing big crowds. Next year when they have an interleague game every day of the season we'll see if the "attendance boost" holds true.

    The more serious problems related to scheduling and the DH are not easy to dismiss but I suspect that the inequities are going to be used as a spur to try to resolve some of these issues (OK, maybe I'm giving the owners and players too much credit).