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.
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.