Major League Baseball: Exploring the Value of Interleague Play

Michael DixonAnalyst IIIMay 22, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 13:  National League All-Star David Wright #5 of the New York Mets and American League All-Star Robinson Cano #24 of the New York Yankees during the 81st MLB All-Star Game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 13, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

It was said on Saturday that league wide, the attendance for interleague play games is better than in normal games.

If that's true, and I have no reason to believe it's not, then interleague play is here to stay. If anything, the next step will be to expand it, not reduce or decline it.

The question is: Beyond monetary reasons, is it actually good for the game and its fans?

I live in the Bay Area and am a Giants fan. It's nice to have the rivalry with the A's and the bragging rights battles are fun, but they're nothing that we can't live without.

Granted, living in Bay Area, my judgment may be a bit clouded. After all, if interleague play didn't exist, I would still get a chance to see any great American League players any season, since they would play at least one series in Oakland. Likewise, A's fans would be able to see any great National League players at least once a year in San Francisco.

Fans in many cities don't have that advantage. As an example, if interleague play didn't exist, when would someone living in Toronto ever get a chance to see Albert Pujols?

At face value, that's not a bad argument, but it's not a definitive case to keep interleague play.

For one, unless you have a natural rival, you don't see anyone from the other league every year.

From the time interleague play started in 1997 through 2001, teams only played opponents from the same division in the opposite league. In other words, the West played the West; Central played the Central, and East played the East.

The only exceptions came when natural rivals were in different divisions. For example, the battle of Texas featured on team in the NL Central (the Astros) and the other in the AL West (the Rangers). They still played every year.

Since 2002, interleague play has been more rotational, although natural rivals still always play a home-and-home series. But still, 2011 is the first time that the Cubs have played at Fenway Park. Think about how many great players have come and gone for both teams in that time.

Interleague play in its current form still doesn't guarantee that fans will see great players from the other league.

The other argument is that in this era, many great players jump from team to team and league to league anyway. I know, there are some stalwarts like Derek Jeter, Todd Helton, Albert Pujols (at least for now) and Alex Rodriguez, who has jumped teams but as always been in the American League.

There are plenty of great players that have at least stayed in one league, but several others have jumped back and forth between the American and National Leagues. Think about how many times people like Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey Jr. have jumped leagues.

There are a few other arguments that would point to at least lessening interleague play.

The first is that it creates inherently tougher schedules for one team than others. The Mets play the Yankees six times a year, every year. I know baseball has parity, but the Yankees are always good. A team playing them six times every year gets a much tougher draw than someone playing the Orioles six times a year.

The second and maybe more telling problem actually predates interleague play.

Starting with the 1995 postseason, each league has been awarded one wild-card team. There is a very real possibility that that will expand to two per league starting in 2012.

What this means is that you have teams potentially vying for playoff spots against teams not in their division. Under the current schedule, those teams play six games a year, one series in each city. There are some exceptions every year, but that's a general rule of thumb.

If interleague play was abolished, that would open up an extra 5-7 series for teams potentially in a battle for a wild-card spot.

How those series are determined could be based on the previous year's standings, just like they are in the NFL.

The bottom line here is the bottom line. If the attendance numbers are significantly better in interleague play games, it is going nowhere. Truthfully, as much as I dislike it, it is fun to see series like the Red Sox vs. Cubs.

I guess that I am just envisioning an extra series or two between two teams vying for playoff spots against each other. In other words, let the playoff spots be decided on the field.

That happens now, but every September we see some teams not in a race (either because they are eliminated or so far ahead) whose efforts are being questioned by fans and even some players of opposing teams.

If Team A is not in a race, they may be more willing to use a lineup of September call-ups against Team B. The problem with that is that Team B may well be in playoff a race against Team C. Team C wants Team A to play their best lineup against Team B. Understandable, right?

My proposal wouldn't eliminate that problem, but it would limit it. Team C wouldn't have as much to complain about if they had a few extra chances to beat Team B.

It's not at all infrequent for teams in the same league to be done playing each other early in the season. As we all know, teams can look dramatically different in May than they look in September.

Getting an extra series or two, ideally placed later in the year, could make for some exciting games.

I'm curious for anyone's thoughts. Do you agree with me? Do you like interleague play? Do you dislike it more than I do and think that I missed an opportunity to discredit it even further? Feel free to express your opinions.