Tribe Talk: Is Interleague Play Ruining Baseball?

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IJune 10, 2010

NEW YORK - APRIL 18: Fausto Carmona #55 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season.

This week, we discuss the merits and drawbacks of interleague play, debate whether it’s possible to manufacture a rivalry, and ponder how much brains really matter in baseball.

I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla and Lewie Pollis for their contributions. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.

Go Tribe!

1. Friday of this week will mark the beginning of this season's stretch of interleague play, with the Tribe matched up against the NL East this time around.

Many people don't care for interleague play, and still more view it largely with a resigned sort of indifference. Save for giving contenders a possible preview of their potential world series match-up, interleague play is generally regarded as of little value beyond (in theory) filling seats.

Are you for or opposed to interleague play? Do you enjoy the diversity it adds to the schedule, or would you prefer not to lose the opportunity to play more games against other AL opponents to it?

Do you see any value at all in having interleague play, or would you abolish it if you had the chance?

Samantha Bunten:
Somewhere between the arguments of “it’s destroying the tradition of baseball” and “it’s a brilliantly executed marketing gimmick for selling tickets”, lies the truth about interleague play: it’s actually a bit of both of those things.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of interleague play. Mostly it’s boring and takes away opportunities to face our AL-rivals more often. But it’s not destroying baseball any more than the DH is, and it does sell tickets, which is something that we should be thankful for in Cleveland no matter what the reason.

I certainly wouldn’t protest if MLB voted to abolish interleague play, but I wouldn’t spearhead the campaign to make it happen either. If nothing else, it’s just too much fun watching our pitchers try to bat.

Nino Colla: I don't think there is anything wrong with interleague play personally, so I wouldn't abolish it. However I'm not sure I'd put up a fight kicking and screaming if someone wanted to take it away.

That being said, I think it is cool to see teams we don't usually see. I mean, if we didn't have interleague play, Stephen Strasburg wouldn't be making his second ever start in Cleveland. The only opportunity for the Indians to see a player like Albert Pujols would be if they made the World Series and that isn't happening anytime soon. So I'm all for interleague play because it is something different.

Would I like to see the Yankees and Red Sox come to Cleveland a few more times? Personally, no, but you get what I'm saying. I think we see the Royals and White Sox enough, so give me the Nationals or the Rockies once every few years. It's fun!

Lewie Pollis: I know, I know, interleague play is ruining baseball. It makes the World Series less special. It mashes together two different styles of baseball to create awkward results. It isn't fair to some teams. I get it, I've heard it all before.

But I don't really care about any of that. Simply put, I like interleague matchups. They're fun to watch because they're opportunities to see teams and players who we don't normally play against. Let the traditionalists scream their heads off, but I think interleague play is fun.

2.  Continuing the discussion on interleague play:

After facing off with four NL East opponents, the Tribe has the second series of the season against the Reds to wrap up interleague play in 2010.

The Reds might be considered our "natural rivals" in the NL, geographically speaking, and indeed that's how baseball's marketing department hopes we see it.

In reality though, it begs the question: Can you truly form a rivalry with a team in a wholly different league, who you only see twice per season?

Is there even any sense in creating such a rivalry outside of marketing potential, and do you even agree with the idea of creating manufactured rivalries purely to sell tickets?

Do you actually see the Reds as a rival? Do you think these rivalries based on geography alone ever truly take, or are our AL Central division foes our only true rivals?

Samantha Bunten:
Same league, different league…doesn’t really matter: you cannot manufacture a rivalry at all, and shame on the league execs who are attempting to do so to sell tickets.

Besides, the Reds are more like our brother-in-arms than our rival. Most of us like to see the Reds do well, count them as our favorite NL team, and such. I enjoy any chance to beat up on Brandon Phillips, but other than that, I’m behind the Reds 100 percent, which really doesn’t make for a good rivalry.

The Indians and Reds are just one example of the fact that rivalries based purely on geography rarely take root. Our rivals have to come out of our division, and even those have lost their intensity as our team struggles.

Gone are the days of CC Sabathia declaring “I hate the Twins!” on TV after Torii Hunter publicly needled the Indians. Even within the division, the closest thing we have to a rival now is the Tigers, mostly thanks to the epic Carmona/Sheffield boxing match of 2008.

Nino Colla: You can if you have winners like Brandon Phillips on the other team wanting to extract every bit of revenge possible on an organization he forced himself out of.

The fans aren't stupid and really, we could be the Red Sox playing the Yankees, but the fact of the matter is if the team isn't winning, the club isn't going to sell tickets. Whether it is the Reds or the Red Sox, Cleveland isn't selling out and they aren't making gobs of more money because a certain game is a rivalry game or a big draw.

Sure the Yankees will draw bigger crowds, but is it going to pull the Tribe out of debt single-handedly? The answer is no.

I do not see the Reds as a rival. I see them as a twin brother. More like a fraternal twin considering they are nothing like us, but still a brother that is in the same situation. Heck I don't even think there is much of a rivalry between the Indians and any of the other teams in the division. I think maybe the Tigers are the only team closest to our rival because of 2007, but other than that, since Torii Hunter and CC Sabathia are on different teams now, not even the Twins and Indians have an inkling of bad blood.

It is nice that the Reds are in the same training complex though. It sort of adds to the whole Ohio Cup thing that we do see them more often and we actually share a spring training site with them so we hear about them more often. Some of the more important things that add to a "rivalry" though are just not present.

Lewie Pollis: Anyone remember Pokémon? Ash fought against Gary maybe once or twice a season, but there was no doubt about the intensity of their rivalry. How about Yu-Gi-Oh? Same with Yugi and Kaiba. The point is, a rivalry is a rivalry, no matter how often the competitors clash.

Geography works as the basis for a rivalry in some cases, but I don't think this is one of them. There's such a massive cultural divide between Cleveland and Cincinnati (and it's pretty far, like a five-hour drive) that I don't think any fan really feels that the other team is infringing upon his or her turf.

As for manufacturing rivalries, as a fan I think it's kind of cheesy, but if it really does sell tickets, then as a marketing executive you'd have to call it a success. Guess which perspective dominates the front office? It's like the opposite of  Field of Dreams: "If you'll come, we will build it."

3.  Monday begins the 2010 season's amateur draft. We've already discussed draft predictions for the Tribe in this column, and largely came to the conclusion that the very nature of baseball drafts makes them very hard to predict.

Still, there are a few names floating around the rumor mill that have been connected with the Tribe as possible selections in the first round this year, where the Tribe has the fifth overall pick.

What do you think the Tribe will do with their first pick? (If you are submitting your responses after Monday's selections, feel free to instead share your opinions on our new prospect, and on whether it was a good selection for the Tribe).

Further, do you think the Tribe's choice will be (or was) limited by slotting bonus or signability issues?

If so, does this make you feel that our finances are keeping us from getting the best player possible, or do you prefer that the team stay away from signing players who may come with financial complications?

Samantha Bunten: The MLB draft is notoriously the toughest to predict ahead of time or critique immediately afterward. The nature of baseball’s system makes it nearly impossible to predict how draft picks will pan out. Generally speaking, I know a lot more about baseball than any other sport, and feel infinitely more qualified to opine on issues in MLB than on those in the NFL, but I still have a much easier time making predictions about the NFL draft than the MLB draft. After Bryce Harper, you might as well be trying to predict winning lottery numbers.

While acknowledging that caveat though, I think Drew Pomeranz was an excellent pick for the Tribe in the first round. Pomeranz is probably the best college pitcher out there, and a lefty to boot.

I generally find most of the Indians’ overall elements of strategy for success far too conservative, but that careful approach actually helps them when it comes to certain parts of the draft. I don’t always agree with how they distribute their picks (too many corner players, not enough pure athletes), but I like that they stay away from “high risk” players, and also from most early round prep kids, especially when it comes to pitchers.

This makes signability and slotting issues far less important. College players don’t demand the same kind of overpayment without proof of success as prep players do, since prep players need a lot of zeroes attached to a bonus to lure them away from going to college. It’s also a lot easier to predict someone’s potential success when they’re 20-21 than when they’re 18.

In college, a player’s tendency toward injury and talent ceiling become more apparent. This is especially true with pitchers - most high school pitchers haven’t even had a chance to blow out what might be a very weak arm yet, and a lot of them don’t even know how to throw a curve ball.

Nino Colla: Well I am indeed selecting after the pick of fifth overall pick Drew Pomeranz and after reading up, I can't say I have any issues with it. It is hard to have a real issue with an MLB draft pick because, admittedly for myself and most people, the MLB draft is a lot more distant than drafts in the other sports.

Sure we hear about Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, but even then those guys are not instant impact. Even if Strasburg comes in tonight (as of writing this) and does well, it will still be a year or two for the full payoff of his talent. It will also still be a few more years after that before his max talent begins to shine through.

But that all being said on the surface, Drew Pomeranz looks like a solid pick. Best left-handed pitcher in the draft and best college pitcher in the draft and he has the makings of a CC Sabathia-like pitcher if you ask me. Everything about him screams some of the qualities CC had during his stint with the Tribe. Workhorse, power-pitcher, left-handed. He isn't sporting a upper-90's fastball but he can consistently stay in the mid-90's with movement. Plus he has an awesome name that I've already spun off into a parody song by The Beach Boys: Pah Pah Pah Pah-Pomeranz, Pah Pah Pah Pah-Poermanz…

There were no slotting or signing issues at work here either and you typically don't have those issues in the top five. Pomeranz will not sign for slot money and the Indians probably will not press for that anyway. There were no players the Indians didn't pursue because of signability and it would seem as if once Harper and Taillon went off the board, Pomeranz was the pick for Cleveland.

I think financial implications have more of a factor in later rounds. There was the year back in 2008 when they were able to splurge with their signings and grab guys like TJ House, Trey Haley, and Tim Fedroff with signing bonuses because of some extra money they freed up. If they didn't trade Byrd, they probably would have just ended up with just one of those three players or maybe even none of them.

I think if the Pirates had not taken Stetson Allie in the second round, the Indians would have been in a serious position to wonder about him. Allie is said to be a future first overall pick at some point if he doesn't sign with Pittsburgh, and he's actually a local product from St. Edwards in Cleveland. You pass on a guy like Allie (if he's there) because of signability issues, but then again many teams might have done that as well. The Indians typically draft guys that they are going to sign.

They haven't gone for a High School player in the first round in a long, long time and it has everything to do with the risk involved in having to either give that player a lot of money, or essentially wasting your pick on someone who is going to go to college if he doesn't hear the price tag he wants.

I think the whole system is bogus and needs fixed. The NBA for my money is the only sport that really has it right. As critical as people are about them having the one-and-done rule, they have the slotting system worked out perfectly where unproven players don't get paid more than proven players who have a track-record.

The MLB has a slotting system, but it isn't mandatory. You add one that is definite and you have a lot more people signing because you'll have the best players being picked in the first round, because you want to get the best bang for your buck, or if a player makes it known that he will not sign regardless, no one picks him and no signability issues arise.

But that’s a different story for a different day. The Indians just have to play the hand that they are dealt.

Lewie Pollis: I'm not an expert on prospects, so I can't give a personal scouting report. But I keep reading Drew Pomeranz's name attached to phrases like "best college pitcher," "best lefty pitcher," and "quick ascension to the majors."

It seems like we really did take the best player available, and when you throw in guys like Washington, Wolters, and Aviles, I think we have reason to be excited about our 2010 draft class.

4. Right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann was promoted to the Indians on Friday (taking Jamey Wright's roster spot, who was DFA'd), and made his debut with the team on Sunday.

Herrmann's background is interesting: he's a Harvard University grad and also a player who went undrafted and was later signed as a free agent. In other words, Hermann is clearly a very sharp guy, but was apparently lacking in the talent to warrant being drafted when he became eligible.

There are many examples of undrafted free agents who later went on to be major contributors to a major league team, and perhaps Herrmann is just one more of those who proved the experts' initial opinions wrong.

However, one must also consider, in Hermann's situation, that perhaps it was brains that allowed him to succeed in reaching the majors despite initially being snubbed by the sport.

Do you think this is a possibility in his case? And generally speaking, how much DO brains matter in baseball? How smart do you have to be to succeed in the game, and how much can being smarter than your peers really help you?

Samantha Bunten:
Crash Davis once explained his resentment of Nuke LaLoosh to him by saying,  “I got brains, but you got talent.” If you recall which one of them ended up going to the show, you’ll have your answer as to how much brains matter in baseball.

Don’t get me wrong, smarts can make a difference in one's success in the game. As is the case with any other situation, it never hurts to be the  smartest guy in the room. It’s more that brains only matter so much in baseball, and they matter a lot less than talent.

For example, a smart pitcher will know exactly where to spot a fastball in order to outsmart a given hitter, but that only works if he has the talent to put the ball in a specific location in the first place. He can use his brains to complement a good fastball, but not to create one.

I suppose the bottom line for Herrmann, Ross Ohlendorf, or any other smart guy playing ball is that brains can improve upon talent, but can’t substitute for it. They got it right in Bull Durham when Nuke, despite being the guy with the “million dollar arm but five cent head”, was still the one who ended up with the Porsche.

Nino Colla: Greg Maddux wasn't a Harvard graduate (didn't even attend college), but he was brilliant in terms of playing the game and pitching. I don't know if Frank The Tank's book smarts translate to him being a smart pitcher on the field, but they certainly can't hurt.

Being game smart is important. You can't just be Elijah Dukes out there and succeed on talent alone. Guys like Albert Pujols are just brilliant when it comes to hitting. Can they solve a Sheldon Cooper physics equation? I doubt it, but someone like Pujols knows how to hit beyond just  “see ball ,hit ball” like say, Russell Branyan.

Double it with pitching. A guy like Jeremy Sowerrs would be awesome if he could just, I don't know, throw a fastball or be relegated to relief work. Who knows what Frank Herrmann is capable of with a few MPH on his fastball (which were added when he moved to the pen) and some smarts.

Lewie Pollis: Brains matter in baseball, sure, but it has more to do with mentality than intelligence. Obviously some extra IQ points can't hurt, but with great knowledge comes the risk of over-thinking things.

If you've studied a pitcher enough to know what he's likely to throw in each count, that's great. Just make sure you spend less time thinking "what will he throw" than you do thinking "what is he throwing?"

5. Fun Question of the Week: The All-Star game is now just over a month away, and the voting process for selecting the starters in the game is in full swing.

Below please share who will get your vote as the starter at each position for the National League. (Look for our American League All-Star predictions in next week’s Tribe Talk).

Samantha Bunten: Miguel Olivo, Albert Pujols, Chase Utley,  Troy Tulowitzki, and Panda Sandoval in the infield. Ryan Braun, Jason Heyward, and Marlon Byrd in the outfield.

With apologies to his teammate Roy Halladay, I’ll let Jamie Moyer make the start, because old guys are awesome.

Nino Colla: C: Miguel Olivo, 1B: Albert Pujols, 2B: Chase Utley, 3B: Casey McGahee, SS: Troy Tulowitzki, OF: Andre Ethier, Josh Willingham, Ryan Braun.

Olivo has been a pleasant surprise at the catching position for the Rockies and I don't think anyone will argue with picks like Braun, Pujols, and Utley. Guys like McGahee and Tulowitzki could be arguable, but I like certain things they've done over some of their competition.

Ethier has been missing time, but he was putting up monster numbers and still leads all NL outfielders in RBI and is way up there in OBP despite the injury. Josh Willingham is having a solid under-the-radar year.

Lewie Pollis: Chase Utley and Ryan Zimmerman are absolute no-brainers. Troy Tulowitski should start, and Albert Pujols has reclaimed first base in my mind (I would've said Votto last week).

Josh Willingham and Jason Heyward are fixtures in my outfield, though my No. 3 guy could be any of Marlon Byrd, Angel Pagan, Andres Torres. I'd take Geovany Soto at catcher, then take Votto as DH.


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