Some thoughts on Interleague Play

NEW YORK — The first batch of 2011 Interleague Play is wrapping up now, and still fresh is that question that seems to come up every year at around this time: Is it still worth it?

To that, I’ve always said: Why not? Besides the fair point raised by Tigers manager Jim Leyland recently — who called it silly for an American League team to play in a National League city with no designated hitter for six straight days — I can’t think of another reason why Interleague Play shouldn’t be taking place right now.

Sure, it creates a bit of an unbalanced schedule, but that’s already the case with teams playing 18 games against each club in their division and far less against everybody else. Besides, Interleague Play was created for the fans, and I think they still get a kick out of cross-town rivalries like Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox and Angels-Dodgers. (And how cool is it to have the Cubs visiting Fenway?)

Yes, for many teams, the cross-town rivalry thing doesn’t really apply. But Interleague Play still gives any fan base a chance to see some teams they never do (and, in some cases, helps boost attendance). And it gives NL teams the opportunity to use the DH, giving more at-bats to guys they’d like to get in the lineup more often.

Here’s what some members of the Yankees said about the subject on Friday, just before the start of the Subway Series against the Mets …

Shortstop Derek Jeter: “I think it’s great for the fans. I like it the old way where you get to the World Series and there’s a chance that you’ve never seen that team before until the World Series. But I think it’s great for the fans. They get a chance to see players they don’t normally get a chance to see.”

Manager Joe Girardi: “I think it brought a lot of excitement to baseball [when it was adopted in 1997]. You know, there’s some really intriguing crosstown rivalries in this, and then there’s some that there’s no natural rival, and they become somewhat of a natural rival. In saying that, sometimes the schedules aren’t the same for the teams in each division, and I think that’s kind of strange, that you might be one team that plays four games against the Central and you might be another team that plays four different teams from the Central. Last year, we played teams from, I believe, three different divisions. So it is kind of strange, but I think it’s been good for baseball, I think it’s brought a lot of excitement to cities, cities that don’t normally get to see players, superstars. And overall I think it’s been a success.

“If you have a Wild Card, the schedule should completely be the same. You shouldn’t play teams necessarily in your division more than you play another team in a different division, because obviously everyone who’s not a division winner is fighting for that fourth spot. But that’s not how it works, and we all know that going in, too. You live with it. But if you want to … be completely fair, it has to be a completely balanced schedule.”

Catcher Jorge Posada: “I would love to go back to the regular schedule, everybody playing the same amount of teams and the same amount of – just back ot the normal, balanced schedule. If you’re going to bring in two more Wild Cards, I think it’s fair for everybody to be playing the same amount of teams and the same amount of games with each team so everybody has the same opportunity to make the Wild Card.”

Posada makes a good point. If the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — which will be negotiated upon for next season — brings playoff expansion, adding two additional Wild Card teams to each league, then I believe it would be time to go to a completely balanced schedule because the element of one’s division will become even less relevant.

For now, though, I don’t see a problem with Interleague Play. Is it not as exciting as it was when the concept began 14 years ago? Of course not. But nothing is after that long.

My question remains: Why not?


** What I wrote recently: Subway Series just seems to mean more to the Mets; a look at the most surprising storylines of the 2011 season’s first quarter; pitchers thriving with faster fastballs, more K’s. 

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