Is it Time to Get Rid of Interleague Play?

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) steals third base against Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in the sixth inning during their interleague game at Coors Field in Denver on June 18, 2009. (UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey) Photo via Newscom
This will be the fourteenth season of interleague play in the Major Leagues. Perhaps the most controversial of Bud Selig's innovations, interleague has had a good run with some wonderful moments, but it has also produced some head-scratching matchups, highlighted the gap in talent between the American and National Leagues, and introduced a level of imbalance that is, at least in my view, antithetical to the spirit of baseball. Despite the revenue boost it has given some clubs, it may be time to end - or at least reduce - the interleague experiment.
Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) steals third base against Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in the sixth inning during their interleague game at Coors Field in Denver on June 18, 2009. (UPI Photo/Gary C. Caskey) Photo via Newscom

This will be the fourteenth season of interleague play in the Major Leagues. Perhaps the most controversial of Bud Selig’s innovations, interleague has had a good run with some wonderful moments, but it has also produced some head-scratching matchups, highlighted the gap in talent between the American and National Leagues, and introduced a level of imbalance that is, at least in my view, antithetical to the spirit of baseball. Despite the revenue boost it has given some clubs, it may be time to end — or at least reduce — the interleague experiment.

One of the draws of interleague has always been the chance to see teams and players you haven’t seen before, including creating regional rivalries that otherwise couldn’t exist outside of the World Series. There’s definitely something to be said for the drama of a Chicago series every summer, or bragging rights for Missouri or Ohio baseball. Certainly New York City turns itself inside out for the Yankees/Mets series every year, and between the Rays and Marlins they could even come close to filling an entire baseball stadium. But for every Dodgers-Angels series, you also see such natural regional rivalries as Toronto-Arizona, or Seattle-Atlanta, series which have about as much appeal to the average fan as… well, any regular season game, really. And digging a bit deeper, how exciting is a regional series once you get past the initial idea? Some, like the New York or Chicago matchups, LA freeway matchups, or Baltimore/Washington, have more cachet because you might have opposing fans taking the subway together to the game, or sharing a bar. But how much Cincy/Cleveland overlap is there, really? St. Louis/KC? Dallas/Houston? It might be a wonderful idea on paper, but I’m willing to bet that very few Ohio baseball fans are keeping close track of the record in the Ohio Cup. That in and of itself is not a reason to get rid of interleague play, but it is the concept’s most common defense; if it only makes a difference in a few major media markets, then it’s not a good enough reason to overwhelm other negatives.

One of those negatives is that interleague play is increasingly boring. The American League remains in the middle of a run of dominance that might not be unprecedented, but certainly feels that way. It feels that way because for the first time, we have empirical data that goes beyond four to seven games between top teams every October. The data we have, in addition, points to the kind of imbalance that doesn’t make for good drama. In the past five seasons, the American League holds a rather stunning 578-430 edge — a .573 winning percentage. Putting a spotlight on the competitive imbalance between the leagues can’t be good for the game. It’s certainly possible that that type of imbalance goes in waves — maybe the National League has had similar runs in the past. But the point is that before now, we had no way of knowing — the only time the leagues ever met were the All-Star Game and the World Series. Now, some might argue that more exposure is a good thing. But why? All of our standings, every goal of every team except for the final hurdle, is league based. Why do we need to know that the average American League team is significantly better than the average NL team?

This leads us into our final point: interleague play is inherently unfair. The same argument can be made for the wild card, but in interleague play it’s especially visible, because for the first time in modern baseball history, teams competing in the same division play different schedules. Case in point: this year, the Yankees have faced the New York Mets six times and the Phillies three. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have faced the Phillies — the defending NL Champion Phillies – six times and the Mets exactly zero. While that kind of imbalance is normal in football, hockey and basketball, it was previously unheard of in baseball — if you were going for the same title, you faced the same teams the same number of times. Even with the unbalanced divisional schedule, at least each team played their divisional rivals more than those outside the division. In this system, two teams competing in the same division can play as many as six games — easily enough to swing a lead — against teams of completely different talent levels. And given the breakdown of teams between both the two leagues and the divisions themselves, there is really no way to even those numbers out without adding even more interleague games.

So, while interleague was an interesting novelty at first, we’ve now become locked into a system that promotes imbalance while making boring the same things that used to lend additional weight to those special moments — the All-Star Game and the World Series — that used to be the only moments the leagues met. This is the problem with checking only one set of numbers: revenue alone does not tell the story. Get rid of the games against the Rockies, the Giants, and the Diamondbacks and give me more against the American League. At least with those games, there’s the Wild Card to think about.

Put it this way. It’s not that there’s anything inherently bad about interleague play. In the end, they’re still just baseball games, and they count just as much as any other. But given the flaws in the execution, and the increasingly lackluster draw of these contests, why continue to spend time on these games while ignoring potential divisional or intraleague matchups with arguably more impact on the season itself? When interleague was a novelty, there was something to recommend it. But it is a novelty no longer — now, more often than not, it’s simply another set of games. The American and National Leagues shouldn’t meet with as much fanfare as the Pirates and the A’s. It’s time to put this experiment to bed.

Categories: Arizona Diamondbacks Atlanta Braves Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Bud Selig Chicago Cubs Chicago White Sox Cincinnati Reds Cleveland Indians Florida Marlins Houston Astros Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers New York Mets New York Yankees Oakland Athletics Philadelphia Phillies Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants Seattle Mariners St. Louis Cardinals Tampa Bay Rays Texas Rangers Toronto Blue Jays Washington Nationals

16 Responses to “Is it Time to Get Rid of Interleague Play?” Subscribe

  1. Joe Veno June 16, 2010 at 10:21 AM #

    It has its positives and negatives. But I do like it for the most part.

  2. Tom June 16, 2010 at 10:55 AM #

    For me the negatives far outweigh the positives. Make it go away.

  3. Michael June 16, 2010 at 12:32 PM #

    I agree with Joe-it's not going away soon, so we might as well just make our peace with it. Yes, it's unfair. It's also not fair that Boston spends more on John Lackey than the Royals spend on their whole team. Everybody gets 162 chances to win every year. Just win 'em.

  4. Izzy June 16, 2010 at 1:01 PM #

    Kansas City is paying Jose Guillen 12 million dollars this year. Perhaps they should focus on spending money a little more wisely.

  5. awy June 16, 2010 at 3:59 PM #

    This is a ridiculous question. A better question should be, why is interleague play seen as such a novelty by baseball, when it is common sense to have your sports franchises play each other. Better yet, get rid of this notion that the leagues are distinct entities and maybe make the NL more of a modern league. Baseball purists can take a hike in the purist mountain.

  6. Hit Dog June 16, 2010 at 4:24 PM #

    Love to see it go away, but I know it won't, so I support a vastly scaled back version of it, primarily encouraging those rivalries anyone actually cares about. That's NY v. NY, not BOS v. PHI, for example.

  7. John R. S. June 16, 2010 at 10:19 PM #

    Maybe a promotion/relegation scheme like most soccer leagues have would work better. It would at least give smaller cities like the one I grew up in a chance to celebrate occasionally. Not often, I know, but would that really matter?

  8. ken June 16, 2010 at 10:22 PM #

    it's cool once in a while. i'm glad when it's over to get back to regular intraleague. perhaps once every 4 years would suit ME better.

  9. Jordan Laguna Beach June 17, 2010 at 12:06 AM #

    Hi. Obviously you are good at what you do. What are your thoughts on giving us updates on all the players the red sox are signing and their potential. Apperently they have signed eight players already…but I can only find the idenity of the top two. I'm having trouble finding info at baseballamerica too

    ~Jordan

  10. Dan June 17, 2010 at 4:39 AM #

    who cares if it's unfair? there are far more unfair things in baseball: a-rod making more than entire teams, a 4-team division, a 6-team division, best of 5 playoff series, etc

  11. mikec June 17, 2010 at 11:56 AM #

    It's about money. It's always about the money. IL games draw about 3,000 more on average. That adds up to a lotta extra sheckles.

  12. Jim Leonard June 17, 2010 at 2:25 PM #

    It has been over 100 years that the current American & National leagues were organized into the two major leagues.

    There is no longer an American or National league offices, presidents, umpires,etc., only Major League baseball. The current American & National League divisional make up is obsolete.
    Either eliminate the DH, or have all of baseball have the DH. Not two kinds of baseball.

    Why can't the major leagues be re-alinged based upon geographic areas & time zones with 4 divisions consisting of three 8 teams divisions in the East, West &
    Mid-West , and a 6 team division in the Mid-East. [see DIVISIONS w/sheet]

    Teams within each division would play each other team either 13 to 18 times per season depending on the No. of teams in the division based on a 162 game sch. The East,West & Mid-West
    divisions would have 8 teams each & would play each other 13 times per season;the Mid-East division that has 6 teams would play each other 18 times per season.
    Win your division to get to the playoff's, thus making winning the division of a 6 month season meaningful.

  13. Jed Zeppelin June 17, 2010 at 2:50 PM #

    2 changes need to be made. Each league should only have two divisions (E and W) like in the old days with 1 champ and 1 wildcard in each. You play an even number of games against everyone in your division and the other division so everyone has the same schedule and difficulty for the most part. Second, interleague play should be one home and one away series each year. Pick a date and the teams play their counterparts in the other league that are in the same position in their division, 1 against 1, 2 against 2, etc. One series with one division at home, and one series with the other division away. I know this makes WAY too much sense for MLB though…

  14. Jed Zeppelin June 17, 2010 at 2:53 PM #

    @Jordan Laguna Beach
    <a href="http://www.soxprospects.com” target=”_blank”>www.soxprospects.com or look in the minor league section of SOSH.

  15. bzb June 17, 2010 at 6:36 PM #

    i totally agree. i would recommend limiting it to no more than 6 games. and from there, balancing each league to 15 teams. and lastly, make the rules the same, either have a dh or not.

  16. Jed Zeppelin June 18, 2010 at 1:32 AM #

    I am ok with the "charm", strategy and history of the DH, non-DH… I don't think they need to conform but I really think they need to play the same teams for the most part. The unbalanced schedule is crazy and unfair to the tougher divisions.