Suggestions to make interleague play better
By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports
May 16, 2008
I like interleague play.
Wow, that felt good.
There is no support group for the afflicted. Though Major League Baseball contends that interleague play is popular and backs it up with compelling attendance figures, the advocates get drowned out by the minority, who are a lot like Ron Paul supporters: loud, passionate and fighting a fight that was long ago lost.
So with that in mind, and with a bull’s-eye on interleague play’s problems, the challenge to improve it was on as its 12th season commences Friday. And the five resulting suggestions aren’t egregious – OK, four aren’t – are feasible and would make it better.
Now, this isn’t proselytizing. Converts should come on the merits of interleague play, and those who consider themselves purists – or pragmatists, because of the detriments – aren’t likely to switch teams anytime soon.
One player who traded honesty in exchange for anonymity started the exercise in style, responding to the question of how to improve interleague play in one breath: “Get rid of it.”
Not happening. But these ideas should.
The brilliant idea: Home-field advantage in World Series goes to the league with the best record in interleague play
All the credit goes to blogger extraordinaire Kevin Kaduk for this nugget of genius. In the absence of awarding home field in a fashion that makes sense – you know, uh, giving it to the team with the best record – this is a compromise that energizes interleague play and ends the All-Star game farce.
It’s rather easy: Add the records of the teams in each league at the end of interleague play, and the World Series representative of the winning league plays Games 1 and 2 at home.
In the past, the plan would have behooved the American League, which has won interleague supremacy seven of the 11 years. Though before the AL’s current four-year winning streak – nothing compared to the 11 straight victories in non-tie All-Star games – the NL actually held the power in interleague play.
Imagine this season. The NL is outplaying the AL in nearly every facet. Will that translate over the interleague schedule? There’s actual intrigue.
Frankly, you could flip a coin for World Series home field and it would be better than sitting through an exhibition and realizing that its results will skew the sport’s championship. Get a bigger sample size – there are 252 interleague games this season – and reward the best league for success in games that matter, not the best players for winning a glorified sandlot game.
The logical idea: Designated hitter in both parks
To make the first idea fair, MLB needs to implement this one. Don’t punish the AL by making its pitchers hit. Give NL fans a chance to see the DH in their home parks a few times a season.
If these games are going to count for home field, there can be no sign of league bias.
The simple idea: Better rivalries
OK, we’ve got the Subway Series, North Side vs. South Side, the Beltway Series, L.A.’s Freeway Series, the Highway Series (I-70 for St. Louis-K.C. and I-71 for Cleveland-Cincinnati), the Bay Bridge Series, the Lone Star Series and the biggest of ‘em all this year, the Sunshine Series.
Now can we please take care of some issues, like the Cubs playing the AL East this season – and not facing the Red Sox or Yankees. Or the White Sox and Brewers, about a 90-minute drive, not playing since 2001.
Right now, baseball sticks with rather hard-and-fast rules about scheduling interleague.
“The first priority is to get teams where they haven’t been,” said Katy Feeney, who is in charge of putting together baseball’s schedule.
That’s important. It’s not fair to starve fans from seeing certain teams. At the same time, it’s imperative that the matchups stay relevant, that the best non-natural rivals don’t wait years to play.
The progressive idea: Neutral sites for non-traditional matchups
Not that baseball plans to expand soon, but if MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy surges ahead and lifts the blackouts from television broadcasts, places such as Las Vegas and Puerto Rico and Portland, Ore., need to establish themselves as viable baseball locations. So treat them as such.
Every team would play one neutral-site series, each city would host five series and the money from the games gets pooled and split evenly among the home teams, which would need the extra revenue to offset the losses of missing three home games.
There will be whining. The facilities and the travel and the minor-league feel, oh my! Don’t listen. The greater good wins out.
The outlandish idea: The interleague draft
Feeney started preparing the 2009 schedule in November 2007, so it makes the next idea a logistical nightmare. But, hey, MLB figured out how to get the Spider-Man logo off of bases. Surely it can implement a plan that would liven its product.
Drafts provide great entertainment when the commodities are known, and in this case, the commodities would be teams. Every other year, one league’s teams would “draft” opponents for one series.
For example: Pittsburgh finished last in the NL last season, so it would get the No. 1 draft choice this year. Would it pick Oakland, because the A’s were supposed to be rebuilding? Or might it have chosen Boston, a superior team that would almost guarantee sellout crowds for three consecutive nights?
The Marlins would go next. They could select the Mariners and make them take a six-hour flight to Florida. Or they might opt for Detroit, so Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis would return one more time.
Endless drama would spill out of draft day. Teams disrespected for going too early. The best in one league having to draft the best in the other, creating more must-see series. And all the potential on-field fireworks that could help turn fudged rivalries into legitimate ones.
Last season, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones complained interleague play wasn’t fair because of an unbalanced schedule. I disagree. In the end, it evens out.
And that’s why MLB will be loath to accept any suggestions. It’s got a good thing going. It doesn’t offend too many people. It’s a money-maker.
I like interleague play without these suggestions.
Just not as much as I do with them.
Jeff Passan is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports.