King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The buzz of interleague baseball contains the seeds of its own buzz-kill.


Salon Staff
June 18, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

Count USA Today baseball columnist Hal Bodley as a traditionalist who has come around to interleague play. The veteran scribe wrote Tuesday that decades after the great Hank Greenberg tried to sell him on the idea, he's finally come around after watching the Yankees return to Wrigley Field for the first time since 1938, the Cardinals visit Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium for the first time since the '60s, and the Braves play the Mariners in a matchup of the two teams with the best winning percentage.

Count me as a traditionalist, if that's what you have to call me, who's still not sold.

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"I've always been cool to interleague play, because there are so many terrible matchups," Bodley writes. "That changed for me the past 10 days."

The unattractiveness of the Tigers vs. the Padres, the Brewers vs. the Orioles, or the Devil Rays vs. the Pirates is often raised in anti-interleague arguments, but I think those awful series are beside the point. There are always ugly series going on. Tigers-Devil Rays and Brewers-Padres aren't exactly whiz-bang attractions either, and they're not interleague.

I dislike interleague play for precisely the reason that Bodley, and most of its proponents, like it: Because it manufactures excitement in the form of matchups you rarely get to see. Sure, there was real buzz in Chicago last week when the Yankees were in town. The pinstripers hadn't played the Cubs in 65 years! Of course, Chicago fans can see the Yankees every year when they come in to play the White Sox, but I'll concede the point that watching them play the Cubs is somehow special, buzzworthy.

The problem is that the buzz carries the seeds of its own buzz-kill. Let's say the Yankees and the Cubs both make the World Series this year, which is a real possibility. OK, I know, we're talking about the Cubs here. Let me put it this way: Imagine the Braves and Mariners both make the World Series this year. Won't that be exciting? The Yankees' first visit to Wrigley Field, in ... oh, five months. Or the two best teams in baseball playing ... again.

Even if the Yanks and Cubs or Braves and Mariners don't meet in this year's Series, they'll meet again in interleague play every few years from now on. A decade or two from now, if they meet in October, it'll just look like another interleague series, sort of like interconference play in football: mildly interesting at times, but no big deal.

I'd rather have real excitement in October than manufactured, hyped-up excitement in June. Instant gratification is nice sometimes, but finally getting to see something you've waited and waited for is even better. If we can just be patient, we'll be rewarded.

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Interleague play also leads to inequity in pennant races, with teams in the same division playing different schedules. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, for example, complained this month about having to play the Reds and Cubs while the rival Red Sox were playing the woeful Brewers and Pirates. I've never heard a reasonable rebuttal to this argument, but on the other hand I don't think baseball cares at all about how teams get to the playoffs, so the argument will always be an academic one.

But once that buzz dies out, and a Cubs-Yankees or Cardinals-Red Sox series looks about the same as a Cubs-Mets or Cardinals-Phillies affair, maybe baseball will listen to reason and kill interleague play.

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I hate to cross Hank Greenberg, but that's what I'm rooting for.

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