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Muscle Sport Magazine

No Need For Interleague Play

Flickr/Labeled for Reuse

The early summer Texas heat had nearly dissipated by the time the crowd filed in and the players took the field. An early evening first pitch at The Ballpark in Arlington was about to commence and with it, a new dawn of Major League Baseball was going to accompany it.

Or, perhaps, the end of an era… depending on your view, of course.

When the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants on June 12, 1997, the contest went down in history as the first regular season interleague game and with it, a very unique aspect of our National Pastime was gone. 

JUNIORS AND SENIORS

When the American League declared itself a major league akin to the established National League in 1901, the incumbent latter didn’t want to acknowledge the fact and still considered them inferior. For a quarter century, the NL was top dog and the old minor Western League (which the AL was known as up until 1894) was not going to arrive late to the party and expect to dance with the prettiest girls.

Detractors considered the AL the ‘Junior Circuit’ and it would two years before the ice began to thaw with the first World Series in 1903. Ironically enough, the AL entrant Boston Pilgrims (or Americans, later to become the Red Sox) bested the Pittsburgh Pirates, five games to three. But the following year, the NL champion New York Giants refused to face Boston and boycotted the 1904 Fall Classic.

That would be the last year for nearly a century without the World Series being played. The 1994 players strike made the unthinkable happen and thus began a series of events that resulted in the MLB hierarchy making changes (and looking the other way) that erased some of the special qualities that this sport enjoyed over all the rest.

STRIKE OUT

The public was not as sensitive to the players’ plight when major league ballparks nationwide went dark on August 12, 1994. The longest strike in MLB history – 232 days – had lingering effects on attendance and television ratings alike; the fans simply did not want to reward and cheer for spoiled brat millionaires playing a kid’s game. And many who did make their way to the games did so only to reign boos upon the players in both the home and visiting dugouts.

MLB brass was feeling the pressure and interleague play – which had been proposed on more than one occasion in the past but not since 1956 – was discussed as a way to drum up some interest and hopefully put more asses in the seats. It was officially implemented in 1997 and another trickle down effect of the strike – the steroid era – came to a crescendo the following season with the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

OVERKILL

In the 20 years that have gone by since then, the fans have long since forgotten (if not forgiven) the players from a generation ago for walking away. And the novelty of interleague play has long since left… if it ever existed in the first place. 

Not facing the respective pennant-winning counterpart until October held a certain amount of charm to it and even if that did not occur in any particular regular season, the fact remained that these two teams vying for the overall championship could have faced one another in a series a few months earlier. (The interleague games were generally held in June and July.)

The divisions rotate yearly on who plays who, but there are also annual ‘rivals’ who always face off in a feeble attempt by MLB to keep the interleague flame alive. Thankfully, they lessened the games between these teams from six to four. But once the Houston Astros made the switch from the NL to the AL in 2013, that evened out both leagues and made it necessary for there to be an interleague match-up every day on the league schedule. Certainly not conducive for building up the suspense.

And besides the World Series not holding the same mystique, interleague play has also made the All-Star Game a bit of a yawner, as well. It used to be great to see Catfish Hunter face someone on The Big Red Machine in the Mid-Summer Classic anticipating an October rematch. But nowadays, these dream match-ups can happen as early as Opening Day.

The designated hitter rule also comes into play during interleague games and is another reason why it’s best to wait as long as possible to see an AL pitcher attempting to hit a baseball.

IMPORTANCE OF REGULAR SEASON GAMES

It’s an uphill battle trying to make an argument for how important one game is when they schedule has 162 dotting it. But there is no head-to-head benefit whatsoever in interleague matchups other than bragging rights. Taking away key dates for division rivalries so the Red Sox can play the Phillies instead of the Yankees should be enough to shelve interleague play and the moment it became more than a mid-season novelty of sorts is when it should have ended.

The stretch run of the regular season is the time for teams to see their division opponents and look to knock them off. That is the strongest draw for any fan, not seeing a team from the opposite league make their third all-time trip into a stadium.

If the need for interleague play was to make the games more interesting, it has had the exact opposite effect.

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  1. Pingback: MLB Interleague Play Sucks | Muscle Sport Magazine

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