Interleague Play – Is Baseball Better With or Without It?
Interleague play has been around for 14 years now. Through 2009, the American League held the edge over the National League 1,673 to 1,534 and has won the season series 9 of those 13 years.
The benefits of interleague play are often heralded in the media:
- Fans gain exposure to teams and players of the “other” league.
- The opportunity to exploit “natural” interleague rivalries.
- Players and teams get the chance to play teams from the other league and in stadiums that they might not otherwise.
There are, however, just as many negatives which never seem to be talked about:
- Always exploiting “natural” rivalries unlevels the schedule playing field and therefore can influence division/wild card races.
- There are not a lot of “natural” rivalries (e.g. Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox), so MLB has been forced to attempt to create new ones.
- Today’s access to games on television, the internet, etc. minimizes the need to create an opportunity to see teams from the “other” league.
- World Series and All-Star Game lose some of their uniqueness.
All that being said, I admit that I tend to be more of a traditionalist and wouldn’t be sorry to see the elimination of interleague play. Having that little, extra special aspect to the World Series and All-Star Game, balancing the schedule and validating the value of a division championship, and allowing an opportunity to play more games against teams from your own league outweigh any benefits of interleague play to me.
If however, we are stuck with interleague play, there is one positive aspect that has not been exploited which can address another of the ill-thought changes in baseball. If you want a way to determine the home field advantage for the World Series other than alternating it on a yearly basis, and one better than basing it on an exhibition game, here’s a scheme that seems pretty reasonable to me? Why not base it on the combined records of the American and National League teams in interleague games. The League that performs best in actual, regular season games (ones that count as opposed to a meaningless exhibition game), would gain home field advantage for the World Series.
From 1997 through 2009, the American League won 12 of 13 All-star games with 1 tie. Over that same period of time, the American League only would have won home field advantage 9 times as they took the season series in 9 of the 13 years. Of course, alternating years would have yielded 6 vs. 7 home field opportunities for the leagues.
To me it just seems to be a more equitable and reasonable approach. Trying to spark interest in the All-Star Game – giving meaning to an exhibition game is just counter-intuitive. In an attempt to raise interest in the All-star game, home field advantage in the World Series is cheapened.
One of the reasons that the All-Star Game has lost its luster is the advent of interleague play (funny how that comes full circle). That, and the availability to see out-of-market games from both leagues on television and the internet.
But, as is now apparent, if I had my way, interleague play would be limited to the World Series.