One Weekend Is Enough For Interleague Play
The white uniforms circa 1918 were a nice touch, though perhaps the Red Sox should have stopped there. While nothing screams retro more than a guy with a megaphone announcing the next hitter, he might have at least learned how to pronounce Kosuke Fukudome’s name before trying to yell it out to everyone at Fenway Park.
In defense of megaphone man, names were simpler a century ago, when the thought of a Japanese right fielder was as foreign as someone hitting 73 home runs in one season. Besides, he was there Saturday more for nostalgia than information.
It was all part of baseball’s long and continuing quest to make us feel warm and fuzzy about the sport, and it might have worked had the Red Sox gone even further and sold box seats for $1 and beers for 10 cents. As it was, it was just window dressing for an interleague series against the Chicago Cubs that was not nearly as interesting as those in baseball tried to make it out to be.
I get it that it was the first visit the Cubs have made to Fenway Park since 1918, long before they became the lovable losers that they are today. Returning to Fenway for the first time since losing the World Series to the Red Sox that year was noteworthy enough, even if recently published documents hint the Cubs might have thrown that series in exchange for $10,000 cash.
And, as contrived matchups go, it was probably the best of the first weekend of interleague play this season. The Dodgers playing the White Sox certainly didn’t measure up to it, particularly since the two teams will have now played each other 15 times since the Dodgers took the 1959 World Series from the White Sox in six games.
Not that there is any real clamor for them to meet. Other than the 1959 World Series they have shared little more since then than mutual frustration with Manny Ramirez.
That’s the problem with interleague play. It’s grown stale, with way too many meetings between teams that have little in common and way too many wasted games against teams that don’t compete against each other in the regular season standings.
Even the Yankees and Mets can’t seem to stir up fans, which is probably understandable because this was the 15th regular-season Subway Series between the two teams. Only two-thirds of Yankee Stadium was full for the first inning of the first game, and there were still tickets available at the box office.
Interleague play is celebrating its 15th anniversary this season, as if there’s anything to celebrate about. Other than offering an occasionally intriguing matchup and drawing a few more fans into the ballpark — because the games are generally on weekends it’s hard to even quantify that — it has hardly been the panacea baseball thought it might be when it was first implemented in 1997.
It’s cheapened the All-Star Game, and diminished the World Series. While there was once a mystique about players from the two leagues meeting, that is gone now that they meet in some 250 games in the regular season.
Think about it. Would Bob Gibson pitching three games to carry the St. Louis Cardinals over the Yankees in 1964 been nearly as exciting if he had already faced Mickey Mantle and company in the regular season? Would Dennis Eckersley have avoided throwing Kirk Gibson the backdoor slider in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series if he had already faced him that year?
Maybe the worst part of interleague play, though, is that it punishes teams unlucky enough to draw one of the better teams in the other league while a rival might draw a relative patsy. That may not seem important in May, but it does in September when division rivals are battling for the playoffs.
About the only thing interleague play has done is create some new stats for baseball geeks to obsess about. They will tell you that Mark Buehrle became the career victories leader in interleague play after the White Sox beat the Dodgers on Saturday, something that will surely get him an early invite to the Hall of Fame.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly complained about having to play the White Sox before the series, saying the Dodgers were at an unfair advantage because his team had nothing to match an American League club with a regular DH who can hit home runs. The Dodgers then went out and proved him right by dropping two out of three to Chicago.
Mattingly’s point is well taken, just as the White Sox would have been at a disadvantage had they gone to Los Angeles and played without the DH they count on. It’s long been an issue in the World Series, but there’s no reason it should be an issue in the regular season.
Interleague play is probably too entrenched to be eliminated, though there’s no reason it can’t be reduced. My suggestion would be cutting back the 18 games some teams play each year in the other league to just six, and make sure they’re against geographical rivals.
Oh, and one more thing. Get rid of the guy with the megaphone.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.