Why Interleague Play Is A Great Thing

This past weekend was the first opportunity during the 2006 season for fans and teams alike to renew relatively young but sometimes heated rivalries between teams of different leagues. It’s hard to believe, but this is already the 10th season of interleague play, and the argument for and against the scheduling of games between different leagues continues to rage. The “purists” who decry interleague play generally lean on a few standard points to make their case, and we’ll examine some of these below.

Argument One: Interleague play creates scheduling inequity.

Baseball lovers everywhere claim that interleague “draws” that are logically eschewed somewhat based upon geographic considerations create an unfair advantage. For example, this past weekend, the Cardinals got to play the lowly Royals while the Cubs had to play the World Champion White Sox.

Although the numbers may somewhat support the notion that as a result of these scheduling considerations, the teams have unequal strength of schedules, the fact remains that we are talking about a very small number of games within a 162-game season. Not to mention, a championship-caliber team in any sport needs to measure up to any test that’s presented. If the Cubs are going to contend for the pennant, they need to step up for these few games and play well. Also, the chance to play a very good team from the other league creates an opportunity for invaluable experience. Teams that are battle-tested are better suited for a late-season surge, which is really what makes the difference between winning a division or not in October.

Argument Two: Interleague play devalues the World Series.

Purists claim that one of the historic draws of the World Series is the mystery that surrounds the match ups once they’re determined. If two teams have already played each other, the teams will already have an idea as to how to approach specific hitters and pitchers before the World Series starts.

Purists need to look at a few surrounding facts before staking this claim. First, the World Series is the World Series. It’s highly dubious that baseball fans will not be as interested in a World Series simply because the two teams playing had a series in May. Secondly, many Super Bowls have featured teams that have played each other during the NFL season, and this has never diminished the competitive nature of that game. NBA Finals series always feature teams that have played each other, and there doesn’t appear to be any falloff in terms of competitiveness or fan interest in this setting either. If anything, a small dose of familiarity creates better games, as adjustments need to be made immediately.

Argument Three: Fan and player interest has waned as the novelty of interleague play has dissipated.

Purists argue that interleague play was a fun idea for the first year or two, but now fans and players treat each series as just another set of games on the schedule.

One only needs to look at this past weekend to completely debunk this argument. Anyone who watched the White Sox-Cubs series can tell you that there was definitely not a lack of intensity during these games, and the packed house of mixed fans in Chicago was frenzied for every game. The “Subway Series” between the Yankees and Mets is as feverishly-anticipated as any series in baseball, and every game was a battle to the end. Overall, attendance for these interleague games is higher than the average regular season figures, and that’s no accident.

Basically, the chance to see players that fans don’t normally get to see at their home parks, the opportunity for intra-city or intra-state bragging rights creates tangible interest for fans, and experience in adjusting to playing different teams under a different set of rules is valuable experience for the teams involved.

What else could you ask for during May, before pennant races heat up? Not to mention, baseball is a sport that’s as important in regards to off-field debate as it is in regards to on-field results. Interleague play creates interest in the game, and hopefully it will continue for the foreseeable future.