This past weekend was the first opportunity during the 2006 season for fans and teams to renew relatively young, but sometimes heated rivalries between teams from different leagues. It’s hard to believe, but this is already the tenth season of the interleague and the arguments for and against the scheduling of matches between the different leagues continue to rage.
The “purists” who condemn inter-league play generally rely on a few standard points to back up their thesis, and we’ll examine a few below.
Topic One: Inter-league play creates scheduling inequalities.
Baseball fans around the world claim that “ties” between leagues that are logically avoided in some way based on geographic considerations create an unfair advantage. For example, last weekend, the Cardinals played the lowly Royals while the Cubs had to play the World Champions White Sox.
While the numbers may somehow support the idea that teams have an uneven schedule as a result of these scheduling considerations, the fact remains that we are talking about a very small number of games in a 162-game season. Not to mention the fact that a championship-caliber team in any sport has to compete in whatever event comes its way. If the Cubs are going to compete for the pennant, they must step up in these few games and play well. Additionally, the opportunity to play against a very good team from the other league creates an opportunity for invaluable experience. Battle-tested teams are best suited for an end-of-season wave, which is really what makes the difference between winning a division or not in October.
Topic two: team play devalues the World Series.
Purists say that one of the historic draws of the World Series is the mystery surrounding the games once determined. If two teams have already played each other, the teams will already have an idea of how to approach specific hitters and pitchers before the World Series begins.
Purists should examine some surrounding facts before putting this claim into play. First, the World Series is the World Series. It’s highly doubtful that baseball fans aren’t that interested in a World Series simply because the two teams that played had a series in May. Second, many Super Bowls have seen teams face off during the NFL season, and that has never detracted from the competitive nature of that game. The NBA Finals series always features opposing teams and there doesn’t seem to be any drop in competitiveness or fan interest in this setting. If anything, a small dose of familiarity improves games, as changes must be made immediately.
Topic Three: Fan and player interest waned as game novelty between teams waned.
Purists argue that team play was a fun idea for the first year or two, but now fans and players treat each series as just another series of scheduled matches.
Just look at last weekend to dispel this argument completely. Anyone who has seen the White Sox-Cubs series can tell you that there was absolutely no lack of intensity during these games, and the mixed fan crowd in Chicago was agitated at every game. The “Subway Series” between the Yankees and the Mets was eagerly awaited like any baseball series, and each game was a battle to the end. In general, participation in these interleague games is above the average of the regular season data and it is not by chance.
Basically, the ability to see players that fans don’t normally see in their local parks, the opportunity to show off within the city or within the state creates tangible interest for fans and the experience of adapting to them. playing on different teams under a different set of rules is a valuable experience for the teams involved.
What more could you ask for in May, before the banner races intensify? Not to mention, baseball is as important a sport in off-court debate as it is in on-court results. Inter-team play creates interest in the game and is expected to continue in the near future.