May 23, 2011
We hear the same thing every year around this time. Usually, it starts out when an MLB player or manager grumbles about the idea. It then makes its way through the media and eventually around the water cooler. The cry is usually the loudest from those who consider themselves baseball ‘purists’: “Kill interleague play!”
I’ve always found it fascinating that the voice to introduce interleague play was just as loud as the cry to end it now by some of those in the game. Sounded like a great idea back in 1997, right? Fans in American League cities would see MLB players like Greg Maddux and Mark McGwire. National League towns would be graced with the presence of Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, and Roger Clemens. Sounded like a perfect marriage.
Guess what? It still is.
Before then, baseball was the only one of the four major sports that had refused to allow its teams in opposing leagues to meet before the playoffs. The NBA, NFL, and NHL all regularly had games between squads in different conferences. Purists like to argue that the lack of interleague play is what indeed made baseball so great. That fans were somehow better off not being able to see matchups like Barry Bonds trying to catch up with a Pedro Martinez heater.
Right – because no one would want to see that.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland was just one of the most recent personalities to voice his displeasure for intertwining the two leagues during the regular season. His argument, in a nutshell, is that Detroit is handcuffed when they compete against National League teams on the road because the Tigers cannot use a designated hitter. Well, that’s true and all, but what about the National League team visiting an American League ballpark? Sure, they can use a designated hitter, but since most NL clubs don’t carry big-time hitters on their bench, they’re at a disadvantage as well.
Leyland’s problem is, of course, part of a much bigger issue – the fact that the American League uses designated hitters while the National League does not. But that’s another debate for another time.
The cold fact is that there are minor inconveniences that come along with interleague play. The DH rule and the imbalanced schedules are legitimate gripes and paramount among those issues. But neither is such a negative that it should be enough to scrap it altogether.
And don’t explain to me that the All-Star game was a good venue to see some great hitters stacking up against sluggers in a different league. While that game puts a true collection of stars on the field, those star MLB players aren’t always going ‘all out.’ In addition, fans are still being cheated out of plenty of great matchups that might not occur since players usually participate in very limited innings.
Want another reason not to can this great tradition? Just imagine if other professional sports leagues followed suit. We would not yet have had the chance to see Kobe Bryant battle Lebron James (if ever). Joe Montana taking on the San Francisco 49ers with his new team, the Kansas City Chiefs? Sorry. Mario Lemieux battling Wayne Gretzky in their primes before the Great One was traded to New York at the end of his career? No dice.
Any way you slice it, baseball and fans are much better off with interleague play.