Interleague Play: Time for MLB to Make Changes

I was at the first Mets-Yankees game back in 1997 at Yankee Stadium. There was excitement in the week leading up to the games as sports talk radio, local television, and newspapers hyped the match-up, dubbing it the “Subway Series.” That anticipation led to a louder-than-usual crowd at the Stadium, as over 56,000 witnessed Dave Mlicki pitch a shutout and lead the Mets to a 6-0 victory.

Flash forward to 2009 and nobody cares anymore.

Sorry if that’s as startling as a Gary Sheffield foul ball into the third base seats, but it’s true.

Simply put, the Subway Series, and interleague play in general, has run its course. It’s time to get back to a more traditional schedule, or at least reduce the frequency of tired “rivalry” series’.

Here are three ways to do this:

1. Get rid of all interleague games

…and shorten the season. The baseball season is too long. This year, the regular season goes all the way until October 4th. Game One of the World Series is scheduled for October 28th. A potential Game Seven would be November 5th.

You thought last year’s Fall Classic was cold and wet? Imagine if the Twins reach the World Series once their new outdoor stadium is completed next season. There’s nothing like Minneapolis in November! They have a humidor for the baseballs in Colorado; they’d need a de-icer for Minnesota.

By cutting the season to somewhere between 147-154 games, the playoffs won’t go into late October and each regular season game will become just a little bit more meaningful.

Of course, a shorter season means fewer tickets to sell, and owners won’t go for making less money.

Likelihood of this Occurring: 1/10

2. Get rid of all interleague games…

…but replace them with intra-league match-ups, preferably divisional games. So instead of Cubs-Royals, you get an extra Cubs-Cardinals series. Instead of Phillies-Blue Jays, you get Phils-Mets.

This doesn’t shorten the season but at least interleague play disappears. Attendance would presumably rise as fans care more about intra-divisional rivalries than seeing a mediocre team from the other league.

It would also make the schedule a lot fairer within the divisions. Look at the Mets: Is it fair that they have to not only play the Yankees every year, but they have to play them SIX times?

This year, the East divisions were matched up against each other, so it was only three extra games. But in other years, it means the Mets have to play a franchise which, since interleague play began, has always fielded a very strong team. Instead of a series apiece against say, the Royals and Indians, the Mets get two against the Yanks.

No big deal over the course of such a long season though, right? Tell that to Mets fans, who’ve watched their team miss out on the playoffs by one game each of the last two seasons.

Likelihood of this Occurring: 3/10

3. Reduce the number of interleague games

Not ideal, but owners would be more likely to compromise and go along with this. There is a general assumption amongst MLB fans that interleague play is extremely popular, but attendance at these games is skewed.

Eric Rosen of Beyond the Box Score did some analysis that shows interleague play draws only about a .4% increase in attendance, or roughly 100 tickets per game.

His research factored in that interleague games were often played on weekends and during prime baseball months (June and July). This is how interleague play gets its attendance advantage; not through legitimate fan interest.

Perhaps owners will soon realize that fans are no longer captivated by the 12-year-old gimmick and eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of interleague games. Maybe the true rivalry series’ could be reduced to one series per year.

I don’t know when some form of these changes will take place, but I’d be shocked if interleague play looks the same in five years as it does now.

Likelihood of this Occurring: 6/10

4 thoughts on “Interleague Play: Time for MLB to Make Changes”

  1. Back in 2000-2001 when I lived in Chicago, the Cubs-Whitesox games were the biggest games of the year. Even bigger than Cubs-Cardinals. Also, I went to a Giants-As game in 2004 that was very rowdy because As fans (err, Raiders fans) were giving Barry Bonds a really hard time. I'm not sure how intense these rivalries are now but I believe intra-city rivalries work even if interleague play as a whole does not.

  2. Personally, I would hate to see the baseball season shortened. Something about the marathon that makes it so special. I don't know if its cause the Brewers get their dick kicked in every year at the Metrodome, but I would love to see interleague play banished and a more balanced schedule (although the MIL-Twinks match up is a big draw because of their locations0. NYY does not need to Boston 25 times in a year. Just like the Mets don't need to play the Phils 20. Every team should play their division the same amount of times. Go Blue, Go Crew.

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