Interleague Play: Loved or Hated?
Interleague play just celebrated its 15th birthday, but its value is still being questioned by some. The system of gameplay was originally put in place for the entertainment value of fans and for baseball’s economic structure back in 1997. During the late 90’s, baseball saw a seven percent spike in game attendance during interleague play. While for many fans and teams it was never fully accepted or enjoyed, it has become an expected part of the season, yet is still often dreaded by some clubs.
Baseball has worked to win over the approval of fans when it comes to interleague play, but as we approach the two week stretch of cross-league matchups, there is no doubt that some players are still unimpressed, while Bud Selig is happy to see a jump in revenues and game attendance.
Many ball clubs today dislike interleague play because they are forced to prepare to face teams they only see once a season. This does seem to be unnecessary and especially taxing on managers and catchers, who spend a great deal of time researching each team and its strengths. It does not seem like a worthwhile venture for teams, but Selig and co sees some value in it and continue to push the interleague agenda.
Over the past several seasons, baseball has tried to find natural rivalries in places like New York and Chicago, but it has also tried to generate rivalries that never truly existed such as the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves (formerly the Boston Braves for 11 years during the 1940’s and 50’s). There is no question that games like those in the Subway series do bring in more viewers and they certainly sell out, but is that honestly enough to make up for the other games that no one really cares about? It is clear that baseball’s powers believe so.
Fans may get excited to see teams match up that have not met since a World Series several years prior. However, over the past few seasons, the American League has dominated interleague play. Since 2007, nine AL teams carry above a .500 winning percentage during interleague play, while only four National League teams have remained above that mark. For teams like the Los Angeles Angels and the Boston Red Sox–the two teams with the highest winning percentages over the past five seasons–interleague play signals a sense of relief and an opportunity to jump ahead in the standings. Other teams teams like the Houston Astros (.358 winning percentage in interleague play since 2007) cringe at the thought of playing American League teams.
So the question remains: Does the economic benefits of interleague play outweigh its negatives? For the time being, the answer is yes.