25 May 2007

A Petition to Stop Interleague Play? Why?

I got an email today form a concerned fan, asking me to sign a petition to end Interleague play. As a Yankee fan, I rather enjoy interleague play, at least when we play the Mets, but it's also cool to get a chnace to play Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other teams we would not normally see. The petition, if anyone wants to sign it, is located here:


The following is the text of the petition and my own responses to the arguments, most of which I felt were not particularly strong, though I'm open to other interpretations of the matter.

We, the undersigned, believe regular-season interleague play is bad for baseball and should be abolished. We believe interleague play is wrong for any combination of the following reasons: 1. Regular-season interleague play detracts from the uniqueness of the World Series. For nearly a century, when two teams met in the World Series, they had no regular-season history. There was only speculation as to how the teams would match up. Interleague play has damaged the special magic of the fall classic.

You could use the World Series' declining ratings to support this argument, but I think that would be misguided. In reality, people watch the NFL and NBA and NHL finals (OK, so maybe not the NHL) despite the fact that the teams in them sometimes play each other during the regular seaosn, and nobody seems to mind. The issue is never even discussed. If you have good games and good teams (and especially, if those teams happen to play in big media markets) then people will watch. If not, they'll watch reruns of Seinfeld or something else. Consumers have too many choices these days to let themselves be tethered to a TV watching two teams that aren't that good, in which they have no specific rooting interest, duke it out for a week when they have better things to do.

The last few years, the fact that the teams have largely come from smaller markets (Houston, Detroit, Florida, St. Louis) has hurt the ratings of the World Series. In addition, there has been a general absence of "great" teams from the World Series, with at least one Wild Card winner in the Fall Classis every season since 2002, when both teams (San Francisco and the Los Anaheim Angeles of LAnafornia) failed to win their own divisions. Since 1997, eight of the 20 teams in the World Series have been Wild Card teams, and half of those have won it. In addition, teams like the 2000 Yankees and 2006 Cardinals won the Series only because of the Wild Card and the three-division format. They really weren't that good, but managed to get hot at the right time and take home the Commissioner's trophy. Those kinds of things tend to lead to some disenchantment by fans of the other 29 teams that don't think they deserved it. But that's the fault of the Wild Card, not Interleague play.

2. The schedule is too unbalanced. The accent on divisional play, combined with interleague play, means that teams rarely play certain other teams within their own league. In the American League, for example, East teams play only six games against each of teams in the Central division. Play within a team's own league should take priority over the novelty of interleague play.

With the exception of the geographic rivalries that dominate Interleague play, intra-league play does take priority over Interleague play. Teams play everyone in their own league at least six times, three at home and three away, though perhaps no more than that. Interleague games are only three-game series, and do not have a home/away complement unless they're the regional rivalries.

Read more thoughts on the merits (or lack thereof) of InterLeague play at The Pitch, on MVN.com...

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