How to save Interleague baseball

Jim Leyland has made his feelings on Interleague play very clear  As one might expect Interleague play has it’s critics, both positive and negative.  what I find most amazing about ILP is that after 13 seasons,  every AL team has not yet played every NL team.  I was surprised to see that this weekend’s Cubs at Red Sox series will be Chicago’s first trip Fenway since 1918.  Yet, after as much interleague play as we’ve seen,  this match-up has somehow never taken place, until now.

Interleague logo

Fans are still conflicted over Interleague baseball

Opponents of  ILP commonly complain that IL games count as part of the regular season NL East contenders like the Phillies and the Braves have to play the Yankees 6 times each season; whereas an NL Central team like the Brewers would play AL Central counterparts like the Royals or Indians the same 6 times. Okay, not the best example given Cleveland and KC’s surprising starts, but you get the idea.  Furthermore, AL teams are at a handicap when playing in NL parks since there is no DH in the NL and pitchers must therefore, bat.

Those in the pro-ILP camp say that IL games add a little spice to the regular schedule.  Attendance figures suggest that fans still like the gimmick – particular in the two-team, two-league cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.  Despite the fact that the White Sox and Cubs play 6 times each season (3 at Wrigley, 3 at US Cellular) the hometown fans still love it.

I, of course, have some suggestions on how to rejuvenate Interleague play:

1.  Come to a universal ruling, once and for all, on the designated hitter.  I used to consider myself a baseball purist, longing for the days when the AL pitchers had to bat – forcing AL managers to be more “strategic”.  However in recent years, I’ve come to the realization that offense is what appeals to the casual fan and also attracts new fans to the game (see: The Steroid Era).  Also, high schools, college, and Minor Leagues use the DH.  Why not the NL?   More to the point, it’s high time the AL and NL stop pretending they are separate baseball entities.  The two have not been rival leagues for over a century.  They have functioned, in theory at least, as a combined league for decades.  In 2000, the Commissioner’s office absorbed both the AL and NL offices, officially bringing both under the MLB banner.It makes no sense that the NL doesn’t utilize the DH, especially when everyone else does.  Of course, I’m not married to the DH. I would be just as happy if everyone at all levels of the game dropped it; so long as there was one universal rule.  Until or unless there is such a ruling.  We could…

2.  Reverse the DH rule for Interleague play:  use DHs in National League Parks and have pitchers bat in American League parks.  I’ve actually heard this idea from a lot of different people and if MLB insists on keeping the DH in the AL -only, this could be very popular with the fans.  The whole notion of Interleague play was to do something fresh and new for the fans.  As a Tiger fan, I would get a kick out of seeing games played under NL rules at Comerica Park; likewise, it would be neat to see DHs used at a game in Turner Field.

3.  Change the ILP scheduling structure, allowing rivalries to remain fresh. Okay, I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of making a 162 game schedule for 30 different teams.  In the early days of ILP, scheduling was  AL East vs NL East, AL West vs NL west, AL Central vs NL Central.  That got old quick, so the league began sprinkling in road trips outside of the divisional match-ups, giving fans classic rivalries like Tigers- Diamondbacks along with the aforementioned Cubs-White Sox.  I suggest the league adapt a rotating schedule in which teams rotate divisions that they play against each year in ILP.

  • Year one:  AL Central plays NL Central during ILP (these could be home-and-home series, or a AL Central team could hit the road and play the entire NL Central
  • Year two:  AL central teams play NL East teams (same rules would apply as in year one for scheduling)
  • Year three:  AL Central teams play NL West teams (same rules)
  • Year four:  AL Central plays NL Central teams again (at this point they would EITHER play NL Central teams they didn;t play in year one, or they play NL Central teams at home)
  • Year five: AL central teams play NL East teams (see rule for year four)
  • Year six.  AL Central teams play NL West teams (same rules as year four)
Granted, this idea might be a logistical nightmare, but this approach would keep IL games fresh.  Fans would be able to see virtually every team, and their superstar players,  play in their hometown once every six years.  Intra-city rivalries (NY, Chicago, etc) would be played every three years, at most.
Hey, Special Committee for On-Field Matters:  are you reading this?

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