By Craig Edwards
A couple of weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 81st birthday for a second time. British tradition dictates that the monarch's birthday be celebrated in June (to use the nice weather), despite Elizabeth's actual birthday being in April. What does that have to do with sports? Not much. But it's in that spirit that I want to wish baseball's Interleague Play a happy 10th birthday here in 2007, though I'm a couple of weeks late.
Yes, it was on June 12, 1997 that Major league teams started playing games that counted against counterparts from the other league. For you history buffs out there, the SF Giants beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 in the first interleague game (the Mariners also beat Colorado 12-11 that night). The motivation for breaking with decades of tradition was simple; revive interest in a sport still suffering from the strike that canceled the 1994 World series. Commissioner Bud Selig and company wanted to boost attendance and TV ratings by playing on geographical and historical rivalries between teams that had never met outside of exhibition play or the World Series. There's no question it succeeded. But after 10 years, the idea is beginning to get old, and pretty quickly.
I like interleague play, but too many uninspiring matchups eat up a good chunk of the schedule, and that's saying a lot in a 162 game schedule. Some also worry about the competitive fairness with teams playing different interleague schedules. Last week, the Mariners hosted the Pirates and Reds. If the Reds' visit had not meant the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle, the week would not have offered a lot to make Mariner fans go out of their way to see the games (though my buddy Matt mentioned that Pirates/Mariners is a historical rivalry, since Pirates have been attacking Mariners on the seas for centuries). In fact, this season has been full of lackluster matchups across the big leagues. This past weekend alone saw Cleveland-Washington, Baltimore-Arizona, Minnesota-Florida, Dodgers-Tampa Bay, and Colorado-Toronto; not exactly marquee matchups.
Interleague play belongs to the Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, and other matchups like that. I'd love to see an "Interleague Week" around the All-Star game, with teams playing a rivalry home and home series on the two weekends bookending the All-Star game. It makes it a special week and lets teams focus on league play, which seems to become increasingly more important each year with tighter wild card races. Who wants to see the Yankees win the wild card only because they played a softer interleague schedule?
The purpose of these blogs is to inspire discussion, so here are my questions to you. Do you like interleague play? Do you think we need to change it, or leave it in it's current form?