Inter-league Games For the Fans
by Glenn Dickey
May 25, 2005

EACH YEAR at this time, we hear whining about inter-league play from players who forget that the inter-league schedule is there for the fans, not them.

Let’s look at the supposed problems with inter-league play:

--Inequities in the scheduling. The New York Mets are the biggest complainers because their natural rivalry is with the Yankees, whom they play six times. They should talk to players for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who play the Yankees 19 times because they’re in the same division.

And, that’s the point: There will always be unavoidable scheduling inequities because of the schedule, which concentrates on games within the division. That’s as it should be, but it still means that a team playing in a weak division gets a competitive edge.

This year, for instance, the St. Louis Cardinals are playing in a division in which there currently is no other team even at .500. Playing those softies is certainly a much easier schedule than that faced by the current leaders in the NL West and East, the San Diego Padres and the Florida Marlins. In each of those divisions, there are three teams over .500 and a fourth at that mark, the Giants in the West, the Mets in the East.

So, the Cardinals will waltz to the NL Central title, and they’ll have the best record in the league because of that soft schedule, which will also give them an edge in the postseason.

As for the Mets, their real problem is that they’re the Mets. Playing six games against the Yankees, in an 162-game schedule, isn’t what’s keeping them out of the postseason.

--That it takes away from the glamor of the World Series.

This is really the silliest argument. In football and basketball, teams from the two conferences play each other all the time, and nobody ever claims that detracts from the Super Bowl or NBA Finals.

Last year, the Red Sox and Cardinals met in the World Series. Did it matter to anybody that they had played one three-game inter-league series the year before? Of course not. The Cardinals-Red Sox series that everybody remembered was the 1946 World Series, when the Cardinals won and broke the heart of a 10-year-old boy living in San Diego who was a huge Ted Williams fan and, by extension, a Red Sox fan.

--That the “natural rivalry’ aspect of it can be tortured because it is often stretched to fit rivalries that are no longer natural ones. The Red Sox, for instance, play the Braves, because they were once both in Boston, though the Braves have been gone since 1952. The Toronto Blue Jays play the Washington Nationals, because the Nationals were also a Canadian team, the Montreal Expos.

That’s true, but it’s also true that there are many series within the league schedule that draw a big ho-hum from fans.

The A’s, for instance, have a three-game series against Tampa Bay, and the only attraction will be a fireworks display after the Monday night (Memorial Day) game. They play a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals later in the year, and if you’re looking for solitude, the Coliseum would be a good place to go at that time.

Giants’ attendance doesn’t have the dips that plague the A’s because so many season tickets are sold, but fans don’t get very excited when Milwaukee and Pittsburgh come to town – and the nine games the Giants play at home against the stiffs from Colorado don’t exactly send the excitement level soaring, either.

In contrast, some of the truly natural rivalries do get people excited. The Giants set a record for a three-game series against the A’s last weekend. Dodger fans taunted Angels fans with flags saying “Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles.’’ Though the players said they weren’t excited, I’m sure fans in New York enjoy the Yankees-Mets series. The Cardinals-Royals rivalry, pitting teams from opposite sides of the state, is a good one, even though the Royals are bottom-feeders and the Cardinals are reigning National League champs. Rangers-Astros is another good natural rivalry.

And, you get some matchups that, even if they aren’t natural rivalries, provide something special. Remember the excitement about the Giants-Red Sox last year? The Red Sox had never played in San Francisco, except for an exhibition series in 1957 when the Seals were a minor league affiliate. Red Sox fans, who are certifiably crazy, bought up many of the Giants tickets and brought their own particular brand of mania to the park.

INTER-LEAGUE play is for the fans, and players and managers should never forget that.

In one-city areas, fans don’t get a chance to see the stars from the other league except on television.

Even in two-team areas, that can be true, because so many fans will only go to see their team play. I remember the excitement of Giants fans when the Seattle Mariners, with Ken Griffey, played at Candlestick in 1997, the first year of inter-league play. Many Giants fans had never seen Griffey in person. Of course, they could have seen him at the Coliseum but for many of them, that would have involved crossing the Bay Bridge, which apparently they don’t know how to do.

Inter-league play adds some spice to the regular schedule. The Mets? Maybe they should put together a team that can beat the Yankees, instead of whining about playing them.

NOTE: I’m updating the “Letters” section on my home page regularly, and I like to put home cities there, too, so please include that when you e-mail me.

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