After an appetizer in late May, and the beginnings of the main course this weekend, baseball fans are serving themselves heaping measures of the mediocre buffet that is interleague play. As usual, you can expect several opinion pieces to be published over the course of this week about unbalanced schedules, the DH rule, pinch hitting, double switching and the superiority of the American League over the National League or vice versa.
Personally, I think my feelings were best summed up by Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland earlier this season:
The appeal of interleague play has worn off for me. It was a brilliant idea to start with, but it has run its course. I’ll probably get chewed out for it, but I think a lot of people feel the same way. And that you can quote me on. They ought to look into it. I’m on the (Commissioner’s) committee, and I’ll probably get a phone call, but I don’t really care. That’s totally ridiculous.
And let me emphasize this, it originally was a tremendous idea. But it’s not really doing what it’s supposed to do. There are no rivalries for most of the teams. I’m sure it helps the White Sox a little bit when they host the Cubs, but it doesn’t help at Wrigley Field. The Cubs pack it most of the time anyway. The Yankees also pack their place most of the time.
It has run its course. I just don’t like it. First of all, at some point we have to get baseball back to the same set of rules. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about it. No other sport plays different rules. I don’t care what they do. Whatever way they go is fine with me, but the rules should be the same. I was on the committee. I don’t know if I still am.
But old Jimmy and I seem to be in the minority because according to a news release issued today from Major League Baseball, this weekend’s games were incredibly popular with the fans.
Major League Baseball drew 1,646,000 fans for this weekend’s 45 games, the largest attendance weekend for 45 games since the final weekend of the 2008 season.
Now, obviously, the nice weather has as much to do with attendance as anything else, and it’s impossible to quantify how many fans came out to the ballpark because of that and how many came to see visiting teams from the other league, but we can say for certain that interleague play isn’t keeping fans away. There’s also no uncertainty over how Commissioner Bud Selig is interpreting these numbers:
Fans coming out in these remarkable numbers demonstrate the popularity of Interleague Play, especially given that many of our intra-city rivalries did not occur this weekend. I remain optimistic that our attendance numbers will continue to climb with summer beginning tomorrow and five of the six Divisions separated by 1.5 games or less.
These kind of numbers and the commissioner’s response likely indicate that no matter if the league and schedule is restructured with the new collective bargaining agreement or not, interleague play is one thing that’s here to stay. For the record, AL teams have a 50-34 against NL teams so far this season, outscoring their interleague rivals 378-293.