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Interleague Play and an Annual Complaint

May 20, 2011

Tonight the A’s will take the field at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The occasion? Merely the A’s 45th game of the season for Oakland and 43rd game of the season for San Francisco. There was a time when Oakland showing up in San Francisco meant one of two things, either a spring training exhibition game or the World Series. It was good that way, it was right that way.

Of course in 1997 that was all shot to hell. On July 2nd of that year at Candlestick Park (then called 3com Park) Damon Mashore dug in against Kirk Rueter and the first pitch – a called strike – created the modern-day Giants-A’s rivalry. Tonight’s game will represent the 81st meeting of the two clubs, which means between the two of them they’ve played a full half season against one another, and all the games are real and all count. The A’s hold a slight 42-38 edge in the series. Of course prior to that 1997 game, the last time the A’s and Giants met was in San Francisco, the date was October 28th, 1989 and the A’s had just swept the 1989 World Series 4-0 when Brett Butler grounded out to Tony Phillips who threw it to pitcher Dennis Eckersley to clinch the victory.

Why do I hate interleague play so much? Here is a great rivalry, that we get to enjoy every year right? And what baseball fan doesn’t find intrigue in the Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs, Angels-Dodgers, Royals-Cardinals, etc? Because from 1901 through 1996 the two leagues met only once when it mattered – in the World Series. It made sense, you had no idea which league’s best were better and it all came down to one final showdown. The All-Star Games were made that much more exciting, what would happen when Mark McGwire faced Greg Maddux?

But now all that is meaningless. These teams play each other all the time, the novelty is gone. Interleague play exacerbates the unbalanced schedule problem, as teams like Oakland on account of their “rivalry series” play the returning World Champions six times while the defending American League Champions draw six with the hapless Houston Astros. And for all these “great rivalries” like the Bay Bridge Series, there are some real clunkers. On Oakland’s schedule, the A’s-Phillies may have held a lot of appeal prior to 1955, the A’s-Mets series could hold some nostalgic appeal for those remembering the 1973 World Series, the A’s-Marlins can’t think of anything to rile people up about this matchup, A’s-Dbacks, maybe there is animosity that the A’s try to steal the hearts of the Phoenix fans for six weeks in February and March? The point is we have one legitimate rivalry, two very weakly legitimate rivalries and two rivalries that hold less interest than the A’s playing any American League opponent. This is what is stupid about interleague play. They show us commercials with Mike Piazza having a bat thrown at him by Roger Clemens but for all that there are the lack of highlights from those feisty A’s-Marlins games (and feisty they are as the 3-3 deadlock will be broken in only about six weeks!).

We need a balanced schedule, we need to stop these games that severely handcuff AL teams by sitting their DHs in NL parks, and that turn reserves into starters when the NL clubs come to the AL parks. These games are stupid, but they are real, they count, and that is the problem. I hate interleague play. It was an experiment, a bad one, with it apparent from the onset it would be bad, but let’s give it up now, if not just fully embrace it, make the whole year interleague play, make everyone’s schedules even, and there you go. I’ll be watching the A’s-Giants this weekend, though the Blue Jays-Astros sounds capitvating, as does the Angels-Braves, and…

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