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Interleague play: not quite popular as MLB would have you believe

Jul 3, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT

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In the past few years, when interleague play was confined to certain segments of the season, Major League Baseball would issue these press releases about just how popular it was and how attendance spiked dramatically when the interleague series began. The clear impression they were trying to make was just how successful interleague play was as a concept.

Maury Brown at The Business of Baseball, however, crunched the numbers from and concludes that MLB’s enthusiasm about interleague play was really a lot of calendar-dependent noise:

While the rest of the season is yet to be played, the numbers compellingly show that interleague is not as popular as the past numbers have been said to be. It’s not that the “rivalries” aren’t popular, they are (they averaged 30,876 across the Rivalry Week in May this year), but rather balanced interleague throughout the season pulls in pretty much the same crowds as traditional interleague has.

None of this is to say that interleague should be removed. What it does say is don’t use those past numbers as propaganda to say how much more popular interleague is since it came into place in 1997. As the numbers now show, it’s pretty much a wash. Enjoy it for what it is, not some monumental popularity shift added to the regular season.

It was always notable that the big interleague p.r. push came after big weekend series between popular rivals, typically just as the warm weather finally showed up. Now that we have random Philly-Anaheim and Colorado-Seattle matchups in midweek during cold weather and everything else, we are seeing that baseball is, more or less, baseball.

  1. wpjohnson - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Interleague play, unbalanced schedules, and the designated hitter are scars on the tradition of baseball. I am a baseball purist. It needs no “tinkering” to make it the greatest game ever invented. Don’t ruin its tradition.

    • nbjays - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      You mean tradition like pitchers throwing underhand, no batting helmets, leaving your glove on the outfield grass and the game only being played in the daytime by teams of white players east of the Mississippi?

      It’s called evolution, but a lot of purists don’t believe in that, either, I guess.

      I like interleague play simply for the chance to see my team play other teams that they would not otherwise get to face. Not a fan of the made-up rivalries, though.

      • indaburg - Jul 3, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        What made up rivalries do you speak of, Beaver-man? /evil eye

    • paperlions - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      I have yet to meet a baseball “purist” that has any idea what that means. Upon questioning, it generally means “I wish everything about baseball was the same as it was when I first learned about the game”, and has nothing whatsoever to do with tradition. Such people rarely know that black players did play in the Majors in the 1800s, that there used to be a rule making breaking pitches illegal, that the original purpose of the pitcher was not to try to get the hitter out, but to just serve up balls for the hitter to smack.

      “Tradition” has nothing to do with maintaining baseball as it was originally conceived, because that was a horrible game, it just means keeping things like they remember them being when they were a kid….which is not a strong basis for an opinion.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 3, 2013 at 2:25 PM

        This post is just begging for a Fiddler on the Roof reply…..


      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        THANK YOU, D-Phil! I was fighting the urge. I feel much better now.

  2. specialkindofstupid - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    I wasn’t a fan of interleague play until the Astros moved to the AL. Now, interleague is the only thing ensuring (insert name of your favorite NL club) gets a crack at them every few years.

    • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:12 PM

      Poor Lastros. 😦

    • indaburg - Jul 3, 2013 at 5:33 PM

      Their minor league system is actually very good. Give them time. They won’t be the Lastros for long.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 7:18 PM

        I didn’t give them that nickname, by the way. One of the guys in my baseball group did…and he’s an Astros fan.

        (Also, judging from the OKC Red Hawks games, their minor league system is okay.)

      • indaburg - Jul 3, 2013 at 7:34 PM

        Ha! Well, at least he has a sense of humor about his team. I’ve rooted for historically awful teams, so I feel his pain. Tell your buddy not to lose hope–their nickname will change in the near future.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 8:02 PM

        He knows. He jokes that he played in high school with Matt Kemp so he probably could make the Astros roster. Don’t forget, I went a lot of years cheering for losers too.

  3. baccards - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    Let us hope this will lead to the elimination of inter-league play –

  4. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    On one hand, I enjoy the opportunity to see teams and players I may not normally watch. On the other, I hate these forced “rivalries” and find it annoying when my team is forced to follow a different set of rules. Baltimore and Nationals fans have the extra punishment of not only having a stupid forced rivalry, but a joint broadcasting team, where they combine the commentators from both teams into one booth simultaneously. And it’s absolutely DREADFUL.

    Inter-league would work much better if it was more like, oh, I don’t know, every other league in the world, where teams are on equal rule sets, and match-ups weren’t forced.

  5. stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    While you are at it, why don’t we wish for elimination of the deficit, world peace, and the eradication of all diseases.

    After all, those are more likely than the elimination of interleague play at this point.

    • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:13 PM

      Hello, Miss Congeniality!

      • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        Who me? I was just spitballing scenarios. I could actually live with interleague play if we also got world peace.

        At this point it’s really more of a function of an odd number of teams in each league so we have no choice. Not that I was in favor of moving the Astros to the AL in the first place. But that’s ancient history.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:22 PM

        I think you’ll have to live with it even if we don’t get world peace, but I just HAD to tease you about your beauty pageant answer there. How’s your wave?

      • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        P.S. It does make fantasy baseball easier because in time you actually get to see all of the players you might draft. Before this year there were too many AL players I had never heard of and knew nothing about.

      • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        My wave, like the rest of my appearance, is nothing to write home about. But my wife puts up with it okay.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        That’s all that matters then.

      • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:40 PM

        BTW, didn’t get your comment the first time. I thought I came off as grumpy.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM

        Meh, contrary to popular opinion, I am not thin-skinned. I like that movie though. It was funny when everyone in San Antonio had a gun.

      • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

        Funny and highly accurate.

  6. steelers88 - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:24 AM

    I personally love interleague play It’s a chance to see the other leagues superstars. Plus it’s a chance to see your favorite team play against teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

  7. Old Gator - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Baseball is baseball when played in National League parks. It’s that degenerated, dumbed-down version of baseball from the late Pleistocene better known as designatedhitterball when played in American League parks. The designated hitter is baseball’s answer to Bokonon’s cannon on San Lorenzo.

    • nbjays - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      Yep, nothing says pure baseball like a National league pitcher flailing away at the ball like a little old lady trying to hit a bee with a broom handle.

      • Old Gator - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:17 PM

        Nothing says pure baseball like rhythm, shape, contour, periodicity, strategy, aesthetics – and nothing says designatedhitterball like a mindless round robin of mammoth hunters with clubs, each one smashing away just like the one before him and just like the one after him will. Yawn.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        Word. I can’t imagine how watching visiting teams try to front a DH or our pitchers “hitting” isn’t driving AL fans to the park.

      • indaburg - Jul 3, 2013 at 5:36 PM

        Leave little old ladies alone! I’ve seen old ladies swing their canes better than some NL pitchers swing a bat.

  8. Innocent Bystander - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    So, MLB, what is the point of interleague play? I get it if you really believed there was a pick up in attendance. But what’s the benefit if there isn’t?

    • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      The point of interleague play now is that there are 15 teams in each league. Once they moved the Astros to the AL, they have no choice but to have interleague play every might of the season.

  9. hojo20 - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Interleague play sucks!

  10. valarmorghuliss - Jul 3, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    Inter-league is here to stay
    Get over it

    DH league wide is coming in your lifetime too
    Prepare yourselves Purists

  11. Bob - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Ask Houston about interleague play since the Astros play it almost every day now.

    Thanks, Bud — only in your universe could an AL team now play in the NL and an NL team now play in the AL. I’m sure you still get kickbacks from the Brewers franchise, so I’m sure Milwaukee in the NL benefits you personally.

    • nbjays - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:14 PM

      How do the Astros play interleague almost every day? Isn’t their schedule just as balanced as everyone else’s?

      Or was this just a lame attempt to say that Houston is still an NL franchise in the AL?

      Get over it.

  12. steelers88 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    I would love to see the DH in the NL. It always sucks when it’s like the 3rd inning you have the bases loaded 2 outs and the pitcher is up man that sucks!

    • km9000 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      I’m curious if adding the DH to the NL would just spread out the offensive talent to the point where everyone’s 9th hitter would just end up being defensive specialists who can barely hot better than pitchers anyway (eg, Brendan Ryan). Not that I’d mind. And the only real benefit would be that pitchers can stay in longer.

      • km9000 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        Er, hot=hit.

  13. km9000 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Interleague just means that instead of watching your favorite AL team play an extra series against the same AL teams, they play an NL team instead. I don’t feel like anything is being lost. Sure, there’s a novelty aspect to it, but I like getting a chance to see my team play against someone new.

    I would like to see them move away from the unbalanced schedule though. They made the divisions even out, in part because of how unwieldy schedules got, but that’s only half of it.

  14. ndnut - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    I like watching my Twins play the Brewers. I hat watching them play the other 14 teams in the NL. Can we reach a compromise where we have the 4 game (2 home, 2 away) as the only interleague play. Maybe through expansion by 2 teams. I’m thinking Montreal for sure and maybe San Antonio or Jacksonville?

    • stex52 - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Probably not. I’m not seeing any drive at all for expansion by the owners at the moment. It’s all about money.

  15. unclearnie - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    I never liked interleague play, however I like it more now that teams only play 4 games instead of 6 against their assigned rivals. It seemed like every year you would have the case of a pair of division rivals having vastly different levels of difficulty in their respective schedules. Team A would play 6 games against the best team in the other league (their rival) and team B would play 6 games against the worst team in the other league (their rival). Then team B would win the division by a game or two because of their dominance over their rival compared to team A’s lack of the same.

    • km9000 - Jul 3, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      I dunno, it’s all kind of arbitrary anyway. I’d think being in a strong/weak division is a lot more significant over the course of a season than playing a few games vs one particular interleague team more often than another.

  16. psuorioles - Jul 3, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    I really don’t understand why people hate interleague play??? I have asked this before and never received a valid resonse.

  17. steelers88 - Jul 3, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    If I were the MLB I would just do a test run for a year a DH in both leagues and see how it works.

  18. albertmn - Jul 3, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    I love interleague play. But, I think they should drop the “rivalry” thing and just have every team play every team in the other league for at least a 2 or 3 game series every year, alternating home field every other year. MLB plays roughly twice the number of games as the NBA and they manage to play at least 2 games against every other team in their league, and still play more games against their division foes. There is no reason teams couldn’t play every team in the other league for one series, every non-division team in your league for two series, and then the rest of the games against your division foes. 45 games against the other league (3 each), 60 games against non-division (6 each), and leaves 57 games to play in your division (approximately 14 each). [*Technically, that comes to 161, so add one game to some series somewhere in the year to get to 162]

    You could tweak those numbers slightly (7 each for non-division and 12 each for division puts you at 163), but something like that would be very doable and it would allow every team to see every other team.

  19. delsj - Jul 3, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    I don’t particularly like the DH, but who says the pitcher has to come out if you use a pinch hitter? Make the rule that you can bat for the pitcher without taking him out of the game. This way a pitcher doesn’t get yanked when he is pitching well but the offense is not producing. Yet the manager still has to manage his bench so that he doesn’t run out of bats late in the game or in extra innings. They could at least use it for interleague games rather than going by the home team rules.

  20. rohlo - Jul 3, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    baseball has messed up with interlaegue matchups.. of course you have the new york,chicago.LA,bay area ,florida,missouri,ohio, and texas teams..( oops not texas interleague anymore…idiot bud selig) i mean as of right now san diegos interleague by mlb rival is seattle?? yes seattle! houstons is colorado,texas is arizona,…

    when selig decided to move houston to the AL OR should i say extorted new astros owner crane… he took the texas interleague matchup between an astros team with 50 years national league history away!i remember when the dbacks and rays came in they were told with them being newest they could be moved to the other league without notice or approval needed.. forward to this past off season.. arizona wanted to move to the AL west,but bud selig said no..(mind you bud selig created this mess by moving his brewers out of the AL and moved them to the NL) it would have been simple move arizona to the al west and move the astrso to the nl west.. astros rangers are still interleague rivals playing in same time zones, now the padres interleague rival could be with neighbor arizona with them in AL west now.a colorado seattle interleague rival seems a bit better tha it is currently as they are both further north. you have two national league teams in pennsylvania in pitt and philly. maybe move pitt or phillly to AL. i dunno.. it would all help a little bit,but takign the texas matcup in interleague away was really stupid as it created two more total irrelevent inteleague series whe nit could have solved one more by crating a san diego and arizona matchup taking away the laughable seattle san diego interleague rivalry!!

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