During yesterday’s press conference, Bud Selig was asked about what shape interleague play would take, now that realignment into two 15-team leagues has been locked in. Perhaps the most experimental notion was to reverse the advantage the two leagues currently have, by having pitchers hit in AL parks while deploying the DH in NL parks. For some of you it may seem blasphemous. I’m not partial to that change or the status quo. I can see some grumbling among fans in one-team markets, since as a fan you might pay to see a DH in your home park and he may be relegated to the bench in this scenario.
For me, the bigger news is the change to scheduling. Under the new CBA, teams can play up to 20 interleague games per year. For most AL teams it’s 18, for NL teams it’s either 18 or 15. Now with fully balanced divisions and leagues, all teams can be expected to play 18-20 interleague contests per season. If MLB wants each division to play a scheduled interleague division straight up, that translates to 15 games per team, plus a certain number against the crosstown rival (if applicable). Since 15 games is not an even number, and because a team like the Mets is stuck getting hammered by the Yankees every year, the crosstown rival series may be trimmed to 3 games in one park or a 2+2 home-and-home set. In the latter scenario it’s still not an even number (19 total interleague games), so that odd number would have to be accounted for somehow.
Naturally, this means that for the A’s, they’d only play the Giants in Oakland every other year, a sure revenue hit. The A’s are the team that benefits most from the current 3+3 crosstown rival scheduling format, far more than the Chicago, LA, NY, or Beltway teams, all of whose attendance figures are less impacted by the crosstown series than the A’s.
Then again, it might be nice to have invading Giants fans only once every other year. They’re like in-laws, I guess.
I have a number of other questions about how the format will work:
- When the AL West is playing the NL West with the established crosstown rivalries, will MLB hold to the reduced games? If it does, will it schedule another three-game series between teams in other divisions to get the total up to 18? (Math: 4 or 5 series x 3 games + 3, 4, or 6 vs. crosstown rival)
- Since the crosstown rivalry series makes for efficient travel (the A’s played in SF at the end of a road trip this season, for instance), how much will MLB explore the 2+2 format?
- Will some teams push for the opening and closing series as part of their interleague schedule? Or will they run away from it?
- Will MLB try to force teams without natural rivals to lock in rivalries?
Selig has admitted that this is the kind of stuff that he geeks out about, and I’m kind of in the same boat with him there. Whatever your feeling on the changes, the result should be more equitable to all teams than the current format. Interleague play is no longer an annual aberration to be endured, it’s here all season long and it’s here for good.