Interleague play

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Interleague play is the practice of regular season Major League Baseball games played between teams in different leagues. Before being introduced in the 1997 season, matchups between teams in the American League and National League only occurred during spring training, the All-Star Game, other exhibition games (such as the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, New York), and the World Series. Unlike modern interleague play, none of these contests, except for the World Series, counted toward official team or league records.

History[edit]

Early discussions[edit]

Hank Greenberg, Hall of Famer and 2-time MVP

Regular season interleague play was discussed for baseball's major leagues as early as the 1930s.[1] In December 1956, Major League owners considered a proposal by Cleveland general manager and minority-owner Hank Greenberg to implement limited interleague play beginning in 1958. Under Greenberg's proposal, each team would continue to play a 154-game season, with 126 within that team's league, and 28 against the eight clubs in the other league. The interleague games would be played immediately following the All-Star Game. Notably, under Greenberg's proposal, all results would count in regular season game standings and league statistics.[2] While this proposal was not adopted, the current system shares many elements. Bill Veeck predicted in 1963 that Major League Baseball would someday have interleague play.[3] While the concept was again considered in the 1970s,[4] it was not implemented until the 1990s, at least in part as an effort to renew the public's interest in MLB following the 1994 players' strike.[5]

Interleague play introduced[edit]

MLB's first regular season interleague game took place on June 12, 1997, as the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants at The Ballpark in Arlington. There were four interleague games on the schedule that night, but the other three were played on the West Coast, so the Giants–Rangers matchup started a few hours earlier than the others. Texas' Darren Oliver threw the game's first pitch and San Francisco outfielder Glenallen Hill was the first designated hitter used in a regular-season game by a National League team. San Francisco's Stan Javier hit the first home run in interleague play, and the Giants won the game, 4–3.

From 1997 to 2001, teams from the American League West played teams from the National League West, teams from the American League Central played teams from the National League Central, and so on, typically scheduled to alternate between home and away in consecutive years. However, in 2002, the league began alternating which divisions played which divisions, and thus in 2002 the American League East played the National League West, the American League Central played the National League East, and the American League West played the National League Central. Matchups which had been of particular interest prior to this format — mainly geographic rivals — were preserved. This is expected to be the continuing format of the interleague schedule. Corresponding divisions were skipped once when this rotation began, but were put back in the rotation in 2006.

From 2002 to 2012, all interleague games were played prior to the All-Star Game. Most games were played in June, though May games were scheduled after 2005.

The designated hitter (DH) rule is applied in the same manner as in the World Series (and the All-Star Game prior to 2010). In an American League ballpark, both teams have the option to use a DH. In a National League ballpark, both teams' pitchers must bat. Some baseball observers[who?] feel it might be fairer to reverse this (in other words, always follow the DH rule of the visiting team instead of the home team), thereby offsetting the home-field advantage as well as exposing the fans of the home team to the other league's rules. Teams from both leagues have both benefited and have been at a disadvantage when it comes to the DH rule in interleague play. For instance, Barry Bonds, who spent his entire career in the National League and actually won eight Gold Gloves earlier in his career, was used strictly as a DH later in his career when the San Francisco Giants played away interleague games due to his poor fielding.[6] Conversely, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who to date has spent his entire career in the American League and is the Red Sox's regular DH, is forced to play first base when the Red Sox have away interleague games, forcing the Sox to give up good defensive fielding in favor of Ortiz's power hitting.[7]

After the 2010 interleague play, the American League holds an all-time series advantage of 1,808–1,652 and has finished with the better record in interleague play for 7 straight seasons, dating back to 2004.[8] 2006 was the most lopsided season in interleague history, with American League teams posting a 154–98 record against their National League counterparts.[8] The team with the best all-time record in interleague play is the New York Yankees of the AL at 144–102 (.585), followed by the Chicago White Sox at 143–104 (.579). The Miami Marlins holds the NL's best interleague record at 127–107 (.543), followed by the St. Louis Cardinals at 109–96 (.532).[8]

In 2007, two teams—the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles played 6 games with more than one interleague opponent. The former playing both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim while the latter played both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals. This happened again in 2012 as the New York Yankees played both the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves for 6 games. The Miami Marlins also did this, playing both the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox for 6 games each.

The first Civil Rights Game was an exhibition interleague game between the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals in AutoZone Park on March 31, 2007. The first regular season Civil Rights Game was an interleague game between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds in Great American Ball Park on June 20, 2009.

Since the introduction of interleague play, two teams have shifted leagues: the Milwaukee Brewers from the American League to the National League in 1998, and the Houston Astros from the National League to the American League in 2013. As a result, a 2013 interleague series between the two teams made it the first time that two teams faced each other in an interleague series after both teams previously faced each other in an interleague series representing opposite leagues: the two teams met from September 1–3, 1997 (Houston in NL, Milwaukee in AL), then again from June 18–20, 2013. (Houston in AL, Milwaukee in NL) In both instances, the series took place in Houston, with the team representing the American League winning 2-1.[9][10] From 1998 to 2012, both teams were division opponents in the National League Central.

Records[edit]

Wins by league[edit]

Year Best record Total games American League National League Winning pct.*
1997 National 214 97 117 .547
1998 American 224 114 110 .509
1999 National 251 116 135 .538
2000 American 251 136 115 .542
2001 American 252 132 120 .524
2002 National 252 123 129 .512
2003 National 252 115 137 .544
2004 American 252 127 125 .504
2005 American 252 136 116 .540
2006 American 252 154 98 .611
2007 American 252 137 115 .544
2008 American 252 149 103 .591
2009 American 252 138 114 .548
2010 American 252 134 118 .532
2011 American 252 131 121 .520
2012 American 252 142 110 .563
2013 American 300 154 146 .513
2014 American 257 140 117 .545
Overall American 4,267 2,237 2,030 .524

* Winning Pct. is with respect to the league that had/has the better record that season.

All-time Interleague Records by Team (as of conclusion of 2012 season)[edit]

Team Record
Arizona Diamondbacks .464
Atlanta Braves .529
Baltimore Orioles .445
Boston Red Sox .569
Chicago Cubs .460
Chicago White Sox .576
Cincinnati Reds .443
Cleveland Indians .484
Colorado Rockies .475
Detroit Tigers .537
Houston Astros .465
Kansas City Royals .452
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim .577
Los Angeles Dodgers .453
Miami Marlins .519
Milwaukee Brewers .459
Minnesota Twins .557
New York Mets .515
New York Yankees .603
Oakland Athletics .542
Philadelphia Phillies .453
Pittsburgh Pirates .397
St. Louis Cardinals .532
San Diego Padres .437
San Francisco Giants .512
Seattle Mariners .539
Tampa Bay Rays .474
Texas Rangers .525
Toronto Blue Jays .466
Washington Nationals .482

Interleague statistics[edit]

The following is text of Major League Baseball's policy regarding the compilation of statistics as a result of Interleague Play:

"For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, Interleague games are to be played during the regular season. Breaking tradition always brings about controversy and the matter of baseball records is no exception."

"It is the opinion of Major League Baseball that there is no justification for compiling a new volume of records based on Interleague Play. On the contrary, the sovereignty of each league's records will be retained, and if a player or a team breaks a record against an Interleague opponent it will be considered a record in that league. In cases where two teams – as Interleague opponents – break a league or Major League record, that record will be annotated with the phrase 'Interleague game.' Streaks by both teams and individual will continue (or be halted) when playing Interleague opponents in the same manner as if playing against an intraleague opponent. In essence, records will be defined by who made them rather than against whom they were made."

"The official statistics of both leagues will be kept separately as they have in the past. This means statistics for each team and their individual players will reflect their performance in games within the league and also in Interleague games without differentiation."[11]

Interleague-play leaders[edit]

A list of leaders in the following categories is available on the MLB.com website.[12]

  • Batting Average (min. 300 at-bats)
  • Hits
  • Home Runs
  • Runs Batted In
  • Wins (by pitcher)
  • ERA (min. 100 innings)
  • Saves
  • Year-by-year Stats

Geographical matchups / Natural Rivals[edit]

Several interleague matchups are highly anticipated each year because of the geographic proximity of the teams involved. In the case of each of these "rivalry" matchups, the two teams play four games, two at home and two away (prior to 2013, there were six games between the two teams, three at home and three away) against each other every year:

Split rivalries[edit]

Four teams in the East and West form a "split rivalry" where the rivalry pairings alternate in odd- and even-numbered years.

In the East:

In the West:

Former interleague rivalries[edit]

  • Baltimore Orioles v. Philadelphia Phillies Ended in 2006, when the Washington Nationals replaced the Phillies as the Orioles' rival. Although the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005, the schedule for that season was already established, so the Washington-Baltimore rivalry series could not start until the next season.
  • Houston Astros v. Texas Rangers (Lone Star Series) Ended in 2013, when the Astros moved to the American League West. The two teams now play each other 19 times a year as divisional rivals.
  • Montreal Expos v. Toronto Blue Jays (Pearson Cup) Ended in 2005, when the Expos moved to Washington DC. The 2005 schedule was already set before the Expos left Montreal, so the Nationals played a series with the Blue Jays that season.

Scheduling[edit]

In the American League, each team used to play 18 interleague games a year, but because the National League had two more teams than the American, only four NL teams would play a full 18-game interleague schedule, with the remaining twelve teams playing only 15. With the exception of the two NL teams playing each other, all teams were involved in interleague play at the same time (originally in June and July), playing only interleague opponents until the interleague schedule was complete for the year. The schedule was later changed to occur only in June; in 2005, it was changed again to allow for more weekend interleague games, with each team playing one series during the third weekend in May and the rest in mid-to-late June (occasionally stretching into early July).

On April 1, 2013, for the first time in major league baseball history, an interleague game was played on Opening Day, between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, with the Angels claiming the distinction of winning that game 3-1 in 13 innings. The Reds, however, would win the next two contests by scores of 5-4.[13] Also, on September 29, 2013, for the first time in major league baseball history, an interleague game was played on the last day of the regular season, between the Miami Marlins and the Detroit Tigers at Marlins Park. The Marlins not only claimed the distinction of winning that game 1-0 in walk-off fashion, but also saw their pitcher Henderson Alvarez pitch a no-hitter, marking just the 7th time a no-hitter was tossed in an interleague contest (including Seattle's combined no-hitter versus the Dodgers in 2012). With the win, the Marlins earned the sweep.

As of 2012, every major league team has had at least one interleague series with each team in the opposing league. Additionally, every major league team has at least one victory with each team in the opposing league; the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on July 10, 2013 marked the first time the Pirates defeated the A's.[14] Entering the game, A's-Pirates was the only interleague series (and subsequently, the only MLB series overall) that one team won every game.[15]

As of 2013, the only interleague matchup not to occur was the Toronto Blue Jays hosting the San Diego Padres. The Padres, however, have hosted the Blue Jays three times- in 2004, 2010, and 2013. The next chance the Blue Jays will have to host the Padres will be in 2016.

Effect of Astros joining AL on scheduling[edit]

Starting in 2013, the Houston Astros joined the American League, giving each league 15 teams. This will force interleague play throughout the season. For the first time ever, teams will play interleague games even on opening day and during key division races all the way to the end of the season. This did not require expanding the number of interleague games, because the probability of an interleague game during the Astros in the NL era was 252/2430 or about 1 in 9.6 games (this number is not an integer because not all teams had the same number of interleague games). With an odd number of teams in each league, one team in each league would be the "odd man out" and have to play an interleague game to fill out the schedule, meaning as few as 1 in 15 games could be interleague (14 AL teams in 7 AL games, 14 NL teams in 7 NL games and 1 AL and 1 NL team in an interleague game). Despite this, there have been proposals to increase interleague play to 30 games.[16] While the increase to 30 games is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future a smaller increase will took place immediately, having every team play 20 interleague games.[17]

Since the 2013 season, the 20 interleague games are played in eight series. Each team play one three-game series against four teams from one division in the other league, and two two-game series (one home, one away) against the remaining team in that division. This is, and has since 2002, been on a rotating basis. The remaining four games will be played against a team's "natural rival" in two back-to-back two-game series. Should a team's natural rival be a member of the division they are scheduled to play as part of the yearly rotation (this will first occur for all teams in 2015), the team will play home-and-home three game series against the natural rival, home-and-home two game series against two other opponents (one of which takes place back-to-back within the same week), and single three game series against the last two (one home, one away). For 2013, the natural rivalry games were played from May 27–30. Teams played in one city May 27 and 28, then travel to the other city for games on May 29 and 30. In 2014, however, these natural rivalry games are spread out over the season, between early May and early August. Because of the requirement of near daily interleague play (the only exception being if not all teams are playing) spreading out interleague play throughout the year, not every team will be in interleague play on the same day.

Most days, there will be either one or three interleague games as the average number of interleague games per day will be 1.68 [(20 interleague games per team x 30 teams in MLB)/(179 total days in baseball season (including off days and excluding the All-Star break))/2 teams per game], and with 15 teams in each league, the number of interleague games per day must be odd. Doubleheaders and makeup games also apply should a rainout or other extended delay requires a game (or games) to be postponed.

Division rotation[edit]

Seasons NL East vs. NL Central vs. NL West vs. AL East vs. AL Central vs. AL West vs.
1997-2001, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015 AL East AL Central AL West NL East NL Central NL West
2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 AL Central AL West AL East NL West NL East NL Central
2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2017 AL West AL East AL Central NL Central NL West NL East

Arguments[edit]

Since its introduction, regular-season interleague play has continued to be a source of controversy among baseball fans and others both inside and outside the sport. Among the arguments used in favor of and in opposition to interleague play are the following:

Pros[edit]

Cons[edit]

  • There are many series that are not considered compelling; for example, series between currently poor-performing teams or teams with no historical or geographic connections, such as the "rivalry" series Padres vs. Mariners. This also applies to the Blue Jays, Braves, Phillies, and Red Sox (the "leftover teams" from the natural rivalries) who are forced to play the two teams from the other league on a rotating basis even though the Braves and the Phillies do not share any significant history with the Blue Jays or the Red Sox (excluding the 1992 World Series and 1993 World Series, both featuring the Blue Jays against both National League teams.).
  • Most American League pitchers do not like taking batting practice for the opportunity to bat in one or two games (unless they've played in the National League before). These pitchers are also unaccustomed to running the bases, which can lead to injury and premature fatigue. (For example, Chien-Ming Wang suffered a season-ending lisfranc sprain on his right foot when running the bases during a Yankees-Astros game at Minute Maid Park on June 15, 2008.)
  • The World Series and All-Star Game are robbed of the mystique that used to result from the two leagues playing completely exclusive schedules during the regular season: in the case of the World Series, the "best in the American League" playing the "best in the National League" for the only time that whole year.
  • More games against interleague opponents means fewer games against same-league and division rivals – the latter of which may be more compelling. However, the leagues currently play an unbalanced schedule that favors divisional opponents rather than teams from other divisions (which is important due to the postseason qualifying structure - only the best team from a given division is guaranteed a berth in the postseason). Now, each divisional opponent meets each other 19 times as opposed to 18 in previous years, and each natural rivalry sees only 4 games as opposed to 6 in previous years.
  • Some have argued that the AL possesses an unfair advantage over the NL because of the designated hitter rule in the AL. When NL teams are on the road, they are forced to find a DH in place of their pitcher, who would normally bat ninth. Sometimes, the NL team will use one of their star hitters as the DH and use a bench player to fill in the appointed DH, and other times, the NL team will simply use a bench player as the DH and have him bat later. In either case, however, the benefits of using a DH in place of the pitcher are minimal, especially considering that the AL designated hitters have seen more action in their positions and that AL teams still possess their full 9-man batting lineup. Even when the NL team is hosting, arguments have been made that there is no real benefit for the NL team either. For the most part, designated hitters are also good fielders, meaning that they can still be used in the game. And although AL pitchers see less action than NL pitchers, stats have showed that AL pitcher batting average is not much lower than NL pitcher batting average, in large part due to the fact that several AL pitchers have played in the NL. For these reasons, some have argued that the NL should adopt the DH, while others have argued that the AL should drop the DH.
  • These cons apply primarily to the 1997–2001 and/or 2002–2012 formats and not necessarily to the current format:
    • The "rivalry" series that consist of six games a year for some teams leads to further scheduling inequities. For example, the New York Yankees play the recently poor New York Mets six times a year, while their division rival Baltimore Orioles must play the recently strong Washington Nationals six times a year.
      • This may still be an issue now, as one of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies gets four against the Houston Astros but none against the Texas Rangers while the other has it the other way around, if the interdivisional matchup is not AL West vs. NL West. It can certainly play a factor if the Dbacks and Rockies are in a tight race for divisional positioning late in the year.
    • Some teams play a certain opposite-league team more than a certain same-league team. For example, the San Diego Padres played the Seattle Mariners (an American League team) six times during the 2012 season. However, the Padres only played the Washington Nationals (a National League team) 5 times in the 2012 season.
    • Most notably, teams no longer play identical opponents as their divisional rivals, and even where they do, they don't always play them an identical number of times. This can lead to "strength of schedule" disparities like those the NFL has to deal with on a yearly basis. For example, in any given season, one NL Central team might play every AL East team except the (strong) first place team, while another NL Central team plays all but the (weak) last place team.
In the current format these inequities are sharply reduced, since all teams within a division will have the same opponents from the rotating division each season, while the rivalry series is reduced to four games each season.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Owners Back Inter-League Ball Series". Chicago Tribune. 1933-08-23. 
  2. ^ Drebinger, John (1956-12-06). "Player limit, Interleague Games Top Issues on Majors' Agenda". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-02. 
  3. ^ Hurwitz, Hy (1963-05-04). "Veeck Predicts Big Time Will Adopt Interloop Play". The Sporting News. p. 4. 
  4. ^ Koppett, Leonard (1976-02-18). "Drastic Changes Seen For Baseball". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-01. 
  5. ^ "Baseball Approves Interleague Play". New York Times. January 19, 1996. Retrieved 2011-10-01. 
  6. ^ "Who should sign Barry Bonds?". Hardballtimes.com. 2008-03-04. Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  7. ^ "Red Sox’s David Ortiz ready to take the field in interleague play - MLB - Sporting News". Aol.sportingnews.com. 2012-05-18. Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  8. ^ a b c "Interleague History: All-Time Club Records in Interleague Play". MLB.com. Major League Baseball. 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  9. ^ "1997 Houston Astros Schedule, Box Scores and Splits". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  10. ^ "2013 Houston Astros Schedule, Box Scores and Splits". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  11. ^ Interleague History (MLB.com/News/Awards/History/Interleague/Home). MLB Advanced Media, L.P. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  12. ^ Interleague History: Interleague Play Leaders (MLB.com/News/Awards/History/Interleague/All-Time Leaders). MLB Advanced Media, L.P. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  13. ^ "Reds use three homers to beat Angels". St. Louis Post Dispatch. April 5, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Oakland Athletics vs. Pittsburgh Pirates - Gameflash - July 10, 2013". Sportsillustrated.cnn.com. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  15. ^ "Oakland Athletics vs. Pittsburgh Pirates - Recap - July 08, 2013 - ESPN". Scores.espn.go.com. 2013-07-08. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  16. ^ "Increase in Interleague games unlikely in 2013 | MLB.com: News". Mlb.mlb.com. Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  17. ^ "MLB's 2013 interleague schedule is a huge step in the right direction - ESPN". Espn.go.com. 2012-05-19. Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  18. ^ The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK – Rivalies add to interleague play

External links[edit]