Thursday, 21 May 2009

Improving Interleague Play

I'm a baseball traditionalist. Even at age 12, I quit being a fan of the local team, an AL one, and switched to a nearby NL one whose radio station's clear channel signal reached my abode. So, as you can imagine, I'm generally of the view that interleague play is the abomination of desolation, and not worth improving.

However, like the Expos being in DC now, I'm forced to accept that the situation isn't changing for the foreseeable future, so I'm left with thinking how to make the best of it.

To me, the main problem is that while there are natural rivals, like two New York teams, or two Ohio teams, there are also teams that don't have any natural rivals. To make Interleague Play work better, they need to get manufactured rivals. How to do it?

One obvious way is to pick a nearby team that isn't someone else's rival but, because I'm an historian and a traditionalist, I'd prefer to do something more complicated that actually made sense from a temporal perspective. If you are going to invent tradition, do it properly, like the British do.

I sat down and made a list of all the teams by league, and then I paired them off, initially by 'natural rivals'

AL Philadelphia with NL Philadelphia
AL Chicago with NL Chicago
AL New York with NL New York
AL Boston with NL Boston
AL St Louis with NL St Louis
AL Cleveland with NL Cincinnati

That left Washington and Detroit in the AL and Brooklyn and Pittsburgh in the NL. Now I adopted the principle of vicinity, and matched Washington with Brooklyn and Detroit with Pittsburgh.

Keep applying this principle but move pairings around as teams move or expansion occurs. Thus, the Dodgers end up being paired with the Angels, even though they originally were matched with today's Twins. This is what you would end up with, before we try to deal with the significant problem in that the leagues have different numbers of teams:

AL New York with NL New York
AL Boston with NL Atlanta
AL Chicago with NL Chicago
AL Detroit with NL Pittsburgh
AL Cleveland with NL Cincinnati
AL Baltimore with NL Philadelphia
AL Oakland with NL San Francisco
AL Los Angeles with NL Los Angeles
AL Texas with NL Houston
AL Kansas City with NL St Louis
AL Seattle with NL San Diego
AL Tampa Bay with NL Florida

But that gives us some leftover teams. Until there are a couple of contractions or expansions, we really have to create a concept of a 'rivalry pool'. In the AL, there's Toronto and Minnesota. In the NL, there's Milwaukee, Colorado, Arizona and Washington. For each of these teams there's a certain amount of sense in plunging them into this pool. Milwaukee switched leagues, Toronto lost its 'natural rival', Minnesota and Washington moved, Colorado and Arizona would actually make a pretty good 'natural rival' pairing, but they are in the same league. Being among the most recent expansion teams hurts them.

My solution would be to have each of the natural rivals play home-and-home series with one another as the core of the interleague programme. Meanwhile, the AL rivalry pool plays one series against two from the NL pool, alternating home and away each year, and cycling through all four teams through four seasons. E

Like so:

Year One       Year Two         Year Three     Year Four
Tor v Col (h) Tor v Col (a) Tor v Ari (h) Tor v Ari (a)
Was v Tor (a) Was v Tor (h) Was v Min (a) Was v Min (h)
Min v Ari (h) Min v Ari (a) Min v Col (h) Min v Col (a)
Min v Mil (a) Min v Mil (h) Tor v Mil (a) Tor v Mil (h)

Eventually, one hopes two more teams will be added to the AL, and we can actually have a sensible Interleague Series.

I know this does nothing about balancing the schedule, but that's not really the point of interleague. It also would cut the number of those games down, and hopefully allow the intraleague schedule to balance out better.

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