The fact that the band U2 has forced the Florida Marlins to play a “home” series in Seattle against the Mariners in June doesn’t have much to do with the issue of interleague play. It speaks more to the pomposity of the band (they forced the Marlins to go on an extended road trip last year to accommodate the tour, but the dates in Miami were cancelled when Bono had back surgery) and the Marlins’ inability to draw fans.
If the stadium’s owners can pack the stands with 60,000-plus singing “With or Without You,” then by golly it’s going to make an effort to do so. Certainly, U2 draws a crowd, and the baseball team that inhabits Sun Life Stadium does not.
Had Bono and the boys been elsewhere, some 11,000 fans would watch two teams who inhabit opposite corners of the country with a link no larger than the fact that they have both used teal in their uniforms play three games without intrigue. The switch of the series to Safeco Field gives it a little bit of notoriety, but for the wrong reasons. More importantly, it draws attention to a series so drab and void of storylines that it says all you need to know about interleague play.
It begs the question: Has interleague play run its course?
The initiative was a great one when it was enacted in 1997, when the game was still recovering from the strike of three years prior. It still offers up some nice moments each year when traditional rivals get together. Attendance still shoots up every year when the interleague schedule begins. But far too much of it involves awkward matchups that are so insignificant that they get thrust 3,000 miles away to make room for a band whose best album was released 24 years ago.
It’s time to scale things down a bit.
The Red Sox’ interleague slate in 2011 features the “natural rival” Phillies and a visit to Fenway Park by the Chicago Cubs. Both of those series offer some excitement, and there will certainly be one significant storyline when the Sox travel to San Diego. The remaining three opponents are Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Houston.
Take away 12 of those contests, leaving the natural rival portion of the slate, and replace it with another three-game series against each AL West team. Does the season suddenly lack something? Not at all. In fact, it offers up more games with potential rivals in a wild card race. And if baseball adds another wild card berth in both leagues starting in 2012, then reducing the number of interleague games will simply add to the number of meaningful head-to-heads within each circuit.
But the Marlins and Mariners? That’s just forced.
Almost every team has a traditional or geographical rival in the other league. A home-and-home set about a month apart with those teams should suffice. No need to prolong the gimmick for teams that have no concrete link.
As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In sports, contempt breeds excitement. If the Sox have to play three extra games in September against an American League team that swept them in Fenway earlier in the year or against another team that chose to throw at Kevin Youkilis or that club on the West Coast that is within two games of their wild card lead, then the excitement level will go far beyond Boston’s second all-time visit to PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Of course, we’re talking about the Red Sox here. They have appeal across the country. That’s not the case for Florida, Seattle and several other teams who are forced into “meaningless” matchups year after year, sometimes playing second fiddle to rock ‘n’ roll.