Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Interleague play -- It's gone stale
That changes this week as the Sox head to Queens for a brief two-game set against the New York Mets.
Anyone extra fired up for this series? No? Me neither.
Granted, both these teams are struggling right now. The Sox are 13-17. The Mets are 12-16. But even if both clubs were in first place, I don't think a meeting between these two teams would take on any special significance.
For me, Interleague play is kinda boring. Call me old-fashioned, but I get more excited watching the Sox play against traditional American League rivals like Minnesota and Detroit. Sure, those teams play the Sox 18 times a year. It's hardly unique, but there's a history there that makes the game seem more meaningful than a couple lame May matchups against a team like the Mets.
I don't even get pumped up when the White Sox face the Cubs anymore. In fact, that's my least favorite series of the entire season. Each year, I look forward to it being over -- even though my White Sox have historically enjoyed an edge in the City Series. I see the crosstown series as nothing more than an excuse for casual fans and certain media members to place too much importance on a handful of early-season games.
How many times have you heard someone claim there is a "World Series atmosphere" at one of the crosstown games? What a bunch of hyperbole.
As a baseball fan, you don't know what tension is until your favorite team's closer is on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning, trying to protect a one-run lead in the potential clinching game of the World Series. With every pitch, a championship is at stake. Something real for a team, its city and its fans is on the line. Memories are being burned into your brain that will last a lifetime, win or lose. That's a World Series atmosphere. You won't find that at a Sox-Cubs game in May or June. Sorry, you just won't.
What you will find is a bunch of drunken fools exchanging insults and fists over innocuous events, like infield singles in the top of the fourth inning with two men out and nobody out in a relatively meaningless June game. That's the atmosphere at the City Series, and it is as old and tiresome as Interleague play itself.
For years, MLB has boasted about Interleague games being better attended than other regular season games. This is true; I can't refute that. But, as a recent article on FanGraphs notes, the bulk of Interleague games have traditionally been played in June -- right after school gets out, when the weather warms up. I would argue that attendance goes up at most MLB parks at that time of year regardless of matchups. The bump in attendance associated with Interleague play could be a mere coincidence.
This year, of course, Interleague series are taking place throughout the season. The Houston Astros have moved to the American League. The two leagues have 15 teams each now. As a result, at least one Interleague series is going on at all times.
The same FanGraphs article notes attendance is down at Interleague games so far this year. Well, of course it is! The weather stinks in April and May. "Intriguing Interleague matchups" aren't going to draw fans to the ballpark. I'll bet you there will be September Interleague games that don't draw flies either.
In June, roughly 20 of the 30 teams in the league can claim to still have postseason hopes. Heck, as bad as the White Sox and Mets have been, I don't think I'd say either team is buried and completely out of the pennant race at this stage of the season. But what if these two likely also-rans played at the end of the year? Would anyone show up because of the allure of Interleague play? I'm going to say no. Anyone prepared to argue that Miami Marlins fans will turn out in droves for a home series against Detroit from Sept. 27-29? Once again, I'm going to say no.
Don't get me wrong. I know Interleague play is here to stay. I just don't buy MLB's argument that it creates extra fan interest and boosts attendance. I think fan interest and attendance are high in June regardless.
Early in the year when the weather is bad, or late in the year when teams drop out of the race, attendance lags. It stands to reason that will be the case for Interleague games, just as it would be for any other game.