Saturday, June 23, 2012

Time to Acknowledge that Change is Good

Baseball purists are annoying.

They don't want to see replays or any use of technology in umpiring. Traditionalists don't like expansion teams or wildcard games and they especially dislike interleague play.

Yes, interleague play, pissing off purists since 1997 when American League and National League teams began playing each other! Each team only plays a few interleague series (between 15-18 games) each season allowing fans to get their fill of local rivalries like Yankees vs. Mets, Cubs vs. White Sox, Dodgers vs. Angels and Giants vs. Athletics.

Many think the limited interleague schedule is good for baseball in that it creates an "event" to look forward to during the season and it can be built up as something special to increase attendance and TV viewership.

Because the Houston Astros are switching leagues next year, creating an odd number of teams in each league, baseball's schedule will change and the league will have to shake things up significantly to accommodate the shift. There is discussion about each team in a division playing nearly the same exact schedule, including playing against the same interleague teams as the rest of the teams in the division.

It's weird and complex, but the changes facing the MLB could result in an interleague game being played nearly every day of the regular season. Baseball will cross that bridge when it gets there after this season.

Some think a schedule like that would take away the mystique of interleague play, rendering NL vs. AL games no different than any of the 162 games on the schedule.

That's the first problem. There are too many regular season games in baseball. Period. I don't mind a six-month season, but do you know that these players typically get only one or two days off per month? Cut the schedule to 120 games and give the guys some breathing room. While the game isn't that physically demanding (pitching aside), the grind of a baseball season certainly is. For a 7:30pm start, most players are at the ballpark between noon and 2pm on game day. That's a long-ass day which includes weight training, batting practice, media sessions, etc.

For those who say that routine interleague games would ruin the intangible wonders of the current interleague schedule, I disagree. If I'm in a city with an NL home team, I would love to see guys like David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols playing in my ballpark. I'd shell out cash to watch them in person. Same goes for elite pitchers.

But isn't this going to put the AL at a disadvantage? Now designated hitters will have to legitimately prepare to play defense and the best pitchers in baseball will have to pretend to care about hitting?

Well this leads us to another problem with baseball; designated hitting. This is one of the few areas where I agree with baseball traditionalists. How lame is designated hitting? Even worse is the fact that two conferences in the same sports league have such a fundamental difference in the way they play the game. It makes NO SENSE.

I like the NL because I enjoy seeing pitchers at the plate. Sure, most pitchers suck at hitting, but it's cool to see a guy pitching against one of his throwing brethren. I feel like I'm witnessing some weird "Inception" mind game watching pitchers go mano a mano. Plus, I think its a cop out that pitchers don't have to swing the bat. Baseball players should know how to do everything. That's the way the game originated.

That said, I'd be cool if the entire league decided to implement the DH, just for the sake of uniformity. If we get everyone on the same page, then baseball could play an NBA-esque schedule.

Is there a "natural rivalry" between the Giants and the Blue Jays? No, but there very well could be if those teams played each other every season. You can't create and sustain a rivalry between two teams that never play each other, or only meet up in the World Series.

The Lakers and Celtics went 21 years without facing each other in the NBA Finals, yet die-hard and casual basketball fans alike would tune in for the two regular season games in which LA and Boston played each other. The Angels and Giants played a great World Series against each other in 2002. The momentum from that alone could have propel a legitimate regular season rivalry. Same goes for the Yankees and Diamondbacks, or the Rangers and Cardinals.

Sometimes rivalries are natural based on proximity or star power, other times, they are born from random circumstances. Either way, baseball should be allowed to let these things happen. Give the fans the opportunity to see every single player on his or her home field, then go from there.

It might take other adjustments in the rules and scheduling to make a shift like this practical, but it works for basketball, football and hockey. Now, it's baseball's turn.

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