I tend not to get too excited over the prospect of interleague baseball. In fact, I’d wish they’d get rid of it entirely. While the baseball fan in me is glad to have the opportunity to see Oakland play at Shea in July, I still find the whole affair rather impractical. And when I find myself agreeing with Chipper Jones, it’s worth exploring.
It is difficult not to wonder how much of an impact these interleague games have on the final standings. If the Braves miss the playoffs by a game or two, I feel that they would have a legitimate gripe. As would the Mets, since they inexplicably are scheduled to play the Yankees, Tigers, Twins and Athletics – the four teams that made the playoffs in the AL in 2006. Combined with their usual NL schedule, the Mets are the only team in baseball to have to play seven of the eight playoff teams from a season ago. The only reason why they don’t play all eight is, well, they’re the eighth.
While I must admit that my fondest memory of watching a game at Shea remains the July 10, 1999 game against the Yankees when Matt Franco singled to bring home the tying and winning runs off of Mariano Rivera with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, it’s a short-term gratification when viewed through the context of an entire baseball season. Would I turn in my experience of that game if it meant that the Mets would make the playoffs? Absolutely, I would.
As ESPN’s Rob Neyer wrote in his blog on Monday, even the financial benefits to doing this are limited. Neyer points to an MLB press release from 2006 that announced the results of the season’s interleague play. It reads:
“The average Interleague attendance of 34,097 is 15.5 percent higher than the intraleague average of 29,520 per game thus far in the 2006 season. The 2006 Interleague average is up 3.4 percent over last year’s Interleague average of 32,985 fans per game. Since its inception in 1997, Interleague Play has drawn 13.2 percent more fans than intraleague games. Interleague Play has averaged 32,842 fans per game, compared to the intraleague average of 29,023 fans per game during the same time.”
So roughly speaking, that’s 5,000 more attendees in 2006 for the interleague games. What this report fails to point out is on what days of the week these games took place. Looking back at the Mets’ 2006 schedule, I found that 12 of the 15 interleague games that took place fell on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Should we be surprised, then, that the Mets had better attendance during these games? Knowing this, is interleague play still financially beneficial? If not, then is this unbalanced schedule within divisions merited?