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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Is Interleague Play ‘Unfair’ for Teams Like the Boston Red Sox?

Allow me to begin by stating that it is difficult to say that anything is “unfair” for a team like the Boston Red Sox.  In a league with no salary cap, the Red Sox find themselves at the top of the food chain.  The baseball market in Boston is enormous and as a result there is a seemingly constant flow of revenue on Yawkey Way 365 days a year.  Contenders like Tampa Bay who make hardly any money can complain, but there’s no arguing life is easier in cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

That being said, Terry Francona has irritated a lot of baseball analysts with his recent claim that interleague play is unfair and prevents him from using his best lineup.  On one side, there are those who argue that Francona should stop whining because interleague play constitutes 10 percent of the regular season and players should be athletic enough to play somewhere in the field.  Leading that crew would be someone like John Steigerwald, who claims David Ortiz is “not a baseball player” if he cannot play in the field.

On the flip side, there are those who believe Major League Baseball has determined the AL and NL should be inherently different by having pitchers bat in one league and allowing a designated hitter in the other.  If we are going to keep interleague play around, the rules of the game should be the same across both leagues.

In reality, there is a balance.  When AL teams play at NL parks, they lose their designated hitter — an aspect of their team that the rules of the AL have made a necessity in order to keep pace with the rest of the league.  When NL teams visit AL ballparks, they aren’t prepared in the sense that they lack a player on their roster whose only job is to hit.  While the player they plug in at DH is almost certainly a better hitter than any pitcher, it is likely someone who plays the role of utility man throughout the rest of the year.

Considering an equal amount of interleague games are played at NL and AL parks, neither league is really at a disadvantage.  However, Francona has somewhat of a point.  Contrary to popular belief, Ortiz is an average first baseman.  Having seen my fair share of Red Sox interleague games, I am normally impressed with some of the plays he makes all things considered.  There are few first baseman in professional baseball that can play other positions effectively.  The Red Sox pay Ortiz to be a DH.  They brought in Adrian Gonzalez to play the role of first baseman.  If you want to argue that professionals who make millions of dollars should be more versatile, that’s probably a fair point.  Personally, I don’t see the need for interleague play.

With the rules differing from one league to the next, teams spend their offseasons tackling different issues and addressing different needs.  The fact that the leagues are different isn’t an issue, but it would be more intriguing if the AL and NL champions met in the World Series and not during the regular season.



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