Lighten up, purists change should be fun

For interleague play

January 22, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

May 25, 2006, East Rutherford, N.J. -- New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner today named himself manager and traded All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter for a minor-leaguer after a 7-6 loss to the New York Mets.

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Well, there's Reason No. 1 to like interleague play, not that any of the purists would admit it. Steinbrenner is so obsessed with the Mets, he's going to go completely bonkers in 1997 and every other season the crosstown rivals meet.

Tradition? Who needs tradition? The Yankees' imminent demise should ensure that the Orioles reach the postseason for about 12 consecutive years, depending on how long Steinbrenner remains owner.

Seriously, what's the problem here? For years, baseball critics have said that the season is too long, too boring, not enough fun. Well here's something fun. And the critics are again beside themselves.

Any day now, we'll hear from Bob Costas, Lord Protector of Baseball. You remember Costas. Hated the wild card. Railed against the game's best innovation since divisional play, regarded it as the end of civilization.

Hey, it's no secret the owners are out to line their wallets; this truth we hold to be self-evident. But some things are born out of necessity. There were 20 teams the year before divisional play. By the year 2000, there could be 32.

That makes more playoff teams logical.

Interleague play, too.

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May 28, 1997, Baltimore: The Orioles' Mike Mussina tonight pitched his first no-hitter, but it wasn't enough, as Atlanta's Greg Maddux threw a perfect game, lifting the Braves to a 1-0 victory.

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The game fails to showcase its stars -- that's another criticism of baseball, a fair one, but without interleague play, 15 cities would be cut off from Maddux in '98, and another 15 from Ken Griffey.

That's ridiculous.

Imagine the NBA preventing half its fans from seeing Michael Jordan. Or the NHL preventing half from seeing Mario Lemieux. It's the '90s, folks. Marketing matters, especially to a sport many believe is dying.

Frankly, 15 interleague games a season is probably not enough. But, as with the wild card, it's a delicate balance. Too many wild-card entries would indeed compromise the sport. So would too many interleague games.

Which brings us to the World Series.

The mystery will be gone, cry the purists. As if Albert Belle were a character in an Agatha Christie novel. As if three games would unveil vast untold secrets, presuming the league champions even meet that season at all.

The Super Bowl seems to survive when the participants face each other in the regular season. A championship event stands on its own merits. The Series won't be diminished one iota.

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Sept. 4, 1997, Philadelphia: The Orioles, playing before a sellout crowd of wildly cheering fans from Baltimore, today reduced their magic number to three with a 6-2 victory over the last-place Phillies.

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You read that right.

Road trip to the Vet!

No wonder Phillies owner Bill Giles is a leading proponent of interleague play. He could be host to the AL East pennant race in 1997, not to mention the NL East race, too.

Finally, there's an easy way for fans shut out of Camden Yards to see the Orioles. True, the schedule will feature one fewer game against AL East opponents, but it also will include one fewer game against the Central and West.

The Montreal Expos might not be much of a draw in Baltimore, but they're at least as interesting as Ben McDonald's new team, the Milwaukee Brewers. A free agent who wanted to play for Bud Selig. Now that's radical.

Have you heard, Ben?

The Brewers stink, bless your mercenary soul.

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Sept. 6, 2003, Reston, Va.: A heated pre-game exchange between rival owners Peter Angelos and Jack Kent Cooke tonight led to a bench-emptying brawl in the first game of the so-called Chesapeake Series between the Orioles and Virginia Astros.

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Oh yeah, almost forgot.

Just as our Browns will defend Baltimore's honor against the Washington Redskins, the Orioles will trash the Astros, or whatever sad-sack club moves to Northern Virginia.

Angelos will treat these games the way Steinb . . .

Just kidding, Peter.

Really, the games won't be meaningful at all.

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May 29, 1999: Designated hitter Sam Horn became the first player to hit a home run off the B&O warehouse, lifting the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 10-9 victory over the Orioles.

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The DH?

Isn't it supposed to become extinct?

Well, yes -- if the owners and players settle on it.

Oh, they'll just include it in the next labor agreement, along with a salary cap, revenue sharing and a plan to name Donald Fehr commissioner.

Seriously, the players are going to demand that the owners standardize the DH rule in return for their approval of interleague play. The owners will allow it to remain in the AL, or for old times' sake, maybe just cave entirely.

Once again, the traditionalists would weep, this time over the elimination of Pete Harnisch as an RBI threat. Expanded playoffs, interleague play, the National League DH -- it will all just be too much.

When will they learn?

Change can be good, even if done for the wrong reasons.

/# The game is supposed to be fun.

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