Interleague baseball arrived in Baltimore last night with a, well, with a what?
A bang? Let's not get carried away. Even though Camden Yards was sold out and the Orioles almost rallied from five runs down to win, it would be an exaggeration to say the park was electrified with any special current resulting from the visitors' National League roots.
The Orioles' 6-4 loss to the Montreal Expos had the aura of just another game -- and an exhibition game at that, seeing as the two teams played about 50 Grapefruit League games in the spring.
It was a letdown after the Orioles' celestial series with the Braves, and it was an introduction to the other side of this interleague business, the part that is -- shhhh -- not particularly interesting, special or anything other than a cheap, misguided stunt.
Sure, the first weekend of interleague games was a hit in many places, but that's no surprise; the novelty was bound to sell tickets and generate interest.
And there's no doubt some of the games and rivalries are interesting, most notably the world war between the Yankees and Mets that started last night.
But also on the docket last night were such duds as Marlins-Tigers, Astros-Royals and Phillies-Red Sox.
Try selling those to a skeptical public.
And the thing is, there'll be three of those "plenty of good seats available" series for everyone as interesting as the Orioles-Braves and Yankees-Mets.
That's just one of the reasons the baseball owners were wrong, as usual, to throw out 100 years of tradition and mix the American and National League schedules in an attempt to enliven their sagging product.
Interleague games would have been a phenomenon 50 years ago, when players seldom changed teams and fans of one league seldom saw players in the other league because there was no television.
But in the age when dozens of players change leagues every year and every fan sees every player every night on ESPN's "SportsCenter," many interleague games have an underlying aura of routine business.
The Expos had five ex-Orioles in uniform last night, for crying out loud.
Not that I'm one of these weeping traditionalists who believes the World Series is ruined forever and records won't mean
anything anymore. Please.
The World Series isn't going to suffer, records aren't going to have asterisks and the reality of interleague games isn't mortally offensive, as the Orioles and Braves demonstrated in their classic series.
But if it isn't mortally offensive, it certainly is overrated.
And worse, the rationale behind it is illogical and disingenuous, hardly a surprise considering that the owners are responsible for it.
They say they're doing it for the sake of the fans, which is enough to make you stick a $6 barbecued rib down your throat.
If they really cared about the fans, they wouldn't institute an interleague schedule that renders makeup games all but impossible, turning rainouts into logistical disasters to be avoided at all costs. The Marlins made fans wait six hours in the rain the other night before calling a game against the Yankees.
No, the owners are doing this because they wrecked their sport with their hardball labor tactics earlier this decade and they're willing to wreck tradition and try anything to win back fans and make some money.
As usual, they didn't think it through.
If they really wanted to liven up their product, they should have unbalanced the schedules within the leagues and emphasized divisional rivalries.
In other words, let the Orioles play the Yankees and their other AL East rivals 18 times a year, and the rest of the AL teams less often.
That's a new format that would have affected a much larger percentage of the season, as opposed to the 10 percent that interleague games compose.
What would the Orioles' season-ticker holders rather see, three games apiece with the Expos and Phillies or three additional games with the Yankees and Red Sox?
Pretty obvious, huh?
And what makes more sense for the Orioles' first September series, three games in Florida or three in the division?
Florida in September? How about Yankee Stadium instead?
But instead of giving fans more of the natural rivalries that constitute the fiber of the game, the owners have instituted the baseball version of a cheap thrill. Hey, everyone, look what we can do!
For half the teams in the majors, the mediocre teams unwilling to spend what it takes to contend, the interleague games are a chance to draw extra fans without spending an extra penny on personnel. That's a Jerry Reinsdorf idea if ever there was one.
And for the popular, contending teams like the Orioles, Rockies, Indians and others, well, they'd sell out against the Colorado Silver Bullets. What do they care who shows up to play?
Never mind that the schedule in both leagues has been discombobulated to shoehorn this stuff in, or that the games really don't really prove anything, or that a mild push at the gate isn't going to begin to solve baseball's larger problems, such as the lack of a commissioner.
And never mind that there were 8,000 empty seats for the Cubs and White Sox yesterday on a sunny, 77-degree afternoon at Comiskey Park.
The owners aren't going to turn back now.
Interleague games are here to stay, for better or worse.
It's another blow to baseball's tradition, which isn't necessarily a big deal in the '90s, but it's a blow that comes accompanied all too often by a shrug of indifference, and that just doesn't make sense at all.
Pub Date: 6/17/97