Discussion

Interleague schedules need more balance

Updated: June 18, 2010, 2:18 PM ET
By Jayson Stark
As Round 2 of interleague play gets cranking, it's time to slip into your favorite debate-team uniform so we can revisit everybody's favorite interleague topic -- the schedule.

I got lots of reaction to my blog post a few weeks ago on the extra-mysterious inconsistencies in this year's interleague schedule. You can read the entire post here. But just so you get a taste of it, here are the highlights:

Toughest interleague schedule: The Dodgers play 12 of their 15 interleague games against teams that made the playoffs last year (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels) -- and the other three games against a team (the Tigers) that didn't get knocked out until the 163rd game. Some fun.

Toughest interleague schedule (first runner-up): The Red Sox play home-and-home with the Phillies, make trips to Colorado and San Francisco, and play 12 games against last year's playoff field.

Toughest interleague schedule (second runner-up): The Phillies play 12 games against last year's playoff teams, 15 games against teams that currently have a winning record and nine games against the Red Sox (six) and Yankees (three), while three of the other four teams in their division play no games against those two juggernauts.

Easiest interleague schedule: The Reds dodge the entire 2009 playoff field, and their five interleague series are against teams (Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland) that are currently a combined 42 games under .500.

Easiest interleague schedule (runner-up): The Rangers also play zero games against last year's playoff teams and zero games against teams that currently have a winning record -- a significantly easier schedule than either the Angels or A's.

And get ready for this second-guess if the Padres are still in the NL West race down the stretch. Besides series with the Blue Jays and Rays, the Padres' other nine interleague games are against Seattle and Baltimore (46 games under .500). Compare that to the current record of the interleague opponents of the Rockies (23 over) and Dodgers (40 over). And the Giants have to play 12 of their 15 interleague games against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and A's.

So how does stuff like this happen when there's supposed to be a rotation system and at least some semblance of order to this portion of the schedule? MLB schedule guru Katy Feeney tried her best to explain it.

As with every year, it's a mess trying to devise a schedule when the NL has two more teams than the AL, not all divisions have the same number of teams and not all teams have designated interleague rivals. Also, as happens every year, MLB's "national TV partners" have a few requests for matchups they'd like to see, Feeney said.

Then there was a special mess created by this summer's since-canceled U2 tour that made 10 stadiums unavailable on select dates -- most of them during the heart of the interleague schedule. So Bono added a little "Vertigo" to this schedule snafu in more ways than one.

Well, I understand that stuff like that happens. And I sympathize with Feeney and everyone involved in this process. But here's what I don't understand:

If MLB's No. 1 objective in life is improving competitive balance, why is it allowing the TV people, the marketing people and a rock band (even if it's a great rock band) to dictate an interleague schedule that does nothing but create competitive imbalance?

"It's not that it's not a priority," Feeney said. "We just have so many masters now. We just have so many requests. Even within an individual ballclub, you'll often have the business side and the baseball side requesting two different things. And on the national level, you have networks that pay an awful lot of money, and they want to have some input. And of course, that has an effect."

But the bottom line, Feeney said, is that "with interleague play, there's always going to be competitive imbalance. If you want interleague play, you're going to have that. It's unavoidable. Some years you're going to have a little less. Some years, you're going to have a little more. But you're always going to have it."

And she's absolutely right about that. So is it worth it? As I've said before, I like interleague play. And Bud Selig likes it more than anyone I know. But you can't roll out schedules that have this little consistency and expect people not to notice.

Heck, I noticed. So how tough can it be to figure out? And if the commish wants the men who have to play and manage these games to buy into the concept, there has to be a more conscientious effort to balance the interleague schedules in the future.

If not, there's going to be a rebellion by the players. And interleague play is too good an idea for this sport to allow that to happen.

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