June 25, 2010
Squandering a Golden Interleague Opportunity
Tonight the Yankees and Dodgers kick off a three-game interleague series in Los Angeles. The two teams have matched up in the World Series a record 11 times, seven of them while the two shared the Big Apple with the Giants, six of them during baseball's so-called "Golden Decade" between 1947-1956. It matters less that the Yankees have won eight of those World Series than that the two have combined to create what's undoubtedly the game's top interleague rivalry, not to mention some of baseball's most indelible moments: Mickey Owen's dropped third strike, Al Gionfriddo's catch to prevent a Joe DiMaggio homer, Cookie Lavagetto's double to break up Bill Bevens' no-hitter, Jackie Robinson's steal of home, Johnny Podres' gritty effort to bring Dem Bums their first world championship, Don Larsen's perfect game, Reggie Jackson's three home runs, Graig Nettles' Octopus-like leaps, George Steinbrenner's phantom elevator fight... The list goes on. Here's my own handy thumbnail guide to the 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978 and 1981 matchups.
Amazingly, it's just the second interleague series the two teams have played in 14 years, the first coming in 2004, when the boys in blue took two out of three in Dodger Stadium. As if that fact alone — three measly games in 14 years! — weren't enough of a scathing indictment of the entire misbegotten enterprise of interleague play, the game's schedule makers have yet to bring the Dodgers back to the Bronx, where they clinched the 1955 and 1981 World Series. Hell, you'd think ESPN or Fox would strong-arm MLB into bringing Joe Torre back to the Bronx just because it provides a readymade storyline.
As a third-generation Dodgers fan living in New York City (Manhattan for nearly 13 years, Brooklyn for past two and a half) and sharing a Yankees ticket package — a conflicting set of priorities I've spent the better part of the past nine years documenting at my Futility Infielder website — I've admittedly got a vested interest in such a matchup. Not to mention no real qualms about rooting for the Dodgers; blood is thicker than geographic happenstance, after all. So I've been pulling my hair out while waiting for Bud Selig and the game's marketing geniuses to come to their senses and and milk the cash cow by scheduling the most potentially lucrative interleague battle of all time.
As it turns out, Dodgers-at-Yankees isn't the only site-specific interleague pairing which has evaded the schedule-makers. Colin Wyers' database wizardry helped identify no less than 35 other matchups which had gone unconsummated coming into the year. Fifteen of them involve either the Expos or the Nationals, whose relocation reduces the frisson such contests might produce. Four others match the Brewers, who switched from the American to the National League in 1998, with teams they used to play regularly in the Junior Circuit, again not of much historical interest. Two others, Angels at Cubs and Indians at Phillies, have take place this season. That leaves 14 unprecedented pairings:
So far as I can tell from Colin's work, the inverse of each of these matchups has occurred, which only underscores the ridiculousness of yet another Yanks-at-Dodgers, Braves-at-Twins or Padres-at-Jays pairing on this year's docket. If there's anything more ridiculous than forcing unnatural rivals to play each other while a few intra-state battles take place, or compromising the integrity of the schedule with slates of unequal difficulty for teams in the same division, it's this lack of reciprocation.
Admittedly, there aren't a ton of compelling matchups among the 14 above, but what's almost as surprising as the lack of a Dodgers-at-Yankees series is that the Cubs have never visited Fenway Park in interleague play. Not only would that producing a rematch of the 1918 World Series which loomed so large in Boston's history prior to 2004, but it would have the virtue of taking place in the same park as the original, something which couldn't be said of even the Dodgers-Yanks pairing.
You'd think some genius in MLB's office would figure all of this out, but then again, here we are. At least for tonight, we've got Vin Scully calling the action tonight, ready to regale us with stories of series past.