Interleague Play ended league mystique
Stars from one league had an air of mystery for fans in other
Those who oppose Interleague Play cite many reasons: It creates scheduling nightmares. It takes away the aura surrounding the World Series since its participants could have met during the regular season. It sets up more contrived rivalries than actual ones between American League and National League teams within a geographical area.
Here's another reason: The loss of magic. I'm talking about individual magic. I mean, if there was Interleague Play when the late Harmon Killebrew spent his 22 seasons through 1975 in the Major Leagues, his mixture of truth and mystery wouldn't have existed as much for some of us.
OK, for me.
I grew up in the Midwest, mostly as an NL guy in Cincinnati, which meant that, since Killebrew was the ultimate AL guy with the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals, I rarely saw him play.
We're talking about the dark ages of baseball, when the only time you experienced games and players of teams in that other league was with a powerful radio signal at night or through the Saturday Game of the Week on national television.
Years later, the networks added Monday Night Baseball, but when it came to seeing the other league, that was about it.
And it was splendid.
I'm back to Killebrew's mixture of truth and mystery.
As for truth, Killebrew was a slugger for the ages, especially during his reign of terror against pitchers with the Twins from the 1960s through the early '70s. Despite the presence of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and the rest, nobody slammed more home runs during the 1960s than Killebrew. In fact, he ranks second only to Babe Ruth with eight seasons of more than 40 homers.
Did I also mention that Killebrew was an 11-time All-Star, and that he won the AL's Most Valuable Player Award in 1969? Plus, he joined the likes of Mickey Mantle, Darryl Strawberry and Pee Wee Reese with one of the greatest-sounding names in baseball history.
As for mystery, there was no Interleague Play back then, and neither did we have the slew of televised baseball games we have now. So a bunch of us mostly just read or heard about Killebrew. We didn't see him do most or any of his Hall of Fame things, which meant a lot about the man they playfully called "Killer" was left to our imagination.
Imagination is good in baseball.
That's why many radio announcers have become legendary through describing the sport with their pretty and vivid details. That's also why Wrigleyville is special beyond the ivy on the walls of its ballpark. After all, you can move through that timeless world within a few fungoes of Waveland and Sheffield behind the outfield fences or Addison and Clark down the first- and third-base lines, and you can't tell whether it's the early 20th or early 21st century.
So, for all we knew as followers of the NL, Killebrew was tall enough to touch the farthest cloud. We just knew he was huge, too. There were numerous reports about his tape-measure home runs, and they even said he once slammed a pitch 520 feet.
What kind of monster in spikes was this?
Let's just say I was stunned when I saw Killebrew for the first time as a player, when my parents moved us from Cincinnati of the NL to Milwaukee of the AL during the early 1970s.
We went to a Brewers home game against the Twins during one of those years, and we discovered The Great Killebrew looked much like everybody else -- not just on the field, but in the stands. He was 5-foot-11, and he was about as menacing as somebody driving an ice cream truck.
End of mystery, but at least I had the pleasure of spending years with that mystery. The same went for the one involving Frank Howard, who literally and figuratively was a giant. He played for the new franchise in Washington D.C., after the first one bolted to Minnesota with Killebrew.
Granted, Howard began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he played with them for seven years through 1964, but he wasn't THE Frank Howard at the time.
That particular Howard appeared soon after he became the only thing worth watching -- by far -- for those historically awful Senators. Despite no protection around him in the batting order, he went three consecutive seasons with 40 or more homers. He also was consistently among the AL leaders in slugging percentage, intentional walks and scaring folks every time he stepped into a batter's box.
Unlike Killebrew, Howard really was big. He was 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, and his nickname was "The Capital Punisher." The point is, in my imagination, Howard was more ominous than that.
And there was Carl Yastrzemski. He also had the name and the game, and he was another one of those mysteries for us NL guys to join the high-profile likes in the AL of Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue.
Goodness knows what AL guys thought about our guys in the NL, such as the San Francisco Giants' Willie McCovey, the original "Big Mac" or "Stretch" to others. And as notorious as Bob Gibson's fastball was for those who saw it, it was more so for those who didn't.
I don't even have to mention Mays and Aaron -- or the extraordinary ways of Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Ernie Banks, all mostly NL players, and all mysteries to the AL guys.
Then baseball destroyed the mystery with Interleague Play. The idea was obvious. It was to give fans exclusively involved with a given league the chance to see as many of the great stars from both leagues as possible, and it has succeeded. Attendance for Interleague games is consistently higher than those otherwise.
But that doesn't mean everybody likes it.
I don't, for instance.
Neither should anybody who likes to dream.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.