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06/27/05 10:00 AM ET
Could Interleague Play pull a switch?
DH rule may be in effect at NL parks next season
PHOENIX -- Despite a cacophony of recent criticism, Interleague Play is here to stay. For nearly a decade, fans have voted with their wallets, buying tons of tickets each May and June, when Interleague Play provides a needed jolt in the long and tedious regular-season schedule. Not content to simply stay with a good thing, Commissioner Bud Selig is noodling over the idea of tweaking the format. Next year, the designated hitter could be unveiled during Interleague games in National League parks with the pitcher hitting in American League parks. "I really like the fact that Mr. Selig is considering flip-flopping the DH into the NL cities next year," Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin said before his club clobbered the Tigers at Bank One Ballpark on Sunday. "It'll be neat in the American League cities, so fans can see how the dynamic of the pitcher hitting in the ninth spot affects the game." A generation of AL fans has never attended games and watched baseball the way it was originally intended to be played -- with the pitcher hitting for himself. That all changed forever on April 6, 1973, when Ron Blomberg, then playing for the New York Yankees, became the first DH in baseball history as he stepped to the plate against Boston's Luis Tiant at Fenway Park. The game has never been the same, and it's not going back. The lords of the AL in those days, led by Oakland's cantankerous owner Charlie Finley, adopted the DH, baseball's most progressive rule change since the spitball was banned in 1920. The NL owners didn't want anything to do with it back then, and they certainly don't want anything to do with the DH today. But old-style baseball is really an anachronism, a quaint reminder of when the Major Leagues had only 16 teams (none playing farther west than the banks of the Mississippi), traveled by train, played day baseball and wore heavy woolen uniforms even during the dead of a hot, humid summer. The NL is the only organized league in the world that doesn't utilize the DH in some shape or form. Little Leagues, prep leagues, colleges, foreign leagues and even the Minor Leagues play with the DH. One can argue until the throat is hoarse that the NL has the right idea. That we should return to those days when Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Whitey Ford and Denny McLain all picked up their sticks and went up to hit in the AL like real men. But, like Interleague Play disappearing, it's not going to happen. So the concept of allowing fans to see how the other league lives when play crosses over next season is a good one. "The Commissioner is thinking about it," Rich Levin, Selig's spokesman, said on Sunday. "But he hasn't acted on it yet." Undoubtedly, he has been conversing with the owners to see if there's much opposition to the rule change. He'll probably have to check off with the Players Association to make sure there are no problems there. Then he should act. He can point to the fact that, at one time, the DH was used in the World Series every other year. The bosses were then struck by the bright idea of putting it in play every fall -- use the DH in the games played in the AL park, and the pitcher hits in the games played in the NL park. And that's the way it stands today. When historians ultimately review this baseball era, Selig may indeed go down as Major League Baseball's boldest Commissioner. In a sport that was glacier-like when it came to change, Selig will have overseen the Major Leagues splitting from four to six divisions. At the same time, a Wild Card playoff berth was authored in both leagues, thus creating eight postseason slots where there once had been four. He'll be able to boast about the advent next year of the World Baseball Classic, the first time Major League players will be participating in an international event. And of course, there's Interleague Play, a concept first discussed in the 1940s by Bill Veeck, the Hall-of-Fame owner of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox who was way ahead of his time. After this final weekend of Interleague Play, when natural rivalries went head-to-head all over the Major Leagues, the average attendance of 32,958 for 252 dates was 11.5 percent higher this season than intraleague games. And over the course of its history, attendance for Interleague games is 13.3 percent higher than other regular-season games.
Attendance for this year's Interleague games jumped almost two percent from last season.Interleague Play has been such a smashing success in the U.S., the Japanese allowed the Pacific and Central League teams to cross over for the first time this season. A poll conducted by the Kyoto News Service revealed that 64 percent of all Japanese baseball fans thought it made the game more exciting. U.S. fans also think Interleague Play is exciting. But that doesn't mean the Commissioner shouldn't tweak it a little. "Obviously, the fans love it," Tigers manager Alan Trammell said. "And actually, I look forward to it if they do make the switch so that next year in AL parks we can play NL style."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.