Interleague play is the term used to describe regular season Major League Baseball games played with teams in different leagues, introduced in 1997. Before the 1997 season, teams in the American League and National League did not meet during the regular season. The AL/NL match-up only occurred during spring training, the All-Star Game, and the World Series.
Interleague or interconference matchups have long been the norm in other professional sports leagues such as the NFL. But while regular-season interleague play was discussed for baseball's major leagues as early as the 1930s, the concept didn't take hold until the 1990s (at least in part as an effort to renew the public's interest in MLB following the controversial 1994 players' strike). Interleague play was not, and is still not, a universally endorsed innovation. However, it has added a new dimension to the major-league game, creating some match-ups that had not been seen before, and some which held special significance for geographical and historical reasons.
From 1997 to 2001, teams from the American League West played teams from the National League West, etc., typically scheduled to alternate between home and away in consecutive years. However, in 2002, the league began alternating which divisions would play which divisions, and thus in 2002 the American League East played the National League West, the American League Central played the National League East, and the American League West played the National League Central. Match-ups which had been of particular interest prior to this format (e.g., New York Yankees vs. New York Mets) were preserved. This is expected to be the continuing format of interleague matchplay.
The designated hitter rule is applied in the same manner as in the World Series and the All-Star Game. In an American League ballpark, both teams use a Designated Hitter to hit for the pitcher. In a National League ballpark, both teams' pitchers must hit.
Overall, the National League holds a 988:959 advantage over the American League as of 2004.
For historical stats , see the external link below.
There are several match-ups that are the result of interleague matchplay which are highly anticipated and well-attended for a number of reasons:
- New York Yankees v. New York Mets (Subway Series)
- Tampa Bay Devil Rays v. Florida Marlins
- Cleveland Indians v. Cincinnati Reds (Battle for Ohio)
- Chicago White Sox v. Chicago Cubs (Crosstown Classic, Windy City Series, or Red Line Series)
- Kansas City Royals v. St. Louis Cardinals (I-70 Series or Show-Me Series)
- Minnesota Twins v. Milwaukee Brewers
- Texas Rangers v. Houston Astros (Lone Star Shootout)
- Oakland Athletics v. San Francisco Giants (Bay Bridge Series)
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v. Los Angeles Dodgers (Freeway Series)
- Baltimore Orioles v. Washington Nationals (Beltway Series)
- Because the 2005 MLB schedule was already set when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, DC, the Orioles did not play the Nationals during the 2005 regular season. The two teams will begin their rivalry in 2006, and play home-and-home series each year during interleague play.
- Boston Red Sox v. New York Mets
- This matchup is remembered mainly because of the 1986 World Series. In the 10th inning of Match 6 of this Series, the Red Sox came within one strike of their first World Series win since 1918 before losing the lead. Later in the inning, the winning run scored after a ground ball went between the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner. The Mets went on to win Game 7 and the Series.
- Toronto Blue Jays v. Atlanta Braves
- The Braves were the Jays' victim when they became the first Canadian team to win the World Series, in 1992.
- New York Yankees v. Atlanta Braves
- These teams have met four times in the World Series. In 1957 and 1958, when the Braves played in Milwaukee, the teams went to seven matches both times, with the Braves winning the first time and the Yankees winning the second. In 1996 and 1999, the Yankees and Braves renewed their old rivalry from the late 1950s; the Yankees won both times, sweeping the Braves in 1999.
- New York Yankees v. Los Angeles Dodgers
- This rivalry goes back to the days when both teams played in New York. Between 1941 and 1956, the two teams played in seven World Series; Brooklyn won only once (1955). After the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the teams played four more times in the World Series, with each team winning twice (Dodgers in 1963 and 1981, Yankees in 1977 and 1978).
- Boston Red Sox v. Chicago Cubs
- In 1918, these two teams went against each other in the World Series. The Cubs fell victim as the Red Sox took their last World Series title before taking it again 86 years later.
- Toronto Blue Jays v. Montreal Expos
- For twenty years, the teams only met in the charity Pearson Cup. They would only have met in relevant play had they both won their leagues' pennants. As the only Canadian teams, it made a natural rivalry that ended with the Expos' move to Washington.
- Boston Red Sox v. Atlanta Braves
- Until 1953, the Braves were Boston's National League team. The rivalry between the two former crosstown clubs was regular in spring training before interleague play, and has become a favorite during the season now.
- Boston Red Sox v. New York Mets
- Interleague matchplay increases attendance.
- Fans can see historic players (like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, etc.) they might not otherwise get to see.
- Interleague matchplay allows certain geographic rivalries to be played out during a season, such as New York Yankees v. New York Mets, that otherwise might not be.
- It creates matchups that might not have been seen in generations. For example, during the 2004 season, the Giants and Red Sox played each other for the first time since meeting in the 1912 World Series.
- There are many series that are not considered compelling.
- American League pitchers generally don't like taking batting practice for the opportunity to bat in one or two matches. These pitchers are also unaccustomed to running the bases, which can lead to injury and premature fatigue.
- Some of the mystique of the World Series dies when teams have a regular season record against one another.
- With the two leagues not having the same number of teams, and with one division (the National League Central) containing six teams while another (the American League West) has only four (the other two divisions in both leagues consisting of five teams each), various irregularities in scheduling result, most notably the fact that teams in the same division no longer play all of their games against the same opponents; this can lead to "strength of schedule" disparities like those the NFL has to deal with on a yearly basis (e.g., one NL team might play every AL East team except the New York Yankees, while another NL team in the same division does not play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays instead).