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Nice to Meet You
Gerry Callahan
June 23, 1997
Even purists had to concede that interleague play was a big hit in its inaugural weekend
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June 23, 1997

Nice To Meet You

Even purists had to concede that interleague play was a big hit in its inaugural weekend

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Box-Office Bonanza

The first week of interleague baseball proved a smash at the gate. Here are this season's average home attendance figures through Sunday for teams that had hosted both intra- and interleague games.

TEAM

INTRALEAGUE AVG.

INTERLEAGUE AVG.

ANAHEIM

19,857

26,276

ATLANTA

39,418

47,922

CHICAGO CUBS

24,187

37,563

CINCINNATI

21,570

33,343

FLORIDA

28,230

42,484

HOUSTON

20,673

28,272

MONTREAL

19,251

19,998

NEW YORK METS

18,873

34,485

OAKLAND

15,117

26,477

PHILADELPHIA

16,111

26,632

PITTSBURGH

16,820

36,178

ST. LOUIS

30,906

44,920

SEATTLE

37,461

52,096

TEXAS

35,644

42,432

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."
—R.E.M.

This was only the beginning. You just wait. By next season, major league teams will be handing out souvenir nose rings to the first 10,000 youngsters through the turnstiles. Marilyn Manson will be singing the national anthem before the All-Star Game, and Billy the Marlin and the Phillie Phanatic will be cavorting together on top of the dugout.

In the never-ending quest to make the game more stimulating, the baselines will be shortened to 85 feet, the strike zone will be shrunk to the size of Cecil Fielder's navel, and Ken Griffey Jr. will be allowed to bat at least twice an inning.

Clearly, the radicals who are running baseball will not stop until the balls are painted red, white and blue and the bats are made of titanium. Look at what has happened in the last quarter century: First they foisted the designated hitter upon us, then they expanded the playoffs, and now they've introduced interleague play, the latest violation of the purity and sanctity of the game. It's an outrage. What are they going to do next, tell us Shoeless Joe really was guilty?

Last week, for the first time in the modern era, American League teams played National League teams during the regular season. Self-indulgent purists everywhere wept at the passing of yet another hallowed tradition, although their sobs were hard to hear over all the cheering. In this case a time-honored hardball custom didn't die of natural causes. It was stomped to death by enthusiastic fans rushing to ballparks to catch a glimpse of teams from the other league.

"It's a gimmick," said author Roger Angell, the patron saint of purists, as he watched the Boston Red Sox-New York Mets game at Shea Stadium last Friday night. "But I'm not upset. The fans seem to like it. I was disturbed when they added a wild card to the playoffs, but as it turned out, I like that idea. Maybe I'll like this."

At 7:11 p.m. central time on June 12, Texas Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver delivered a low inside fastball to San Francisco Giants leadoff batter Darryl Hamilton, and a strange thing happened: The Ballpark in Arlington didn't collapse. Baseball as we know it didn't die. Babe Ruth didn't roll over in his grave. No one came up with a compelling answer to the question that spurred this experiment in the first place: Just why the heck not?

Will it take away from the World Series if the participants have already played each other in the regular season? The Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz met twice during the regular season. That took all the life out of the NBA Finals, didn't it? Will it dilute the traditional rivalries? We would hate to see anything happen to that Milwaukee Brewers-Minnesota Twins blood feud. The sport might not survive.

The Rangers lost that inaugural inter-league game 4-3 but filled nearly every seat in the stadium, a trend that continued around the majors as teams got their first interleague experience (chart). Average ticket sales for the first 46 interleague games were 38% higher than the average intraleague sales up to that point this season. Said American League president Gene Budig, "Three out of four fans prefer interleague play, and I think this is baseball's effort to be responsive to the fans."

A Harris poll found that only 20% of baseball fans disapproved of interleague play, which would be startlingly little opposition on any issue. Indeed, in this country you could probably get more than one out of five people to disapprove of the polio vaccine or child-labor laws. Interleague play, like the two-point conversion in the NFL, was a simple, commonsense idea whose time had come. Not long after they learned to walk and talk and detest George Steinbrenner, preschool New York Yankees fans would ask their fathers why the Bronx Bombers never played the Mets. There never was a good answer.

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