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Silverman: In Praise Of Interleague Baseball

Michael Barrett punches A.J. Pierzynski at U.S. Cellular Field in 2006. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Michael Barrett punches A.J. Pierzynski at U.S. Cellular Field in 2006. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) The baseball blue bloods are all getting ready to stick their noses high in the air.

The purity of the game and the sanctity of the pennant races is about to be attacked by the scourge that is interleague baseball.

I would like to take all of those blue bloods and provide them each with a wet sock that could be placed in their oral cavity. That way their self-serving meanderings could be rendered silent.

This is the 16th season of interleague competition and its always one of the highlights of the regular season. Games between American and National League teams were only played on the “What If” field prior to 1997, and it was was a breath of fresh air when the competition finally began when the San Francisco Giants ventured to Arlington, Texas to play the Rangers in June of 1997.

While interleague games don’t have the novelty aspect they once did, the competition between the two leagues still has a lot of significance. It’s not just the rivalry games between the Cubs and White Sox, Yankees and Mets, Cardinals and Royals, Indians and Reds, Orioles and Nationals, Rangers and Astros and Angels and Dodgers that matter. The non-rivalry games also have plenty of meaning as well.

There was a time when there was a real disdain between the two leagues. If you were Pete Rose, the idea of competing against American League teams would have been relished like a free bet on the Daily Double. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the National Leaguers believed in their heart of hearts that they were superior to the American Leaguers. They proved it nearly every year in the All-Star game. The National League had Rose, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. The American League had Carl Yastrzemski, Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Denny McLain and Sam McDowell. The best player the American League had was former National Leaguer Frank Robinson. It was too one-sided to be a real competition in that era.

The National League dominated because their superstars were better. The National League was much quicker in signing black players and the American League suffered dramatically.

But somehow the American League was able to hold its collective head up during the World Series. By the mid-1960s, the Yankee dynasty was over, but teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s allowed the American League to keep some measure of dignity.

The subject of interleague competition during the regular season would come up from time to time, but the conservative nature of the baseball leadership always kept it from taking hold.

That finally relented in the late 1990s. Interleague play gave baseball loyalists its best measuring tool of the strength of the two leagues. The All-Star game is not always hard fought and is often managed like an exhibition game. The World Series is not a big enough sample size. Interleague play offers about 250 games between the two leagues.

That’s a big enough number to settle the score. And in the last eight years, the edge has gone to the American League. The consistent domination has made it clear that the American League is superior, and perhaps by an even bigger margin than the National League held during the ‘60’s and ’70’s. The difference between the two leagues was probably the greatest in 2006, when American League teams went 154-98, winning more than 61 percent of the games.

There are some rough edges to interleague play. Competition is not always equal. The St. Louis Cardinals get to play the Kansas City Royals in two series every year and that seemingly gives them an advantage because the Royals have been non-competitive for so long. The Mets have to play the Yankees six times per season, and that’s a disadvantage.

But don’t listen to purists who would throw out the whole thing because of that one flaw. That would take away one of the most interesting aspects of the game.

One thing that should be changed: use the designated hitter in National League parks and let the pitchers bat in American League stadiums. Let each team’s fans see how the other half lives.

Interleague baseball may no longer be novel, but it is one of the most exciting aspects too regular-season baseball.

Don’t let the snobs ruin it for us.

steve silverman small Silverman: In Praise Of Interleague Baseball

Steve Silverman

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.