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Interleague Play Still Intrigues

Interleague Play Still Intrigues
By Andy Lopusnak of Bay Area Sports Drive
June 15, 2008

Prior to 1997, the two Bay Area MLB teams had played each other only in the 1989 World Series. For the past twelve seasons, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics have met 62 times thanks to the introduction of interleague play in MLB’s 122nd season.

The idea of interleague play was bounced around in the 1930s and 1960s, but didn’t become a reality until 1997 when MLB Commissioner Bud Selig instituted it as a way to draw fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike-shortened season that did not crown a World Series champion. Selig was right and fans did flock to ballparks to see rivalries only dreamed about as potential World Series matchups like subway series in Chicago, New York and even here in the Bay Area.

Some twelve seasons later, the mystique of inter-league play has waned except in markets with two teams like New York and Chicago, where fans of each team live and die to hate the other team in their respective market. Here in the Bay Area, the fans are a lot more subtle. In fact, you can purchase hats with split logos of both teams on them at local malls. That doesn’t mean the games aren’t about which baseball team is better on either side of the San Francisco Bay.

Prior to the weekend series against the Athletics, the Giants averaged little more than 34,000 per home game (83% of capacity). In the three games against cross-Bay rival Oakland, San Francisco averaged more than a sellout of 41,097 for the three games, including Friday night’s opener that was at 102% of capacity. When you look at the top ten attended Athletics regular season home games, six are against National League teams (five vs. the Giants and one against Arizona).

The first interleague regular season game in MLB history was on June 12, 1997 when the Giants beat the Texas Rangers 4-3 in Arlington. San Francisco outfielder Glenallen Hill became the first National League designated hitter. He went 0-of-3 at the plate that night.

Fast forward to Sunday and the A’s and Giants have played 65 regular season games. Oakland swept the Giants for the second-straight time the teams have played. Overall, the A’s are 37-28 in the regular season against the Giants in the so-called Bay Bridge Series. The Giants have now lost all six interleague games played this season and hold the worst overall home record in the National League.

Sunday, San Francisco had its chance to make the most of the contest (and win its first interleague game since last June 24 against the Yankees), but left nine players on base, including five in scoring position with two outs. The Giants couldn’t do much against Dana Eveland, who pitched 6.2 innings and allowed just a run, six hits and struck out five for the Athletics. San Francisco scored twice in the bottom of the eighth after Eveland had left the game to make the 5-3 score closer.

The 2008 season marks the fiftieth for the Giants and fortieth for the Athletics in the Bay Area. Both teams moved here from other cities - the Giants from New York (1883-1957) and the A’s from Kansas City (1955-67) then Philadelphia (1901-54). When the teams Giants were in the Big Apple and the A’s where in the City of Brotherly Love, the two played in the World Series in 1905, 1911 and 1913. The A’s won in 1911 and 1913, while the Giants took the 1905 championship.

When the Giants and A’s first met as teams representing the West Coast, during the 1989 World Series, Oakland swept San Francisco (like the A’s have done the last two times these teams have played each other). The series will be remember for the Loma Prieta earthquake that hit the Bay Arena with a 7.1 quake on the Richter Scale just minutes prior to first pitch of Game Three on October 17. As a result, the World Series was delayed ten days because of the devastation.

More than 2,700 interleague games that have been logged since 1997 in the majors. Entering 2008, the AL held a 70-game advantage in the little more than a decade of interleague play (1,387-1,317). Today, interleague play is just another game/series in a grueling, sometimes never-ending 162-game trek to the postseason.

Interleague play is still exciting though seeing American League pitchers struggle with at-bats and how managers cope with the designated hitter rules when playing AL teams or lack thereof when playing a team from the NL. And a dozen years since interleague play was introduced, the fans are still flocking to ballparks to watch players and teams from the other league playing their favorite team. Sunday was no different.
San Francisco Giants SS Omar Vizquel and Oakland Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki All Star voting Oakland Athletics San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand