If Jermaine Dye was ever bitter at the Atlanta Braves for trading him to the American League after his rookie campaign in 1996, he got his revenge Tuesday night.
Dye, who went 65 at-bats without an extra-base hit, sent a blast over the center-field fence in the 12th inning to lead his Oakland Athletics to a 4-3 win over the team that brought him into the majors.
This game wouldn't have been possible six years ago. Why? The schedule wouldn't have allowed it.
Ah, the beauty of interleague play.
Interleague games, which pit American League and National League teams against each other in regular-season contests, began in 1997. These matches are set up in two waves; once before and once after the All-Star break.
Commissioner Bud Selig's ultimate plan was to have a club play a series against all teams in baseball every three years by rotating divisions. For example, the AL West would play the NL West one year, the NL Central the next, and - well, you get the idea.
It also allows the chance to build local rivalries, such as the Bay Bridge Series (San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland Athletics), Freeway Series (Anaheim Angels vs. Los Angeles Dodgers) and the Subway Series (New York Mets vs. New York Yankees), which will always be scheduled in spite of the rotation.
However, the plan isn't perfect, nor will it ever be unless some changes are made:
- Contracting the majors to 28 teams, 14 in each league.
- Expanding to 32, 16 per.
- Spreading interleague play throughout the year (which will never happen).
With the NL having two more teams than the AL, there's always that one NL series that has to be played to fill out the schedule (see tonight's Florida Marlins-Milwaukee Brewers matchup).
Scheduling is another flaw. For example, although the Braves are playing teams in the AL West, they won't see the defending-champion Angels. After all, you can plan only so many interleague games.
This needs to change.
Divisional adversaries meet 19 times per year. 19!! Does a club really need to play the same team that many times in one season? For the average five-team division, that's 76 of the 162 games, or 47 percent.
This year, interleague opened the way for two interesting series, but not for the same reason.
You have the "Marquee Matchup" this weekend: the Braves at the Seattle Mariners. Both are 42-20, which is the best record in baseball.
Also, there was the "Basement Battle" last week between the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres, who are both at the bottom of their respective leagues.
Both series go beyond the everyday matchups
I'm sure some teams would like to play interleague all year. Just ask the Marlins, who are 64-44 all-time. This team hasn't tasted success since their title year of 1997. Only the Athletics (69-42) and the Braves (64-43) play better against the other league.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about these games.
Some baseball purists don't like interleague at all because it ruins a tradition set many moons ago.
Before interleague, the AL and NL only had two encounters each year: the All-Star Game and the World Series. Now a handful of teams each year have the chance to see what could be potential Series foes in June and July, which doesn't sit well with some critics.
To that, I say, "Get used to it." I once heard that it's tradition that times must, and always do, change.
With this change, it looks like interleague play is here for good, and I think that's great.
I'd bet that Dye felt grateful for interleague play after his Tuesday night heroics sent his former team to defeat.
Noel Harris is the Lodi News-Sentinels news editor. He can be reached at (209) 369-7035; at 125 N. Church St., or via e-mail.
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