David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Bud Selig likes interleague play. The commissioner says the fans like it. And perhaps, most importantly, the television partners do as well. But what is to become of the so-called "natural" rivalries, the ones that generate the most revenue and highest ratings? That seems to be the $1 billion question as baseball wrestles with the schedule for two 15-team leagues for 2013.
"It's interesting," Selig said Thursday at MLB's Park Avenue headquarters, "because there's some very good rivalries that have grown up over and above the natural ones that you think of, like the Mets and the Yankees, or the Cubs and the White Sox or Texas and Houston."
Stop right there, commissioner. It's worth pointing out that the Rangers and Astros will be sharing the same division, the American League West, when realignment takes place next season. So what happens then?
For some, finding a natural rivalry has always been part of the problem with interleague play since it began in 1997. Some rivals, separated by only a bridge or short drive, are obvious moneymakers: Yanks-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers, Giants-A's. As a result, MLB has squeezed what they can from those marquee events by eventually making them six-game, home-and-home matchups.
In the process, the concept of fair-and-balanced scheduling was lost amid the loud cha-ching of the cash registers. It's great and all that division foes play each other 18 times during the course of a 162-season. But the wrinkle has been that "natural rival." Is it fair that the Mets play the Yanks six times every season and in many years, their division rivals don't even have them on the schedule once? "I've always heard the unfair advantage," Selig said. "But things change. Teams go up, teams go down. You have to do what's fair, but you have to have the right format and go from there, and frankly, the Mets and Yankees have never complained to me about it. A lot of clubs have never complained."
Certainly not from a revenue standpoint. And with the possibility of trimming some games from those "natural" rivalries -- such as a single three-game series at just one ballpark, alternating each year -- there currently is push for at least four games, with two at each stadium, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the discussions.
"I love interleague play," Selig said, "and I think it's been great . . . I know people say, you ought to do this, and this isn't fair, but our customer likes it."
Good thing, because baseball fans will be getting a much bigger dose of it next season. With the even 15-15 split for each league, on nights that every teams plays, that necessitates at least one interleague game on the schedule over the length of the season. No longer will there be one blocked-out section of the season for interleague play as it currently exists. Said Selig, "It will be interesting."
Joey Bats is back
After a slow start, Jose Bautista has heated up in a hurry, and entered the weekend series against the Mets with five home runs in seven games. The highlight of that impressive stretch, however, was the 430-foot blast he drilled off the Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda on Wednesday.
Bautista turned on a fastball and launched a line drive that still appeared to be climbing when it reached the second-deck seats in leftfield. Even more astounding was the homer's velocity. According to hittrackeronline.com, Bautista's laser was clocked at 117.5 mph, the highest velocity of any home run this season.
Knowing that, I asked Bautista on Friday if that was as good as he could possibly hit a baseball. Leaning back in his chair, Batista smiled and said, "Yeah."
After a moment, he explained why. "It was the right pitch," he said. "It was in the general vicinity where I was looking for it. I was in the right stadium, too. If I was in Boston, that would have been a single."
That's the amazing part. The ball's trajectory made it look like Bautista hit it with a 3-iron, so there wasn't much loft. Without the second deck to stop it, who knows what province it would have landed in. Even Bautista, who has 10 homers this season and smacked a combined 97 homers over the previous two seasons (54 in 2010, 43 in 2011) could appreciate this one.
Said Bautista, "That was really the epitome of what I prepare myself to do every day."
Strikeouts for Kerry Wood, the last coming on Friday's night's K of Dayan Viciendo, who whiffed on a signature curveball, of course. A rare happy ending for the Cubs.
Games started at third base for Albert Pujols, who volunteered to move from first base to get Mike Trumbo and Kendrys Morales into the lineup for interleague play. In an unrelated switch, Pujols also relocated hitting coach Mickey Hatcher.
Or Cinco Ocho, as Phillies closer Jonathon Papelbon referred to himself after Friday's save against the Red Sox, his former team. As alter egos go, still needs a few more to catch Nyjer Morgan, aka Tony Plush, Tony Gumble and Tony Tombstone.
Ejection for Bobby Valentine, first as manager of the Red Sox. Dust-up with Gary Darling got more complicated when the umpire accidentally spit out his gum during the argument. Thankfully, Valentine, also chewing gum, did not return fire.