MLB History: Interleague Play Approved for 1997
A part of the novelty of the All Star Game involved how it was the only time that players from the different leagues would face off against one another, aside from the World Series. That would change on this day in 1996, when the MLB approved interleague play.
The idea of the American League and the National League facing off during the regular season seemed to be bizarre. Throughout the history of what we have come to know as the modern era of the MLB, the two leagues faced off strictly in the All Star Game and in the World Series. The two league coexisted, but they would not meet in any other way.
That changed on this day in 1996. Looking for a way to bring fans back to the game following the disastrous Player’s Strike, the MLB executive council, and the Player’s Association, approved interleague play for the 1997 season. It was not the first time that the idea had come up, as Bill Veeck proposed such games in 1993, and interleague play was discussed in 1973 when the designated hitter came to be.
Unlike the season long phenomenon it currently has become, interleague matchups had their specific times in the calendar. The first interleague game did not take place until June 12, 1997, when the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants faced off against one another. Darren Oliver made the start, Darryl Hamilton was the first batter, and had the first hit, and Stan Javier hit the first interleague home run.
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It turned out that interleague play was a hit. Fans were thrilled to see games against the other league, and having those geographic rivalry games helped. The Mets and Yankees, the Cubs and White Sox, and the Angels and Dodgers, for example, were all matchups that fans were dying to see.
That popularity did not wane after the first year. Instead of just being a novelty that fans became bored with, interleague games proved to consistently lead to a larger audience. With the game needing a shot in the arm, and a reason to draw fans back to the sport, interleague games became a part of the solution.
Now that the games are every day, it may be fair to ask if we have reached the point of oversaturation. However, with the two leagues of 15 teams each, the daily interleague contests are here to stay until expansion or another realignment of the divisions. So, in all likelihood, it will be quite some time before anything changes.
Interleague matchups may not be as unique in baseball any longer, but they were a novel idea originally. On this day in 1996, the MLB set the stage for these games to begin.