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THE HOT CORNER: What's the problem with interleague?

by Jim Allen (Jun 26, 2008)

Although interleague attendance continued to grow this year, there remain two nagging issues about the four-year-old midseason competition.

Why does the Hawks' championship seem so hollow, and why with growing interest in the format, would anyone want to see even fewer interleague games?

The Hawks title-clinching victory was a nail-biter and came as four teams entered the final weekend with a legitimate shot at the title. There's nothing wrong with that.

What stinks is that Fukuoka SoftBank only tied for the interleague lead with the Hanshin Tigers, but the Hawks were handed the title through an idiotic tiebreaking rule. Ties are settled by the team's relative interleague records from the year before. Because the Tigers were terrible against Pacific League teams in 2007, they needed to have a better record than every other contender.

What's odd about this is that the Tigers ate the Hawks, feathers and all in three of their four games. But because record in head-to-head competition only works between teams from different leagues are tied, it's not a very practical tiebreaker.

In terms of deciding quality , the most rational method would be the ratio of runs scored to those allowed--although the difficulty of calculating the number in your head would make it impractical, too.

A simpler way would be run difference. Two teams tied in wins and losses could be separated by their ability to score and prevent runs. This system, too, would give the Hawks the edge, but no matter what tiebreaker one uses, it ignores a crucial problem with the system.

Because the CL contains one absolutely horrible team, basing an interleague title on wins and losses is almost the same as giving it to a PL club, which gets to play four games against the worst team in Japan, the pathetic Yokohama BayStars.

The BayStars were 6-18, 12 games below .500--the Tigers and Hawks were a combined 12 games over .500. It's hard to believe, but last year the Carp were even worse. Hiroshima's 5-18-1 record in 2007 is the worst interleague record to date.

The PL used to give its regular season champ a one-game advantage in the playoffs. How about penalizing the teams from one league a game for the interleague championship race if a team from the other league has a winning percentage lower than .300?

It's not fair when the worst opponent CL clubs had to face was the Chiba Lotte Marines--who swept the Tigers a little more than a week ago.

Mind you, the BayStars swept the first-place Saitama Seibu Lions last weekend. But rather than an indicator of quality, the Lions, losers of six straight, were simply playing badly.

Perhaps more than the Lions' losses to the BayStars, the big surprise of the interleague has to be the attendance, especially at the park which crowds have avoided in droves in recent years: Seibu Dome.

Compared to 2007, the Lions drew 24 percent more fans per interleague game this year. As bad as the organization has been over the last five years, it is slowly moving in the right direction. Still, seeing 60,000 come out for last weekend's series against the Hiroshima Carp was a shock.

Another surprise was the Chunichi Dragons. As one of the three old guard teams, the Dragons have been slow to embrace interleague. After drawing crowds of less than 30,000 per game against the Lions and Orix Buffaloes in 2005 and 2006, the Dragons shifted four games in 2007 to smaller remote ballparks--causing their average attendance to drop despite drawing larger crowds in Nagoya.

This year, Dragons attendance grew by 15 percent. The team announced just 58 more fans per game in their dome, but the club played only two of their interleague games away from Nagoya.

The only big drop was at Koshien, where the Tigers' average attendance fell by 7 percent, because winter remodeling removed 5,000 seats.

So with more and more people trying to see interleague games, why did one CL team official suggest dropping from 24 games to 18 next year? Could it be that some teams cannot stomach the idea no matter how much sense it makes? Or could it be that the positive attendance figures are inflated for public consumption.

Teams here wouldn't stoop that low? Or would they?


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