Interleague rarities: Matchups we’ve been waiting for
When the Dodgers visit the Yankees for a two-game series this week, it will right a ridiculous historical wrong. While the two teams have squared off a record 11 times in the World Series and have played two series in Los Angeles since interleague play began in 1997, MLB’s schedule-makers inexplicably avoided for a whopping 16 seasons bringing the Dodgers back to the city where they were founded.
To be fair, part of the reason is the interleague schedule’s emphasis on natural rivalries, which with few exceptions meant six games a year between the Yankees and Mets and six between the Angels and Dodgers, cutting into the number of games — nine or 12, depending upon the year — that could be scheduled against other teams from the opposite league. Still, given the nostalgia for the days when New York City hosted three teams and the number of iconic moments that the Dodgers-Yankees Fall Classic matchups brought us — from Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike to Jackie Robinson’s steal of home to Reggie Jackson’s three home runs — you’d think such a matchup would have happened already. Even now that it is, reducing it to two-game midweek series with a local/regional audience instead of a weekend one on a national stage feels like something of an afterthought.
As it turns out, there still exist another half-dozen interleague matchups that have yet to occur, at least with regards to the specific team playing host; in other words, the teams have played interleague series — sometimes as many as three, totaling nine games (!) — in one city but not the other. In 2010, I asked Baseball Prospectus’ Colin Wyers to find all such city-specific pairings that had yet to transpire. He came up with 35, and after eliminating the ones involving the geographically-shifted Expos/Nationals (who moved prior to the 2005 season) and the league-shifted Brewers (who switched to the NL in 1998), I winnowed the list to 14. Half of those have taken place in the ensuing three years, which leaves us the following.
Dodgers at Yankees
Scheduled: June 17-18, 2013
Past history: 11 World Series (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1977, 1978, 1981; Yankees lead 8-3), 6 interleague games in LA (2004, 2010; tied 3-3)
Common players: 198 have played for both teams, including current Dodger Jerry Hairston Jr. and current Yankee Hiroki Kuroda.
Beyond the iconic moments noted above — not to mention the Dodgers’ return to their roots — the big selling point at the moment is the return of embattled L.A. skipper and Yankees great Don Mattingly, who spent the entirety of his 14-year playing career (1982-1995) in the Bronx and then another four years as a coach (2004-2007) before following Joe Torre in his migration westward. After three years as a coach for Los Angeles, he was promoted to manager for the 2011 season, and at the moment, he’s barely hanging on.
Rangers at Cardinals
Scheduled: June 21-23, 2013
Past history: 2011 World Series (Cardinals won, 4-3), 3 interleague games in Texas (2004, Cardinals lead 2-1)
Common players: 96 have played for both teams, including current Rangers Lance Berkman and Kyle McClellan.
These two teams squared off in the thrilling 2011 World Series that saw the Cardinals battle back from being down to their final strike in an epic Game 6 that ended with David Freese’s walkoff home run and Joe Buck’s emulation of his father’s famous call, “We will see you tomorrow night!” Both teams have since shed superstars via free agency, with Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis and Josh Hamilton departing Texas. Ironically, both are struggling for the Angels, making their old squads look smart for not retaining them with nine-figure deals.
Braves at Royals
Scheduled: June 25-26, 2013
Past history: 8 interleague games in Atlanta (2004, 2010, 2013; Braves lead 5-3)
Common players: 81, including current Royals Bruce Chen and Jeff Francoeur.
Current Royals general manager Dayton Moore worked for the Braves as a scout and executive from 1994 until mid-2006, rising to become Atlanta’s director of player development before departing for Kansas City. He has since shown a predilection for giving opportunities to players whose development he oversaw in Atlanta, including not just Chen and Francoeur but also Wilson Betemit, Roman Colon, Kyle Davies and Brayan Pena. Francoeur is the mascot of the matchup, a former top prospect (first round pick in 2002, 14th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list in 2005) who has enjoyed intermittent success at both stops but owns a career total of 8.0 Wins Above Replacement and a .264/.308/.422 line, including .214/.257/.335 this year. Frenchy drove in the game’s only run in the Royals’ 1-0 win over the Braves in Atlanta on April 17.
Cardinals at Angels
Scheduled: July 2-4, 2013
Past history: 9 interleague games in St. Louis (2002, 2007, 2010; Cardinals lead 5-4)
Common players: 104, including current Angel Albert Pujols
Back when he was in St. Louis, Pujols was a part of three pennant winners, during which he was accompanied by former Angels such as David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds and Jeff Weaver; Eckstein won 2006 World Series MVP honors while Weaver turned from palooka to postseason hero that same year. After leaving St. Louis via a 10-year, $240 million deal in December 2011, Pujols set across-the-board career lows with 30 home runs and a .285/.343/.516 line last year, but those numbers look Ruthian compared to this year’s .256/.327/.439 with 11 homers, and what’s worse — from his standpoint, at least — the Cardinals hardly miss him, reaching the NLCS last year and posting baseball’s best record so far in 2013.
Cubs at A’s
Scheduled: July 2-4, 2013
Past history: 2 World Series (1910, 1929; A’s lead 2-0), 6 interleague games in Chicago (2004, 2010; Cubs lead 4-2)
Common players: 169, including current Cubs David DeJesus, Scott Hairston and Ryan Sweeney.
These two teams’ World Series matchups date back to when the A’s were owned by Connie Mack and based in Philadelphia — in other words, ancient history. Even since the franchise relocated to Oakland, they share little other than a lengthy trade history that has tilted primarily toward the green and gold. In fact, Oakland’s run of dominance that started in the late 1980s owes much to a trade in which it managed to fleece the Cubs; in April 1987, the A’s acquired struggling starter Dennis Eckersley and converted him to the bullpen, where he found a new lease on life and became a paradigm-shifting closer who helped Oakland win four AL West titles, three pennants and the 1989 World Series while winning both the MVP and Cy Young awards in 1992.
Rays at Dodgers
Scheduled: August 7-11, 2013
Past history: 6 interleague games in LA (2002, 2007; tied 3-3)
Common players: 39, including current Dodgers Carl Crawford and J.P. Howell and current Rays James Loney and Jamey Wright.
In a 6 1/2 month stretch in 2006, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made three separate trades with the then-Devil Rays totaling 12 players. None had much impact for Los Angeles, but Edwin Jackson was part of the Rays’ breakout in 2008. Colletti continues to draw the short straw when it comes to talent common to the two teams, as Loney is hitting a robust .301/.361/.476 for Tampa Bay after seven seasons of diminishing returns in L.A. Crawford is hitting .301/.358/.470 for the Dodgers, but has been on the disabled list since June 2 with a hamstring strain.
Padres at Blue Jays
Scheduled: Not yet
Past history: 9 interleague games in San Diego (2004, 2010, 2013; Blue Jays lead 5-4)
Common players: 58, none currently rostered
Perhaps the Padres are unwilling to go north of the border due to the December 1990 blockbuster in which they sent Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to Toronto in exchange for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, a trade that helped the Blue Jays win back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993 but did little more than provide fire sale fodder for San Diego. (It’s worth pointing out that the man who got the Series-winning hit in ’92, his only season for Toronto, was Dave Winfield, who is one of just five former Padres to have his number retired by the club.) The two teams squared off in southern California from May 31 through June 2 of this year, with two of those games going into extra innings; the series opener went 17.
This article has been revised to include the dates for the upcoming Braves-Royals series.