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Interleague Intrigue Marquee matchups, like Yanks-Cubs, boost fan interest, but schedule inequities are a sore spot with some clubs

Joe Torre is normally a critic of interleague play, but last
Friday, as he sat in the visitors' dugout at Wrigley Field, the
Yankees manager couldn't resist the lure of the most-hyped series
of the season. "O.K., time to go," he said, dismissing a band of
reporters two hours before the first of three games between his
team and the Cubs. "I've got to go enjoy this."

Wrigley Field was the showcase for last week's start of 2003
interleague play because the Yankees and the Cubs were meeting
for the first time since the 1938 World Series and because
Saturday's game pitted Roger Clemens against Kerry Wood. "I've
never been in a game that was more electric," Cubs first baseman
Eric Karros, a 13-year veteran, said after his team's 5-2 win, in
which he smacked a three-run, go-ahead home run in the seventh
inning to derail Clemens's third attempt to get his 300th

Since its inception in 1997 interleague play has been a boon to
major league attendance overall. Last year crowds at games
between American and National League teams were 15.1% greater on
average than the intraleague-game crowds. In the first week of
interleague play this season, including the three sellouts at
Wrigley, attendance spiked 10.1%.

But for every marquee matchup there are a half-dozen interleague
pairings that have little or no attraction. The first of three
weekend games between the Marlins and the world champion Angels
at Pro Player Stadium drew only 171 fans more than the season
average (13,017) heading into the series; the last game drew 396
below that average. "I think it's an overexaggeration that the
fans like [interleague play] so much--look at the crowds we had
against the Twins," says Giants first baseman J.T. Snow, pointing
to the average draw of 35,272 for last week's three-game series
against AL Central-leading Minnesota at Pac Bell Park, which was
3,227 below the team's season average. "I thought interleague
play was kind of cool the first year, but the novelty definitely
has worn off."

Like a TV series that's run out of fresh story lines, interleague
play may soon run out of compelling matchups. And as more top
teams in the American League play their National League
counterparts, the mystique of the World Series is further

The loudest argument against interleague play is the scheduling
inequity it sometimes creates with an uneven number of teams in
divisions and so-called prime rivals, such as Cubs-White Sox,
playing home-and-home series each year. For example, in the AL
Central, which plays the NL West this season, division-leading
Minnesota doesn't face the Dodgers and gets its prime rival, the
Brewers, twice. Meanwhile, second-place Kansas City faces the
Dodgers and its prime rival is St. Louis. "These interleague
games are more exhibition," says Torre. "I don't think they make
much baseball sense." Says Padres manager Bruce Bochy, "A bad
draw can cost you the division."

Last season the A's feasted on five NL teams and went 16-2; they
won the AL West by four games over the Angels, who fared 11-7 in
interleague play. The two clubs had three common opponents, but
Oakland went 7-2 against San Francisco and Houston while Anaheim
went 4-5 against Los Angeles and St. Louis. The same
repercussions were felt in the NL West. "We played Oakland six
times last year [winning twice], and Arizona played inferior
teams [the Diamondbacks were 7-2 against the Tigers, Indians and
Red Sox] and won the division by 2 1/2 games," says Giants
shortstop Rich Aurilia. "The only thing I got out of it the last
few years was being able to play in Yankee Stadium last season,
after growing up [in Brooklyn]."

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN (WOOD) Wood (left) spoiled Clemens's bid for win No. 300, striking out 11 in a 5-2 Cubs victory.


COLOR PHOTO: LOU DEMATTEIS/REUTERS (SANTIAGO) The first-place Giants and Twins drew below-average interest in a series at Pac Bell.