‘Natural’ rivals? These interleague MLB matchups could use some Subway Series-style branding
With less than two months left before MLB reopens, fans are starting to look at a schedule that looks… different. The league is implementing a new “balanced” table this season, reducing divisional appearances to allow each team to play all 29 other clubs each year.
In addition to entertainment perks – every fan will have the opportunity to watch, say, Shohei Ohtani, even if they only watch their team’s local broadcasts – the changes will create a more level playing field for post-season hunts, which now include more interdivisional hunts. competition thanks to an additional wild card added last season.
In the new format, your team will face every divisional opponent 14 times, every non-divisional team in their league six times, and every interleague team three times, with the exception of one special “natural” interleague opponent. Each of these rivalries will receive two-game home-and-home sets annually, so the four games are specifically aligned to add emphasis by playing at both parks annually. While I don’t envy the hard work of the MLB schedulers, I have one request: Let’s do an odd number of meetings a year so there’s always a winner.
It’s not entirely new anyway – the concept of natural rivalry has been around for a while – but it’s been isolated and codified by this switcher. To truly appreciate this so-called rivalry, we need to a) remember what it is, and b) heighten the intrigue around some of the less, er, logical ones.
Some of them – the Yankees Mets, the Cubs White Sox – have a clear history and enduring cultural significance. The others (looking at you, D-backs-Rangers) don’t. However, even some of the classics could use a little showmanship, a little embellished atmosphere. Collegiate football, a sport based on natural rivalry, does this better than anyone else. And while baseball will probably never be able to replicate the geographic mix of affections that jet fuel adds to these games, there’s one thing we can do: we can decorate our special games with special names.
So, let’s go through these matches to critique or come up with their rival nicknames. Firstly, actually natural, already existing classics:
Mets vs. Yankees: Subway Series
Indeed, the Platonic ideal of rivalry is called. It doesn’t feel like its hometown, alliterative and evocative of the crowded, intimate experience of New York baseball fandom. No notes.
Giants vs. A: Bay Bridge Series
Cardinals vs. Royals: Series I-70
Official policy: once a rival’s name has been inscribed in baseball history by the modern World Series collection, it cannot be changed. The Giants and A’s famously met in the 1989 earthquake-abrupted Fall Classic, while the Cardinals and the Royals played in the 1985 World Series, which is remembered for the decisive missed challenge by umpire Don Denkinger. These remain.
Cubs vs White Sox:
Crosstown Classic Red line series
Keyword from the above pair: modern. The Cubs and White Sox clashed in the 1906 World Series, but the Crosstown Classic was actually a product of interleague play nearly a century later.
So the Chicago clash is not without its poignancy. Fans – and sometimes players – are given to this business with all their hearts. Catchers AJ Pierzynski and Michael Barrett created the enduring look for the entire project in 2006.
That’s why the bland name “Crosstown Classic” needs an update. Of all the city rivalries, Chicago may have the hottest transportation opportunities! The trains with the letter “L” running in each park are on the red line, and how best to describe the choice of side – north or south – in this city?
Nationals vs. Orioles: Battle of the Beltway
Honestly, of course. It’s not so much classic as it’s definitely boring. As befits a mild rivalry between two teams whose biggest battle — the feud with MASN — rages in boardrooms and courtrooms, this series may remain named after the roads that go round and round.
Dodgers vs. Angels: Freeway Series
Is the opinion of Californians talking about traffic jams a stereotype? Yes. Is it rooted in reality? Also yes. As with the Subway Series, there’s just too much to change here. If you really need a backup, new for new, the Scioscia series might work in honor of the Dodgers player-turned-Angels manager, but that pales in comparison to the possibility of a Shohei Showdown after 2023.
Next, let’s look at actual geographic matches that lack a certain je ne sais quoi:
Reds vs Guardians:
Ohio Cup Series “Horseshoe”
I’m not sure there is a more boring name than the Ohio Cup. Can you imagine if we called it the New York Cup? However, I understand the difficulty. There isn’t much work to do here. So let’s revive the old tradition of playing between two cities – in Columbus – but do it in a way that Ohio sports fans will really notice: put all the games in Ohio State – um, at Ohio State University – football stadium. Adjust to odd sizes. Benefit.
Marlins vs Rays:
Citrus series Yard Sale Series
Citrus Series never caught on, and The Goodwill Games have already been adopted. However, the pursuit of second-hand talent from the other team really touches the atmosphere of tight-fisted MLB teams from Florida. One club, The Race, has been incredibly successful at amassing loser toys and real potential customers by launching an ever-changing, anonymous-looking machine from a roster of 40 people. And the Marlins won two World Series in their heyday, selling everything that wasn’t nailed down and sifting through the proceeds in search of gold. Lately, their efforts have been… less successful. In general, the atmosphere of this series is completely reminiscent of a sale: brash and poorly labeled, but sometimes fraught with serious treasures.
Brewers vs Twins:
border battle Bacon Slab Series
The annual clash between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers – rivals in the college football world – has produced two great trophies. The teams are now playing for Paul Bunyan’s Ax.
It’s objectively fun. But in fact, this is the second iteration of a rival “trophy” for this game. From 1930 to 1943, Wisconsin and Minnesota fought over the Bacon Plate before it was lost (and later found at Camp Randall in Wisconsin over 50 years later).
Upper Midwesterners seem to be saving their resentment for football. Despite the college rivalry and intense hatred between Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings fans, there is not much animosity in the Brewers-Twins matchup. But let’s explore the quirks of the odd trophy and the universal appeal of bacon. Maybe they could tie pretty ribbons the color of baseball lace around the slab.
Finally, it’s time for the real test – coincidences of necessity that don’t have existing names:
Phillies vs. Blue Jays: Halladay Series
First, here’s the obvious: The Phillies and the Blue Jays share a franchise icon in the late ace Roy Halladay. Remembering Doc with an annual series and perhaps a trophy in his honor seems like an easy call.
Braves vs. Red Sox: series to be named later
In 2007, when asked if there was a “rivalry” between the Braves and the Red Sox during another rescheduling of that game in MLB, Chipper Jones said “nothing”. And yes, I agree. Since then, not much success has been added, despite the huge success of both teams.
Their intersection in baseball history occurred in the early 1900s, when both teams briefly occupied Boston. If anything, it’s striking how rarely these franchises have run into each other, despite their long, overburdened history. But it seems inevitable that these two proud teams will face each other at some point, whether it be in the World Series, in a fight for a major free agent, or in a big deal. So let’s build on high expectations and recognize that the best of this rivalry is yet to come.
Rockies vs. Astros: Globetrotter Games
The Rockies have no true natural rival, and the Astros lost their best option for that particular target by joining the American League (home of the Texas Rangers) in 2013. So we get this marriage of inconvenience.
At first glance, the team names come up with inspiration from exploration – the highest peaks of Colorado, the search for Houston in outer space. However, apart from the branding, there is no real way to see the contrasts between these clubs. The Astros are at the forefront of baseball thinking and technology (sometimes too far off the edge). while the Rockies seem to have lost touch with the rest of the league sometime in the mid-2000s..
Yes, this is a confrontation between teams on the far reaches of the universe. But it’s also a matchup between a team destined to win, a la the Harlem Globetrotters, and a team of foilers who may or may not be aware of what they’ve signed up for.
Pirates vs. Tigers: Analog Cup
Some of the best qualities of these teams – their commitment to the classic old-school aesthetic – dovetail unfortunate with some of the most unfortunate qualities. In short, the best days of clubs came before digital media took over the world. Newspaper accounts, radio broadcasts, and sepia-toned TV commercials contain the most glorious memories for Pittsburgh and Detroit baseball fans. Someday they will turn the dial—or the phone—to the future. In the meantime, this season’s episode winner can own a gold-plated landline phone.
Padres vs. Sailors: Deal Challenge or Not
It is, on the contrary, the match at the moment. Freelance executives A.J. Preller and Jerry Dipoto turned the Padres and Mariners into an ambitious, fun, and unpredictable team. They did this mainly by making huge stakes deals, including with each other: in 2020, they made a trade involving Austin Nol, Ty France, Andres Munoz and several others, which proved to be important for both teams.
D-backs vs. Rangers: The Leather…