Tim Marchman
Thursday May 21st, 2009

This weekend, when the Mets visit the Red Sox and the Yankees host the Phillies, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium will feature four teams with payrolls totaling $574 million. Allowing for inflation, this is as much as the 10 highest payrolls in baseball in 1997, the year of the first regular-season games between the National and American leagues.

Such a number puts the traditionalist opposed to interleague play in the position of a temperance enthusiast in 1945, a dozen years after repeal: close enough to a time before something went horribly wrong to feel it still might be righted, and marginal enough to be dismissed as a loon. The public likes these games and pays a lot to see them, one reason why players and owners are earning so much money.

Also like a temperance man, the traditionalist is affixed to a ridiculous cause. The idea of interleague play is older than commissioner Bud Selig -- Cubs president William Veeck Sr. proposed it in 1933 -- and by now so well established that this fall American colleges will admit their second incoming class with no real memories of a time when the idea of a May game between the Rockies and the Tigers would have been deeply unnerving.

An idea can be discredited and absurd without being wrong, though. To convince the enemy of the Freeway Series that he's a bad day away from becoming the baseball equivalent of the sort of person who pesters antique dealers for Victrola needles and Remington ribbons, one has to do more than demonstrate that a lot of people disagree with him. One has to convince him that they're right.

This year it should be easier than ever to do so. Pull your man away from his inky newspaper and get him to a game. What sort of thrills won't be found there?

The top games this weekend will certainly be those played between the Rangers and Astros. They'll be playing for a size 15 cowboy boot cast in silver, a worthy prize for two teams who have managed 95 years without a championship. Houston is the most grizzled team in baseball, with both the oldest pitchers and hitters; Texas, having submitted to manly Nolan Ryan policies, leads the game in innings pitched per start. Houston will send right-hander Brian Moehler, the famed one-time ball scuffer, to the mound Saturday; Texas' lineup features Chris Davis, a first baseman on pace to strike out 250 times.

Nearly as impressive is next month's set between the Cubs and the Indians. While neither team offers a spectacle like Davis, they do account between them for 162 years without a World Series victory, and have worked hard to compile two of the lower expectations-to-success ratios in the game over the last several years. A series between them offers the possibility of the spectacular -- a pitcher bursting into a fine red vapor on the mound, a cinch triple play turned into an inside-the-park grand slam or an embarrassing incident involving a secret cache of balls hidden in the Wrigley Field ivy, for instance.

Of course if none of this is enough to convince someone of the great merits of interleague play, there is always next month's rivalry set between the Padres and Mariners, who have played each other half as many times as the two Texas teams, for obvious reasons. If even this fiercely passionate spectacle doesn't win over the skeptics, fair enough. There will always be eccentrics among us, claiming the old ways were better.

For everyone else, those who accept progress and reason and the wisdom of the crowd, this is a wonderful age. Over the last decade, for the first time in American history, the principle that some things are better imagined than seen has ceased to apply. We've seen Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader, we've read Ralph Ellison's last novel and we've learned what it would be like if the Mets played the Yankees in the regular season -- the 67th such meeting would be just as meaningful as the very first.

There will be those crabbed few who fret about anticipation and mystery, and worry that we've traded a world of rare possibilities such as the Cubs and Indians meeting as pennant winners for one in which nothing much is rare at all. What of them? There are also people wondering if the world really needs a sequel to Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and they miss the point, too. The future is here. No one ever needs to be disappointed, and nothing ever needs to become mundane just because there's too much of it.

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