Ditch Interleague play and bring back the Mayor’s Trophy game

If you’ve been reading the site for a while, you know my stance on Interleague play. To summarize, it’s unfair to the Mets because while teams they’re battling for a playoff spot get to play a pushover – last year the 93-win Nationals got to play the 54-108 Orioles, while the 91-win Cardinals got to play the 59-103 Royals – the Mets get the Yankees. While the playoff contender with the easy matchup may change every few years, the Mets always play a good team. Interleague play started in 1997. In those 23 years, the Yankees have never finished below .500, won 84-89 games six times, won 90-99 games 10 times and won 100 or more on seven occasions. And the Mets have to play them four-to-six times each and every year while some competitor gets a 100-loss team.

But it wasn’t always this way. Long before Interleague play came into existence, the Mets and Yankees used to play an in-season exhibition game called the Mayor’s Trophy game. By the end it was a glorified Spring Training game, with starters in short supply. But regardless of who was playing, fans of both teams wanted to win for bragging rights, even if the players didn’t share that sentiment. Rumor has it that Graig Nettles literally tried to throw the game in 1978. He did it by tossing a ball 10 feet over the first baseman’s head, so the Mets could score in the 11th inning. But the Mets couldn’t cash in with the gift runner on second base and the Yankees won in 13 innings.

It wasn’t always this way, though. When the series with the Yankees started, Mets skipper Casey Stengel desperately wanted to beat the team that fired him after the 1960 season. And the second-year Mets obliged, as they marched into Yankee Stadium and in front of 50,742 fans emerged with a 6-2 win. The Mets used their top pitchers – Jay Hook and Carl Willey – to compete in the exhibition game, which happened 57 years ago, 6/20/63.

As late as 1972, the exhibition game drew crowds of 50,000+ – which was great as proceeds benefited youth baseball leagues. But the crowds diminished and by the end of the decade, the game drew fewer than 15,000 fans. This declining attendance led to a two-year absence of the series, although the teams continued to make donations to the Amateur Baseball Federation.

The series was revived in 1982 and played two more times, before it was retired for good. The teams split the last two games, with each claiming a 4-1 victory in the other team’s home park. There were 19 Mayor’s Trophy games played between the Mets and Yankees, with the Yankees holding a 10-8 advantage. The 1979 game was a rain-shortened, 1-1 tie.

Perhaps the most interesting game in the series came in 1971. Jim McAndrew and Nolan Ryan held the Yankees hitless through seven innings. Ron Taylor came on in the eighth inning and got two more outs before the Yankees mustered their first hit. But it all fell apart for Taylor in the ninth inning and the Mets ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 game. The game was played in September, which allowed Ron Swoboda, a mid-year acquisition from the Expos, the chance to play for the Yankees. Swoboda asked his new team to allow him to play center field, since the Mets never gave him the chance after 1965.

It seems somehow fitting that the Mets took off once the annual exhibition game ended. In the last year the game was played, the Mets ended the season 68-94. The following year they won 90 games. Throughout their history, the Mets have had streaks of good and bad play. The time frame of the Mayor’s Trophy lasted through two bad periods (‘62-‘68 and ‘77-’83) and given that, it’s interesting the series was as close as it was.

10 comments for “Ditch Interleague play and bring back the Mayor’s Trophy game

  1. Michael Young
    June 19, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Brian – This article is right on target. I have felt this exact same way for decades now. Most especially when the Yankees were winning their three – peat from 1998 through 2000. During the Bobby Cox era the while the Mets were playing the Braves 19 games per year they also had to play the best team in the MLB 6 games per year for a total of 25 games every year against the MLB’s two best teams. Clearly, playing the Braves was and should have been all the Mets had to contend with. So, how was playing 25 against both of these teams instead of 19 versus the Braves alone considered fair when it just wasn’t. Thanks, Mike

  2. Name
    June 19, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    This is not a big deal to me as it’s “only” 4-6 games.

    There’s a much bigger imbalance for wild card spots as it’s easier for a club to capture a spot with 3 division foes under .500 vs one with just 2.

    Even if you have a perfectly even schedule there’s the luck of the draw with pitching matchups, injuries, hot/cold streaks. Is it fair that the Marlins had to face deGrom 6 times last year and the Phillies only once?

    • June 19, 2020 at 1:58 pm

      Or how about the 2019 NL East, with just one team below .500

      You can’t control streaks. You can try to control pitching matchups but a rainout or two throws that out the window. But it’s very easy not to schedule Interleague games. I don’t see that being comparable at all.

  3. Bob P
    June 19, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    This goes back to the conversation from the other day about salary caps and imbalance. If the Yankees didn’t have such a tremendous advantage in stockpiling talent through a high payroll they wouldn’t have as good a chance to be a powerhouse team every year. If that were the case then some years the Mets could have an advantage by playing them instead of the Orioles.

    • June 19, 2020 at 11:24 pm

      But that assumes the relationship between dollars and wins is perfectly correlated and it’s not. Salary and records from The Baseball Cube:

      2019 – Red Sox highest payroll, 84-78 — Rays lowest payroll, 96-66
      2018 – Giants second-highest payroll, 73-89, Nationals fifth-highest payroll, 82-80
      2017 – Tigers second-highest payroll, 64-98, Rangers third-highest payroll, 78-84, Giants fourth-highest payroll, 64-98

      Look at the Yankees themselves before Cashman took over. They finished under .500 for four straight years from 1989-1992.

      It’s easier to have success with a higher payroll but having a high payroll doesn’t guarantee success in a given year and it certainly doesn’t guarantee 23 straight years of 84 or more wins. As the big market teams hire smarter execs to run their squads, we’re likely to see the relationship between wins and payroll get stronger. But if the Angels, White Sox, Orioles and Tigers join the Yankees and Red Sox with smart execs – well, something will have to give. There are only so many wins to go round.

      • Bob P
        June 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

        I agree with you. Anything can happen in one season or any short sample size. All I’m saying is that over the long haul there is clearly an advantage to have a consistently higher payroll. It’s impossible to know if the Yankees would be just as successful without Cashman or if Cashman could be as successful with a small market team. Good management is going to create an advantage but it’s hard to objectively know how much of a teams success is good management vs fortunate circumstances. I think it’s both many times.

  4. NYM6986
    June 21, 2020 at 1:28 am

    Was never a fan of inter league play as I believed it let the cat out of the bag when it ends up that the two series teams having played during the year. Where is the mystique not having played a team before and just relying on scouting reports to make a game plan, and set the rotation to try to be the first to four wins? On flip side I could accept the DH in the NL. The Mets simply need to score more runs to win. Although I will always love the strategy of when to let a pitcher try for one more batter or when to pinch hit, and then need to give the ball to a reliever, the Mets simply need more runs to win.

    • Mike W
      June 21, 2020 at 10:31 am

      After 52 years of watching National League baseball, I am tired of watching the pitcher make automatic outs. I am ready for the DH in the NL.

  5. Metsense
    June 25, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Scheduling is a key factor when it comes to interleague play. When MLB decided to balance the leagues with 15 teams each then interleague play seemed necessary. Fourteen teams play each other and one team sits. Hence, interleague games, when the National League odd team pairs up with the American League odd team. My problem with interleague games is addressed in this article regarding the “rivaly” series which makes the schedule unfair. The solution would be to restrict interleague play only with regional division of the other league; east vs east,central vs central and west vs west. In this way the Mets would play the same schedule as the Nats, Phillies, Marlins and Braves. It would also keep the money making rivalry series intact, cut down travel expenses, curtail awkward starting times due to time zone changes and most importantly level the playing field to get a division championship. The scheduling is pretty straightforward. Eighteen games against division rivals (18 x 4 = 72), 7 games against League rivals (7 x 10 = 70) and 4 games against the regional division of the other league (4 x 5 = 20). 72+70+20 = 162 games schedule.

    • June 25, 2020 at 1:23 pm

      Metsense! Great to have you back.

      One thing you didn’t account for is making the schedule for all 30 teams. With teams playing four games against interleague teams – are they playing home-and-home 2 game sets or 4 games all in one location? Perhaps either could be done but assembling the schedule is hard enough without this extra speed bump. Because you need to have interleague games every weekend (if not every day) and it’s tough to do weekend series when clubs are playing either 2 or 4-game series.

      Plus it doesn’t address Name’s issue of Wild Card problems with interleague play.

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