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Finally, interleague play has a (Fall) Classic matchup with Dodgers-Yanks

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

The Dodgers have played 32 games in the Bronx, but this series will be the first in the regular season. (USATSI)
The Dodgers have played 32 games in the Bronx, but this series will be the first in the regular season.(USATSI)

It's an oddity of interleague play that the Twins just made their first-ever trip to Atlanta and that the Padres have never once played in Toronto.

It's a crime that it has taken this long for the Dodgers to get to Yankee Stadium.

Or get back to Yankee Stadium, since the Dodgers played in the Bronx 32 times, back when interleague play was called by its former name: the World Series. Dodgers-Yankees is the most common of all World Series matchups, played 11 times.

Nothing else even comes close.

So why in the world, then, has Dodgers at Yankees been the least common of regular-season interleague matchups?

We've been blessed (or cursed) with interleague play for 17 years now. The Dodgers have been to Seattle four times, to the South Side of Chicago three times, to Tampa Bay twice. The Yankees have hosted the Braves six times, the Diamondbacks three times and the Padres twice.

The Yankees have been to Dodger Stadium twice.

So why has it taken until 2013 for the Dodgers to get back to Yankee Stadium?

"It was sort of a combination of circumstances," said Katy Feeney, the MLB senior vice president whose responsibilities include the thankless job of overseeing the schedule.

Interleague play began in 1997, and the original plan was that every team would visit every other team at least once within every six-year cycle. That hasn't come close to happening, in part because of the imbalance between the two leagues (until the Astros moved this season, the National League had 16 teams, and the American League 14), in part because baseball put a priority on local rivalries (from 1999-2012, the Dodgers played the Angels six times a season, as did the Yankees and Mets), and in part because baseball switched some series for other reasons.

MLB admitted that it allowed rights-holders Fox Sports and ESPN to have input in which interleague matchups were played. Feeney said other matchups were switched in order to make the whole schedule work better.

The result is that there were nine site-specific matchups that hadn't happened through 2012, and one (Padres at Blue Jays) that still won't happen this year, either.

There are those who will always believe there has been more at work with Dodgers at Yankees. One story is that back when ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was still in MLB's good graces, he successfully lobbied to have a 2004 series switched so that his team would play in Boston, his hometown, rather than in New York. Another story has the Yankees lobbying to get a 2010 series switched from Yankee Stadium to Dodger Stadium because they didn't want to see Joe Torre back in the Bronx.

It's not clear how much truth there is to either of those stories. MLB says no Dodgers-Yankees series was ever switched, and sources say the Yankees actually wanted the 2010 series played in New York, rather than in Los Angeles. But the fact that they still circulate shows how much interest there has been in seeing the Dodgers return to New York to play the Yankees.

No one has any conspiracy theories for the Cubs never going to Oakland (where they'll play for the first time ever this July).

Dodgers-Yankees is different. Earlier this month, the Dodgers held an Old-Timers Day with a Dodgers-Yankees theme, and people who were there said 30,000 fans showed up early to see it.

"I've always believed that if you held a tiddlywinks contest between the Dodgers and Yankees, it would draw," said Rick Monday, a former Dodgers player and longtime Dodgers radio voice.

Monday played in three World Series in his career, all for the Dodgers, all against the Yankees. The 1981 World Series, the one the Dodgers won, was the subject of his 2006 book, Tales from the Dodger Dugout.

That 1981 World Series was the 11th between the two teams in just a 42-year span. From 1941-81, the Dodgers and Yankees never went more than 14 years without meeting in October. The games included some of the most famous in World Series history, from Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 to Bill Bevens' near no-hitter in 1947 to Sandy Koufax's 15-strikeout game in 1963 to Reggie Jackson's three-homer game in 1977 to the Dodgers' lone World Series win in Brooklyn, in 1955.

As Dave Anderson pointed out in Sunday's New York Times, those 11 World Series included 23 players and six managers who were later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It's been 32 years since 1981, and the Dodgers hadn't ever made it to the Bronx, until this week. The only time it really came close to happening was in 2009, when both made it to the League Championship Series (with the Dodgers losing to the Phillies, who the Yankees went on to beat in the World Series).

"Ever since interleague play started, every year when the schedule would come out, I'd look to see if we were going to Yankee Stadium," Monday said.

Others would do the same.

"It will be nice to see their uniforms in our stadium again," Jackson told CBSSports.com's Scott Miller last week. "The only problem with seeing that uniform is that we'll see a great Yankee leading it.

"Don Mattingly should be a Yankee."

Mattingly, the Dodgers manager since 2011 and a Dodgers and Yankees coach under Torre before that, spent his entire 14-year playing career with the Yankees, beginning in 1982, the year after the last time the Dodgers were in the Bronx.

Besides Mattingly, there are very few Dodgers-Yankees connections on the current rosters. Dodgers utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. was on the Yankees' 2009 championship team, but he spent less than half a season in the Bronx. Hiroki Kuroda, who starts for the Yankees on Wednesday night, was a Dodger for his first four seasons in the major leagues.

The bigger connections are in our memories.

No matter whether you grew up in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s or even early '80s, you grew up with Dodgers-Yankees in October. You grew up with Dodgers-Yankees in the Bronx.

"You had both coasts in it, so everyone in the country was listening," Jackson said. "You were on the left coast and the right coast. You had to live in St. Louis not to care."

You can bet that the good people in St. Louis don't care this week, either, not with the Cardinals holding the best record in baseball, not with the Cubs in town to continue their favorite rivalry.

The Dodgers and Yankees aren't what the Dodgers and Yankees once were. The Dodgers are in last place in the National League West. The Yankees, playing with a roster shorn of most of their stars, have lost five of six.

Yankee Stadium isn't the same, either. As Monday pointed out, the Dodgers have never been to this Yankee Stadium.

It would have been better if it happened earlier. It should have happened earlier.

And it shouldn't be another 32 years before it happens again.

 
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