The Cubs and White Sox will do battle this weekend in the annual Crosstown Classic. This will be the 21st season in which the teams have played each other since the start of interleague play back in 1997. The rivalry provides bragging rights for fans across Chicago, but certain changes by Major League Baseball and broadcasters have diminished the prominence of a series that was most anticipated every year for Chicago baseball fans.
This season will be just the second time in the last five that the teams will play two three-game weekend series instead of a four-game, two and two series. Due to the realignment of the Houston Astros to the American League in 2013, interleague play was played throughout the season and not relegated to just June as the leagues were evened out to 15 teams each. The two teams will play a four-game series each year unless the schedule has both their divisions lined up to play each other in a season.
Now with both leagues evened at 15 teams a piece, one of baseball’s best traditions has now become a regular season norm in interleague play. Interleague Play was always a huge fan favorite because it allowed fans from one league to see players and teams from another league that they only see rarely. It was special for younger fans because of its time on the calendar as interleague play was usually set for three weeks in the month of June when school were letting out for summer vacation. With each league even, interleague action happens throughout the MLB season making it as special as night games during the week.
The four-game series have been played during the week with most of the games played at night reducing the amount of fans being able to tune in. When the series were three games, they would be played on weekends during the heart of summer when everyone could enjoy. The weekend series always draw more because more people are able to attend and tune in to watch. Furthermore, it allows the fans to have more fun without having the consequences of getting up for work the next day.
In terms of broadcasting the game, the uniqueness of series has been diminished as the games are no longer televised to a national audience on a consistent basis.
From 1999 to 2013, at least one game of the six games each year was televised to a national audience via Fox Saturday Baseball or ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Since 2013, none of the games have been nationally televised which hurts the hype and pomp to the series for the Chicago fans and fans across the country.
Fox’s changes to their baseball broadcasts have especially hindered the hype to the series as they have changed so drastically since when they first televised the Cubs-Sox games in 1999. Since 2014, the majority of Fox Saturday Baseball’s games have been shown on their cable affiliate Fox Sports One and broadcast the games on Saturday night rather than Saturday afternoon. The Saturday afternoon format used to be seen as the premier game of the week as the game aired on Fox and a noon start allowed all to watch compared to the Saturday night window.
With the three and three format this year for the White Sox and Cubs, the hype and excitement for the series should return to an extent. None of the games this year are scheduled to be shown nationally, but the return to being played on the weekend should provide more viewership. Although excitement seems to be lacking, it takes just one play to reignite the flames to a rivalry that was win at all costs for baseball fans on both sides of town years ago.