What Really Bugs Me: The World Series
This week, the World Series will be contested between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. Although I am a big baseball fan, I must admit I am not really excited about this Series.
What absolutely bugs me about the World Series is something that occurred when Bowie Kuhn was was commissioner of baseball from 1969 to 1984. No, it is not the institution of the designated hitter rule nor the rise of free agency that made ball players into spoiled multimillionaires.
Instead, Kuhn came up with the bright idea of putting World Series games on at night.
At first, World Series games after dark were a spectacular success. Like millions of fans, I was captivated watching the Cincinnati and the Boston Red Sox battle each other like Roman gladiators in Game Six in the 1975 World Series. I thought it was the greatest game I ever saw, even though I went to bed before Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning. The next game, when the Reds finally vanquished the Red Sox, was equally exciting.
Another memorable World Series night game occurred in 1986 when Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner muffed a ground ball in the bottom of the ninth in Game Six at Shea Stadium in New York. This error extended the so-called Curse of the Bambino on the Red Sox for nearly another 20 years because the New York Mets stormed back to win Games Six and Seven.
There were other memorable night World Series games as well. Who can forget a badly injured Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 Series swatting a game-winning home run? Or an earthquake striking San Francisco just before Game Three of the 1989 Series? Or Joe Carter shaking his fist in joy after he clouted the homer in Game Six of the 1993 Series that clinched a second championship for the Toronto Blue Jays?
But after awhile, World Series games after dark degenerated into commercial glutted, four- and five-hour snoozeathons in which children and their parents went to bed long before the final out. Only the most die-hard and most insomniac baseball fans would stick around to the end in order to tell coworkers and loved ones the next day who hit the climatic base hit in the final game of the Series or what journeyman pitcher hurled a game that was better than a Nolan Ryan no-hitter.
Unlike the Super Bowl, non-baseball fans did not watch the World Series for the commercials and then started water cooler conversations like, “Did you see the ad for Sudsy Beer last night?” Instead, they changed the channels to watch Survivor or Jersey Shore or Teen Mom or sexually explicit fare on pay cable.
Even worse, the World Series no longer became must see TV, despite baseball’s reputation as America’s National Pastime. Last year, Dancing With the Stars thumped the World Series in the ratings. This is an absolute embarrassment for baseball when its championship games can not draw bigger audiences than a made for television “trash sport” featuring third and fourth rate Hollywood celebrities trying to dance like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Michael Jackson.
Although I know I sound like a lunatic dreamer, I think the World Series will become popular again only when the Lords of Baseball decide to televise games during weekday afternoons. This will bring back the phenomenon of the 1950’s, 1960’s, and early 1970’s (when there were no night games) in which men secretly brought it transistor radios and portable televisions to keep up on games while at work. Not only that, the baseball crazies and the most casual of casual fans can see championship games in their entirety without missing their bedtimes or even their favorite prime-time TV shows.
More importantly, World Series day games may get children hooked on the horsehide sport rather than football or basketball or even–can it be possible in the United States, the land of the free and the home of Babe Ruth?–soccer. I know this can happen because I became an Oakland A’s fan thanks to my fifth grade teacher letting us see several innings of the 1972 World Series. Since I rarely saw games from the West Coast, I was immediately mesmerized seeing a team in garish green and gold uniforms unabashedly wearing beards and mustaches like Woodstock hippies. I especially liked reliever Rollie Fingers, who looked like a Gay Nineties villain with his waxed handlebar mustache but threw like Sandy Koufax in his prime.
Alvin Dark, one of the innumerable Oakland A’s managers during the 1970’s, once said baseball should be played in God’s sunshine. Turns out he is probably right, especially during World Series time.
Joe’s Maybe Memorable Quote of the Day
“Baseball is loved by the intellectuals because is the sport that allows the most time for thinking.”