Baseball’s crown event is beyond repair
PHILADELPHIA – This World Series is beyond salvaging. It is a disaster borne of people who think cowbells and haircuts make them fans, owners so greedy they accept late-October baseball and late-evening start times, and a commissioner who unilaterally changes a rule while he’s carrying the book in his left hand.
Game 5 is suspended. Rain washed through Citizens Bank Park from the beginning of the Philadelphia Phillies’ potential championship clincher to the sixth inning, when the Tampa Bay Rays tied the score 2-2. The game is supposed to resume Wednesday night. It is on Mother Nature, which is a good thing, because if it were up to the baseball gods, they would smite the series before it could continue any longer.
It’s awful, embarrassing even, that the country became so indifferent to what once was the most popular championship series in sports. Even worse, Major League Baseball, fat and happy with its coffers growing and ticket sales booming, watched idly as the number of people viewing its championship series dwindled to a record low in Game 3.
That, of course, was the night that MLB decided to begin a game after 10 p.m., rain to blame again. The skies cleared for the rest of the evening. The conditions were fine for playing. It’s just that the entire country was in its REM cycle, baseball hardly a competitor for sleep.
Such is the norm, too, with the 8:30 p.m. start times now typical for World Series games – and the remainder of the postponement, which will begin at 8 p.m. Thank MLB again for that. It got into bed with Fox for a long-term $3 billion deal. Fox requested a later first pitch. MLB obliged. The guys in suits win. The kids with hats and genuine interest in the game, and not the green it generates, lose.
And all of these elements poison what should be the most glorious time for the best sport. Nothing beats a great World Series. Not a classic Super Bowl. Not a fantastic Final Four. Not a seven-game NBA Finals. When two teams get together, no matter the size of the market or depth of the history, and play a to-the-max series with the requisite drama that accompanies a great matchup, it is magic. Baseball doesn’t need the Yankees or Red Sox. Minnesota and Atlanta did just fine in 1991.
Instead, we are talking about weathermen.
Seriously, in the 20 minutes commissioner Bud Selig addressed postponing Game 5, he spent as much time talking about weather forecasters as he did the fact that he was prepared, on the fly, to change a well-hewn rule. While Selig was interested in informing the public that the three weather services MLB contacted said the rain would abate, everyone wondered how he planned to handle the situation had Carlos Pena not driven in B.J. Upton in the sixth inning with the Rays’ tying run.
Selig said he discussed such a scenario before the game with general managers Pat Gillick of the Phillies and Andrew Friedman of the Rays, allegedly telling them the rule stating that a game is complete after 4½ innings did not apply.
“It’s not a way to end a World Series,” Selig said. “And I think there’s enough, and I have enough authority here, frankly, so that I think I’m not only on solid ground, I’m on very solid ground.”
It would have been the right call, of course, though it sets a dangerous precedent – just how far does the commissioner’s in-the-best-interests-of-baseball clause go? – and was made even shadier by the fact that nobody but the brass seemed to know. Fans were clueless, as were the players, who wanted no part of it.
“I wouldn’t pride myself in being called a world champion on a called game,” Phillies starter Cole Hamels said, following an even more damning statement: “That truly would have been the worst World Series ever.”
OK, so we’re not there yet. Game 3, even with its sparse viewing audience, teemed with intrigue. Game 4 was a Phillies home run barrage, including the first from a pitcher in nearly 35 years. The weather gave Game 5 a unique twist, players tromping around in puddles of water and running the bases and the field with extreme caution as wind whipped and sheets of rain careened sideways into their eyes.
Games 1 and 2 – well, those were held inside a big warehouse outfitted with seats, a massive neon orange, a tank of cownose rays, four catwalks, a drunk pro wrestler, artificial turf, mullets and a group of people that thinks ringing cowbells is awesome and wearing bright blue Mohawks is socially acceptable.
Rays fever, unfortunately, comes no warmer than 98.6 degrees. Scalpers there are eating thousands of dollars because the demand for tickets is so flabby. Florida is a football state, and the inroads to carve out a fan base in the Tampa area will take decades. While championship T-shirts in Philadelphia already are deep on back order, there will be plenty available should the Rays come back and win the series.
And that, actually, is the only thing that can turn this debacle around and help MLB avoid it being the Rain Series or the Delay Series or the Atrociously Umpired Series or the Series No One Cared About. The questions crossing everyone’s mind Monday night were how to keep weather from so adversely affecting the biggest games of the year. Shorten the regular season? No chance the owners would lose the revenue. Do it by playing doubleheaders every other Saturday, shaving nearly two weeks from the season? Again, revenue would lag, and the players’ union almost certainly would say no. Schedule a neutral-site World Series? No thanks.
Point is, none of this has anything to do with the games, which should be the focal point in October. As long as MLB remains stubborn about the fact that starting the postseason earlier wouldn’t help with its weather issues – a flimsy claim at best – this is all moot.
Sometimes, nothing can save baseball from itself. Not even global warming.
So all we can do is sit back and get acquainted with the Doppler. There is supposed to be rain this morning. And then more this afternoon. And … you get the point. This is a championship held hostage by its elements, a sad – and somewhat fitting – occurrence with the World Series That Can’t Get It Right.