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Trying to salvage a tough World Series to sell

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Trying to salvage a tough World Series to sell
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Fans don't identify with unsung stars such as Freddy Sanchez of the Giants or Elvis Andrus of the Ra …

ARLINGTON, Texas – The World Series Nobody Wanted isn't beyond salvage. With a little bit of pluck, the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers can push past Sunday and Monday, when they will hemorrhage much of their audience to the NFL, and move onto an exciting Game 6 and perhaps 7.

In the meantime, Major League Baseball continues to choke down a jagged pill: Beyond the cities involved – two places that are indeed embracing their teams and proving plenty able as baseball towns – this World Series is narcoleptic. It has less buzz than a dead bee. And it's not just TV ratings or coastal biases. It's the issue that cuts to the core of Bud Selig's supposed golden age.

For all the gaudy attendance numbers put up in the regular season, MLB's inability to retain casual fans during the postseason is harrowing. Baseball has turned into an April-to-September pastime, one with such strong regional ties that it backfires when the sport goes national. As inconsequential as television ratings are to anybody beyond Fox, they provide an unbiased barometer of interest, and their verdict is clear: This series needs a jolt of excitement, pronto.

Though it didn't come in the form of Texas' 4-2 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night, the win at least set the stage for some primo conflict and resolution. There will be no San Francisco sweep. There will be another Cliff Lee(notes)-Tim Lincecum matchup. And for now, that is enough to retain those on board and charm others who might otherwise have dismissed this as a matchup of two teams with all the intrigue of sap drying.

There are individuals worth savoring here: Lee and Lincecum are among the best at what they do, and Josh Hamilton(notes) personifies redemption and success, and C.J. and Brian Wilson(notes) would kill in a buddy comedy, and Neftali Feliz(notes) throws a legit 100 mph, and Nolan Ryan provides endless guffaws with his supply of goofy faces for every occasion.

And yet all week, it's been the same. It's one thing to be overshadowed by Brett Favre's junk and its alleged exposure to a team employee; it's another to play second fiddle to his ankle. It's one thing for LeBron and Co. to steal headlines from baseball's marquee event; it's another for it to happen in the first week of an NBA regular season that long ago lost its import.

This is the World Series, and baseball is third fiddle.

"To be honest, as a player, I could give a [expletive] if anybody's watching us," Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur(notes) said. "I want to win the World Series, and if they don't want to watch it, I don't really care. Hopefully people tune in because it's a good series, and if they don't enjoy that, then that's their problem."

The sentiment goes for the rest of the Rangers, too. The lack of juice for this World Series matchup doesn't bother them, nor should it. They don't market. They don't sell. They play.

At 245 Park Ave., on the other hand, Selig and his cohorts try to spin the unspinnable. Sorry, but "Rangers-Giants, next on Fox!" doesn't have quite the cachet of "Yankees-Phillies, next on Fox!" And it's in years like this – the inevitable ones in which teams without snob appeal comprise a World Series – that reality smacks baseball across the face.

Maybe MLB should devote its resources to ensuring the relevance of its current postseason format instead of scheming to jam another wild card down people's gullets and hope they don't sniff out the manufactured nature of it all.

"I know people wanted to see Philly and probably New York," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But Philly and New York didn't make it. The two best are here, the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants. That's why they should be watching. They're going to miss a lot of good baseball if they don't tune in."

It's a good try. It's just not true so far. The first game featured 18 runs, 25 hits and six errors. Good baseball it wasn't. In Game 2, the Giants pounded Texas 9-0. Not good, either. Game 3 helped the cause, Colby Lewis(notes) shutting down the Giants and rookie Mitch Moreland(notes) smacking a three-run home run and Hamilton blistering another homer 426 feet. Feliz generated five swings and misses in 13 pitches, and Ryan made an epic face, and at least it was a start.

Because three games into this series, its defining moment is … uh … Edgar Renteria's(notes) home run in Game 2? Or Juan Uribe's(notes) in Game 1? This series is fiending for an injection of drama. Something. Anything.

It could be great. That's the thing. The best World Series don't have to feature name-brand teams. All it takes is an epic seventh game to capture hearts and minds. The best series feature ebb and flow, and if the Rangers can scratch out another win, send it back to San Francisco and give the series a day to breathe, the fans will flock.

They'd better.

"You can't control what people want to follow, how the media spins it," Lee said. "We know the fans here in Dallas are excited. As far as the national media or coverage, how everyone views it, we can't control that."

It's easy to blame this on the media, into which agendas inexorably seep. LeBron sells because he's polarizing, and that drives debate, which begets captivation. Favre is the girlfriend you just can't quit. For all of the interesting storylines in baseball, its dearth of characters goes more to the league's inability to make true stars of its players than anything.

In a fantasy word, Elvis Andrus(notes) has things right. He's 22. He smiles big. He's a joy to watch at shortstop for the Rangers. He thinks this is the right World Series for the public because "it's something new. It's something people didn't expect. It's the best two teams this year. It's not about names. It's not about money. It's about who played better."

He forgot the operative word: should. It should not be about names, should not be about money, should be about who played better. Instead, the Rangers are in the World Series, eager to even it, and less than a mile down the road, a dog-dung football team will cannibalize Dallas' attention. Don't be fooled: No matter how many people here are wearing Rangers gear and preaching the claw-and-antlers ethos, the Rangers aren't the Cowboys, the 1-5, sad-sack Cowboys who nonetheless hog the sporting landscape.

And so The World Series Nobody Wanted will continue, second fiddle in its own city, third in the sporting world, hoping that someone or something rescues it from this plague it still hasn't figured out how to solve.

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