If a World Series falls in the Arizona desert … does it make a sound?
I love October baseball. I love the World Series. In October of 1962, I was the kid speeding home from school on my red Rollfast to catch the early innings of Yankees vs. Giants on our black-and-white Zenith. That Fall Classic featured Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays, Whitey Ford vs. Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal vs. Yogi Berra. The final out of a 1-0, Game 7 Yankee win was immortalized in a “Peanuts” cartoon when Charles Schulz had Charlie Brown asking, “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?”
I can tell you the winners and losers of every World Series from 2022 going back to 1953. Sometimes when jogging, I do this in my head as a kind of weird memory exercise. I have a couple of friends (Bob Ryan is one), who can recite every World Series matchup going back to the first one in 1903 when the Boston Americans beat the Pittsburgh Pirates without the help of a single analytics employee.
There’s nothing original about “death of baseball” sports columns. I wrote one from Houston last year, and that was a pretty good Series. Baseball’s October narrative is no longer followed by most American sports fans. In 2023, football is king. Television is king. Baseball is a quaint pastime from ancient days of transistor radios and a weekly Sporting News in the mailbox.
But the 2023 World Series threatens to take MLB apathy to an even lower level because the two contestants have almost zero star power and play in markets with little hardball tradition.
There are plenty of sports fans in Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth, but not much major league baseball folklore. I have a brother living in Tucson who played in the Cape Cod League a million years ago and I can’t even get him interested in watching the 84-win Diamondbacks.
Can’t say I’m much better. Texas and Arizona played a great Game 1 Friday, and yet when it was tied after 10 innings, I turned off the TV and went to sleep. I missed the big finish when Texas’s barbell-swallowing Adolis Garcia hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 11th. It was a Fisk-like flash that will be lost to the ether because America doesn’t watch baseball the way it did in 1975. Texans won’t carry the moment in their hearts the way we did after Fisk willed his shot fair in the fall of ‘75.
It’s just the reality. It’s the evolution of America’s entertainment appetite.
In 2023, MLB doesn’t try to compete with the NFL’s Industrial Betting/Fantasy Complex. Baseball doesn’t even schedule Series games on Sundays anymore (this started last year). According to the Sports Business Journal, Game 1 was the least-watched opening game of the World Series on record. No doubt Game 3 was pantsed in the ratings by the Detroit Lions on “Monday Night Football.”
But let’s be clear about one thing: While baseball slides off the grid of relevance in this century, it’s the presence of the Rangers and Diamondbacks that makes the decline particularly embarrassing in this year’s World Series.
There are still pockets of fans who’ll follow the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, and Phillies if they advance to a World Series. Even the Astros have some national audience because they have stars, are always in the hunt, and bring backlash in the wake of their 2017 cheating scandal.
The Rangers and Diamondbacks have no national following. Corey Seager is a nice player, injured Max Scherzer (who is done for the rest of the series along with Garcia) is going to the Hall of Fame, and Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas are good young talents. But sadly, the most star power at this World Series is on Fox’s pregame show, where buffoons David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez yuk it up nightly with Derek Jeter. It’s perversely entertaining to watch Jeter try to preserve his dignity while Papi showers the broadcast desk with dollar bills.
The sounds of silence from this Series are deafening. The Globe’s Monday headline next to the Game 2 box score of anonymous names was, “Serious defense being played in Fall Classic.”
Tuesday’s game Game 4 starters were Andrew Heaney and Joe Mantiply. Not exactly Warren Spahn vs. Ford. The No. 9 hitters in Games 1 and 2 were named Taveras and Perdomo. I’ll give you an autographed photo of Franchy Cordero if you can tell me which one is the shortstop and which is the center fielder and/or which is the Ranger and which is the D-Back.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Phoenix. Think I’ll watch the Celtics, then hit the sack.