Game Four of the World Series (in St. Louis, not my imagination) was rained out last night. May be rained out tonight. Or maybe tomorrow. Who can keep up?
Who cares to?
Back when we were just some second-rate, second-division afterthought, I probably would have. Baseball fans watch baseball games and I'm a baseball fan. Yet after our having filled the collective role of Icarus from April 3 to October 19, I suspect a lot to most of us wing-melted Mets fans have landed on Pluto where this Tiger-Cardinal matchup is concerned. And we're not alone. Dancing With The Stars outrated Game Three of the freaking World Series and that was with Game Three going off as scheduled. On a Thursday night, which is übercompetitive in network television to begin with (even without new eps of Earl and The Office, dang it), I suspect the numbers will plunge to Bob Gibson 1968 levels.
I'd like to believe it's because America is absolutely mournful that its Mets — how could a team as beautiful as ours belong to merely a single city? — are missing from action. But that's not it. The World Series ain't what it used to be in terms of national glue and it has nothing to do with participant market size. I really miss those days when baseball was everything to everybody even if I never lived in them. In Memories of Summer, the great Roger Kahn described the phenomenon of autumn as it existed when he prepared to cover his first Fall Classic in 1952, New York (A) at Brooklyn:
Six hundred of the best and most popular sportswriters in the country would cover every inning of every game. The ranks included [...] Vincent X. Flaherty of San Francisco. The closest major league stadium, Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, stood 2,140 miles east of Flaherty's home base, but the old World Series transcended geography. It was a front page story across the country, especially exotic to people who lived thousands of miles away. Few Americans had seen anything more of a World Series than patchy black-and-white scenes worked into newsreels. Those glimpses left imagination free to roam.
Now the World Series is just something Fox airs so it can plug the BCS and Brad Garrett. The USA doesn't need an excuse to ignore it. Giving it the mostly anonymous Tigers and momentarily overachieving Cardinals certainly helps, though.
A few days ago, stripped of fresh Met nits to pick, my regular e-mail group was trying to realign baseball to buy us a more favorable outcome. I've read everything from four eight-team divisions to eight four-team divisions (we're expanding, apparently). I'm tempted to say let's just go back to two leagues: the Mets in one, everybody else in another, us in the World Series no matter what.
The root of my friends' not altogether unreasonable gripe with the system is how the fudge can a 97-win behemoth like ours sit home while some non-entity that barely finished over .500 gets t-shirts and stuff? Of course we all pay lip service to 1973, but it is frustrating when October Madness places the Red shoe on the other foot, namely ours. I took it as total sour grapes until I read Sports Illustrated and it was noted that “St. Louis had 83 wins, which ranked them 13th among Major League teams this year.”
THIRTEENTH? Really? Geez. How did that happen?
Oh yeah, we stopped hitting.
I doubt the Dancing With The Stars crowd would be moved by statistical niceties, but 13th-winningest team is a little jarring. The Blue Jays were better. The Phillies were better. Nearly half of baseball was better. In 1973, only eight teams had more wins than us (“only,” he says with a straight face). But 1973 was…well, it was 1973. It was a magic fluke. The Cardinals, at least until they reveal themselves transcendent, are just some decent team from a lousy division that got on a roll when somebody else fell into a slump. They're also two wins from a world championship.
Rain. Don’t rain. Whatever.
• While the Mets gave away a World Series last week, we will attempt to give away a World Series DVD tomorrow, the one with highlights from 1969 and 1986, two years when baseball's playoff setup was astoundingly perfect. There will be a quiz, for which I offer this advance hint: title & artist.
• Next week, look for a proper Faith and Fear retrospective on that semi-championship season, 2006. I don't know what's going to happen in 2007, but I'm pretty handy with a rearview mirror.