Seems like there was a time when every vertebrate drawing breath followed the World Series.
Not today, sports fans. And America lost something when the fall classic gradually retreated to life’s back burner — an event no more interesting to most Americans than a viral video of a cat playing the oboe. I swear, Super Bowl commercials get more attention now than the once-beloved World Series.
So what went wrong? Why did the World Series lose its luster?
First, the playoffs now have the same approximate length as the Renaissance. Two wild card play-in games, four divisional series, two league championship series. People lose interest before the series even starts.
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It’s not a surprise. Endless playoffs are inevitable when you have too many teams. Sixty years ago, there were l6 teams in the majors. Today, it’s 30. I suspect even the cradle-to-grave baseball enthusiast can’t utter the words “Tampa Bay Rays” without dozing off midway through the phrase.
Allow me to detour to the blandness of the newer team names. The Colorado Rockies? Blame the thin mile-high air for that gem. Give me the old-school names (Reds, Red Sox) based on a relatable staple of workaday life: footwear.
If you want to slog through the playoffs, good luck finding them on your TV dial. Should I really be seeing the national pastime on C-SPAN 6? Do I even get the Dumont Network any more?
With umpteen games on umpteen channels, you get umpteen baseball announcers. Vin Scully, they ain’t. It’s like open mike night to anyone with a fully-functioning larynx. Was there an Anyone-Can-Be-A-Baseball-Announcer raffle that I missed?
It could be worse. Multiply all these problems by 57, and you have the NBA, with its l,024 teams in every hamlet and holler from Maine to American Samoa. The playoffs now last l3 months. And it feels like it when you’re yawning your way through a worst-of-five series between the Pascagoula Humidity and the Amarillo Panhandlers.
Back to baseball. Not all of the problems are confined to October. To wit:
It’s too expensive to attend a major league game. Taking the spouse and the two-point-three kids to a ballpark means the very real risk of debtors prison. Pay more for a parking space than your car is worth. Take out a small loan to buy tickets that will hopefully put you in the same time zone as the action.
Here’s a confession about the concession stand: when I pony up $17 for a hot dog, it better be a culinary tapestry of gastronomic delights indescribable with mere pen and paper.
For what I’m paying, that plump ballpark frank better be brimming with stockyard-fresh Texas ribeye, nestled atop a piping-hot “fancy flour” bun, all lovingly accented with the mustard of the pharaohs.
Even as I wax nostalgic for an era of Studebaker dealerships and Burma Shave signs, I realize that “back in the day,” not everyone was a baseball fan. Millions didn’t care one iota about anyone nicknamed Cy, Ty, Dizzy, or Pee Wee.
Of course, I know about the racism that kept some of baseball’s most talented players from getting the national spotlight they deserved — and the terrible treatment they received when they finally were allowed to play in the majors.
I know about the gambling and the game-fixing. Baseball, like everything, has an ugly side.
I’m also aware some fine baseball is being played today, by outstanding teams with outstanding players.
But somehow, it doesn’t feel the same. I guess I just miss a time when people who didn’t agree on some things could forget those disagreements — for a while — and talk about something pleasant, something lighthearted and fun.
I guess I miss the brief taste of unity the World Series brought us for a few days each October.
How we could use it now.
Reach Toby Gibbs of Lexington at firstname.lastname@example.org.