Glory is gone from World Series

Game needs neutral site, earlier dates and times to restore the luster

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During and since the recently completed World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, which was played in some awful weather conditions, much has been written and said about what can be done to revive what once unquestionably was America's premier sporting event.

The answer is nothing.

The World Series is what it is: The championship of a sport that remains popular but which is in a steady decline in terms of public fascination. It no longer provides what ticket buyers and TV viewers prefer to see -- the fierce physicality of football and hockey.

Although pitcher vs. batter remains the No. 1 matchup in all of team sports, it does not bring with it the in-your-face physical confrontations that football and basketball provide.

If the world had existed without athletic competition until today, and all the sports we now have were introduced tomorrow, baseball would not be as popular as it is. Much of baseball's popularity rests with its one-time status of being the national pastime. Fathers handed down their passion for the game to sons. We do not easily shed what has been part of our lives for as long as we can remember, but shed it we do.

Remember, when baseball was the national pastime, the sporting public also couldn't get enough of heavyweight championship fights and the Kentucky Derby. Boxing and horse racing have long fallen into disfavor with the masses. Those sports do not have a geographical base -- a home team -- and consequently people don't grow up with a rooting interest in them.

Baseball still has that and remains far more compelling than horse racing and boxing. But it is less compelling, particularly among young people, than football, basketball and hockey.

Nothing quite demonstrates the fall from favor of baseball than the World Series. The public once was riveted to its action. No other sporting event approached it. But times and people change.

Had the most recent World Series involved, say, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, and featured a return to Fenway Park of national bad boy Manny Ramirez, it would have been far more gripping than the Phillies and Rays. Or if Tampa Bay, the consummate underdog, had taken on a more high-profile team than the Phillies, say the Mets or Cubs, the Series would have drawn more interest. Tampa Bay was a David that had slain numerous Goliaths on its way to the Series. When it got there and faced another David, in the Phillies, the public yawned.

There are generally believed to be three things that could return the World Series to something approaching its former prominence: A neutral site; an earlier starting date; earlier starting times.

None of those will come to pass.

A neutral site is out of the question. Who would come if, say, Tampa Bay played the Atlanta Braves in a World Series in Los Angeles? Baseball does not enjoy the massive popularity of football. It continues to draw well because it is affordable. Such a World Series would be far from affordable. Unlike a Super Bowl junket, where most people don't arrive on site until Friday, a World Series trip would involve being on site for a week or longer. With air fare, hotels and meals, that's a substantial expense for the average fan.

More than that, what happens when the Cubs finally make the World Series and the games are being played in Miami?

The tentative starting date of the 2009 World Series is Oct. 28, which means much of it will be played in November. There's no getting around that despite what the weather might be. MLB will not reduce its schedule to accommodate an earlier start to the Series. In 2008, two teams, the Yankees and Mets, averaged more than 50,000 paying customers a game; seven teams averaged more than 40,000; sixteen teams averaged more than 30,000. Those teams are not going to give up any home dates, one of which might bring in close to $1 million, to reduce the schedule from 162 games to 154, as has been suggested.

Nor are starting times likely to be changed. The notion of playing games in the afternoon makes no sense. Why play games when people are working or in school? The time to play games is at night. That's why from 8 to 11 p.m. is called prime time.

Nor is a 7 p.m. start in the offing. Local affiliates do not want to give up that time slot because they make good money from 7 to 8 p.m. with syndicated shows.

The World Series will continue to be a premier sporting event with very good but declining TV ratings. Those expecting it to recapture the glory of its past are asking for the impossible.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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