The World Series is Must-See TV
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

So am I the last man standing? The last guy to care about the World Series?

There seems a popular thought that, since this Series features U.S. Steel against South Florida Teal, nobody pays attention outside of New York City and Miami.

Everybody wanted the cozy and cuddly Cubs against the tormented and tragic Red Sox. To which, after deep thought, heavy cogitation and serious pondering, I say:

Andy Pettitte
Who couldn't appreciate Andy Pettitte's masterful pitching performance in Game 2?
Screw that.

It's the World Series. It's the best of what our country has to offer. It's October, it's poetry, it's ball.

Call me Mr. Horse-and-Buggy in the Space Age, but I've always wondered just exactly what happened to render baseball a second-class citizen in America. One day, we woke up to find the Super Bowl ruling our consciousness like Pol Pot ruled Cambodia.

What happened?

Allow me a rant here. (Apologies to neo-con Dennis Miller -- who, by the way, we've lost completely. I heard he recently flew on Air Force One and is doing intros for G.W. Bush at campaign stops, a development beyond comprehension.) I've always felt the development of Super Bowl as Sports Nirvana mirrored a downturn in American culture, in general.

Our grandparents were baseball fans. Our grandparents dressed better. Our grandparents were, on balance, less coarse, more polite and more understated than we are. Our grandparents got it.

My feeling now is that we're a louder people, a less social people. We're a culture that craves the obvious over the subtle.

Thus, given the choice between a game that unfolds slowly and profoundly like a good play, and a game that features violence, plenty of TV timeouts and colorful helmets, we opt for the latter.

Oh, and did we mention that NASCAR ratings are on the rise?

This whole Caveman Rant comes in the wake of the news that baseball's TV ratings are historically high this October. Seems the quaint sights of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have touched our inner American and, lo and behold, baseball on TV occasionally squeaks by football on TV this month.

It was heralded as news on the order of Lindbergh-Crosses-Atlantic that the LCS Game 7s from Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field drew the highest baseball ratings in 10 years, and that an LCS game actually drew higher ratings than a Monday Night Football game for the first time.

Imagine that.

Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge's pickoff of Nick Johnson played a big part in Florida's Game 1 win.
Cause for celebration that the sentimental tales of billy goats and Bambinos finally captured our nation's imagination?

Not in my corner. Rather, profound puzzlement as to why it took such obvious and romantic storylines for people to finally watch.

I don't get it. Is a game that requires patience bad TV? Is baseball uncool to a short-attention-span generation?

Days earlier, when the A's and Red Sox met for a Game 5 that nobody in Boston or Oakland will ever forget ... it got beat in the ratings by the Week 5 MNF game between Tampa Bay and Indy.

My buddy T.C. has often discounted figures such as these, reasoning that popularity does not necessarily mean worthiness.

"The Backstreet Boys sold millions of albums," T.C. has pointed out on more than one occasion.

Our country is full of reasonable and thoughtful people -- and still, the five most-watched programs of all time are all Super Bowls.

I watch the Super Bowl. Sometimes, I even enjoy it.

I just don't get that it should pummel the Series in TV ratings by LBJ-beats-Goldwater percentages every year.

Similarly, I discard the notion that the only way for baseball to be saved this fall was for two tragic teams to meet to decide which is more tragic. Awesome storyline, yes. But just because the Yankees are playing the Marlins, this World Series is not inherently less worthy than any other in the past 100 years.

At the risk of openly panhandling for Series Sympathy, let's offer Five Great Things from the first two games of the Series at Yankee Stadium, as a reminder why the Series is always, always at the top of America's sports totem pole:

1. Ronan Tynan in the seventh-inning Stretch. That he has the voice of an angel is one thing. That the mere timber of his tone puts you in front of a fire on a misty eve in County Kerry is another thing. But the thing that makes him a legend is that he sings the little-known first verse to "God Bless America." Plus, the extra time it takes to sing it ices opposing pitchers before the bottom of the seventh. Tynan had to have played a role in the demise of Pedro as Game 7 wore on last Thursday. That's home-field advantage, baby.

Hideki Matsui
Hideki Matsui might be the Yankees' hottest hitter right now.
2. In Game 1, Dontrelle Willis pitched, Hideki Matsui hit and Pudge Rodriguez caught. A black American pitched to a Japanese man while a Puerto Rican was in the crouch, just miles from the Statue of Liberty? Kid, that's America.

3. Yankee Haters, Take Note. If the Yankees lose this Series, they will have lost their last two Series appearances to teams from Arizona and Florida. This historic, untouchable, Babe Ruth-blessed franchise would have to stomach Series losses to teams that were born in 1998 and 1993. This is utter hilarity considering that Yankee fans boast pedigree above all else, and the Bambino has been smoking stogies in the Great Brothel in the Sky since some 50 years before these teams were born.

4. The World Series isn't afraid of making for bad TV. I'm not saying it's all perfect. That's why you must rejoice in the comedy that is the sight of this year's "Joe Millionaire" in the stands, or in the use of an interpreter for a Steve Lyons interview of Matsui. Lyons speaks for 15 seconds, the interpreter translates for 30 seconds, Matsui answers for 45 seconds; and then the interpreter turns to Lyons and says: "He's very happy to be here." Brutal cliches through a third party -- now that's journalism.

As for Joe Millionaire? Guy shows up in a cowboy hat at the Stadium. Nice move. Don't you figure on his way out he runs into Vinny from the Bronx, who is down seven beers, sees the cowboy hat, hallucinates about Kevin (Cowboy Up) Millar and the hated Sox, and fires a Bud bottle at Joe Millionaire's limo just to give him a nice Stadium sendoff?

5. Still, the best fans in America are baseball fans in the Stadium in October. The singsong "Andy Pettitte" in the ninth was Goosebump City, reminiscent of the singsong sendoff for Paul O'Neill in 2001. These fans are the closest we get to the passion of European soccer fans -- the singing, atmospheric fans; not the skinhead, hit-anything-that-moves fans.

That said, there were an alarming number of empty seats in the ninth inning. Who leaves a World Series game before it's over?

What, you were rushing home to watch football highlights?


Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.



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