What a gas: Beantown vs. Windy City

For a billion dollar industry armed with an anti-trust exemption, baseball can't seem to catch a lot of breaks.

Earthquakes and labor strife interrupt its showcase event. Football has surpassed it as the nation's actual pastime, as a new poll painfully reminded everyone last week. And the Expos idle in Montreal, the ugly stepchild no one wants.

What baseball needs, as the postseason commences, is a change of luck. What baseball needs is a World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

Now that would grab everyone's attention.

Faced with declining TV ratings over the last 20 years, baseball would be sure to recapture some long-lost Nielsen glory with this matchup. A Cubs-Red Sox World Series would be like the perfect presidential ticket, offering geographic balance (Midwest and Northeast).

It would showcase the two oldest ballparks in the game, a neat contrast to the recent onslaught of retro-palaces that seem to be popping up with the randomness of strip malls and convenience stores. Why construct that faux-exposed brick look when you can have the real thing?

Lastly, it would match two franchises who have neatly managed to avoid baseball's winner's circle since Prohibition.

And here's the best part: one of the two would have to win the damn thing, once and for all.

It's tempting to say that Red Sox' fans and Cubs' followers are united in their misery, but that's only half-true. Besides decades of ultimate futility and endless frustration, the clubs actually have wildly different histories.

While the Cubs have won just one pennant since 1945, the Red Sox have won four. While the Cubs have been to the postseason just four times since their last World Series appearance, the Red Sox are embarking on their fourth trip since the wild card was introduced, all but once, it should be noted, by virtue of said wild card.

The Cubs can't seem to get to the World Series. The Red Sox get there occasionally, only to lose in the most excruciating manner imaginable. Cubs fans happily nurse their disappointment with beer. Red Sox fans are too busy being suspicious to drink much.

The executives at Fox are salivating over the prospect at this very moment. Think anybody would be complaining about late start times this year?

This would be the ratings-grabber that some mistakenly thought the 2000 Subway Series would be. The meeting of the Mets and Yankees, however, lost a lot of its appeal when you ventured west of the Hudson River.

Not this matchup. Never mind the notion that everybody loves a winner; put these two title-starved, long-suffering franchises on the same field and watch the interest spike. Even the most casual fan would be drawn to the games with the promise of seeing something no one under, say, 90, had seen before -- either the Red Sox or Cubs celebrating after the final game of the year.

Think of the possibilities: Would the Red Sox be at a disadvantage because of the ex-Cub factor (Bill Mueller)? Or would that be negated by playing an entire team full of, um, current Cubs? And talk about a newspaper war -- the Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company, which publishes, among other papers, the Chicago Tribune; the Sox's second-largest investor is the New York Times, parent company of the Boston Globe.

Beyond the obvious historical story line, there's an awful lot of talented players to showcase between the teams, most of whom exist in that rarified space reserved for first-name-only stars: Pedro, Nomar and Sammy, to name three.

Think of the sub-plots: Pedro vs. Sammy. Byung-Hyun vs. Hee-Sop. Why, Bill Buckner, once traded from one team to the other, could throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 1.

For one glorious week at least, baseball would rule October again and be the talk of the nation. Red Sox-Cubs, one supposes, is what Bud Selig silently prays for each night.

I suppose having the three games at Wrigley be played in the afternoon would be asking too much, huh?

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.