Friday, October 27, 2006

Frozen Ropes & Fungoes

Apart from Dirtgate, the main topic of conversation during this drab and uninspiring World Series has been the weather; so, if you are looking for a classic, keep looking.

The Cardinals took a 3-1 lead over the Tigers last night when wet balls and lousy traction conspired to undue the Tigers.  Perhaps the baseball gods really have the Motor City’s residents’ best interests at heart after all.  The possibility of their celebrating a World Series triumph and Devil Night at the same time is a frightening prospect, especially to the Detroit fire and police departments.

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The inclement weather of the current post season has brought renewed calls for shortening the regular season and altering the playoff format.  If it rains or snows two more times during this Series there is a decent chance North American baseball will be played in November for the first time.  No one wants that, least of all the players.

I cannot recall any professional sport willingly shortening its season; indeed, all of them look for ways to extend it no matter what the consequences to the games themselves or the athletes.  The more likely scenario for MLB will be that some variation on the World Baseball Classic will take root either before or after the season in North America.  I doubt anyone would support a WBC interrupting the regular season as hockey has done the past few Olympiads.  If the WBC does develop into a regularly scheduled affair, look for more games to be played on other continents, where the weather will be better and the local fans are perhaps more passionate about the sport than their North American counterparts.

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Speaking of games being played outside the United States, I’d like to follow up the discussions taking place in this space recently regarding contraction.

MLB will not contract any of its current franchises.  Instead, the Commissioner and owners will encourage the Jeffrey Lorias of baseball to attempt to extort a sweetheart deal for a new stadium and, failing that, to move to greener pastures, or, in Loria’s case, browner ones.

Instead of contraction, another possibility already exists.  For those franchises with ever-dwindling support and prospects, the Expos’ model may foreshadow things to come.  When that franchise was in limbo prior to being awarded to Washington, MLB took over ownership and scheduled some of the team’s home games in Puerto Rico.  Given that MLB is on record as desiring more international exposure, there is every reason to believe they will take struggling franchises like the Marlins and schedule them to play a portion of their games in, say, Monterry, Mexico, or Caracas, Venezuela.

With a large number of Latin American players on MLB rosters, the connection and appeal to audiences in their native-born countries has never been stronger.  As far as travel arrangements are concerned, flights to any destinations south of the border are no more arduous than transcontinental ones.  An ever-increasing number of Asian players on MLB rosters might also increase interest in scheduling games in Korea and Japan, but the travel times would make such games highly unlikely.

As the basketball model clearly demonstrates, the international revolution in professional sports is being consolidated and the United States is clearly no longer dominant.  Baseball, third only to soccer and basketball in the number of countries in which it is played, is primed to be the next truly international game.


RickSchuBlues said...

The Marlins would be a terrific test case for some Latin American experimentation, as that team always seems to have a high percentage of Latin players. I'm surprised it hasn't yet been proposed.

Jim Salisbury has a column today which touches on some of the issues being discussed on this blog, outlining the unfortunate realities which explain why the situation we see now will not be changing.

And incidentally, the 2001 WS did extend into November, after everything was pushed back a week following the 9/11 attacks. It won't be the last time.

Tom Goodman said...

I obviously did not remember the 2001 series. You are correct: it won't be the last time. In fact, if MLB has its way, it will be commonplace.

Corey & Carson said...

The Cards won the World Series after only winning 83 games in the regular season. What kind of cruel joke is this?!

Anonymous said...

There will be no major league games in Caracas as long as Chavez is in charge....ummm, they've a very anti-american quasi dictator down there, it ain't going to happen.