To hear the media rumble, you'd think the World Series that starts Wednesday is going to be the Bad News Bears against the Mudville Nine in a cornfield in Iowa. With the much anticipated (by the East Coast types) matchup of the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies coming unglued like the Obama electoral coalition, the feeling is that the Texas Rangers versus the San Francisco Giants is going to be a TV disaster akin to Artie Lange on Joe Buck Live.
Well excuse us for dissenting. First, the San Francisco Bay area is the sixth-largest media market in the United States. The Dallas/Fort Worth market is fifth. We're not talking Fargo versus Natchitoches here. Besides, the NFL teams in said markets - the 49ers and Cowboys respectively - are currently stinking out the joint. These are cities needing a diversion from the ineptitude of their football heroes. As the 7.9 rating for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series bore out.
Yes, Texas has never been to the Series before (its ancestor, the Washington Senators hadn't been to the dance since 1924). Sure, the Rangers are one owner shy of a quorum at the moment. But who can resist those TV shots of former president George W. Bush giving nuggies to Rangers president and former legend Nolan Ryan in the executive seats? Or the camera shots of McCovey Cove glinting in the late afternoon sun beyond the right field stands at AT&T Park in San Francisco?
The other plank in this shifting floor contends that only the mighty Phillies of Roy Halladay stood a remote chance against the American League representatives. This series was going to be over in fewer than four if anyone but Ryan Howard and crew had the temerity to advance to the Fall Classic. The NL team was going to be dispatched faster than Canada at the UN Security Council.
Well, say hello to my little friend Tim Lincecum, baseball fans. The pitcher, who looks like Orel Hershiser's delinquent brother, fronts a team loaded with good hurlers and, for the moment, the hand of fate on its batting shoulder. There is the highly improbable hero Jose Uribe, whose body Jenny Craig forgot. Unkempt Edgar Renteria looks like he's wearing someone else's uniform. And there is the brooding relief pitcher, Brian Wilson, who looks like he stumbled off the set of No Country for Old Men.
So rest easy, Bud Selig. This one should go six or seven. There will be ratings in double digits if it gets that far - okay, a few small notches short of the Yankees-Phils equation. But advertisers will still warm to the large markets in play. Besides, it could be worse for U.S. ratings. The Toronto Blue Jays could be in the Series once again.
Tony Kornheiser predicted five games. Michael Wilbon said 10 games. The hosts of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption were both proved wrong when Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks got six games for putting the clamps on a fan in Minnesota. They were just two of the many media contestants who took a spin on Colin Campbell's Wheel of Justice after the fracas.
Predicting where the NHL's Solomon of Suspension will come down on crimes real and imagined is the new party game, fun for reporters of all ages. Because the punishments are capricious, it's like matching wits with the Greek gods. Going after fans in the stands cost the NBA's Ron Artest most of one season. No excuses, said NBA commish David Stern. In hockey? Extenuating circumstances mitigated Rypien's suspension. It's a laff riot.
Asking if this is any way to run a sports league misses a big media opportunity. Have fans vote online for their preferred sentence - just like the all-star voting. Have one lucky fan brought to New York to announce the ban. At the end of the season, have a council of fans to vote one player out of the league for the next year. The possibilities are unpredictable but compelling. Much like Campbell's sentences themselves.
Signs Of The Times
The mixed martial arts crowd had another big seller Saturday as Brock Lesnar's primordial cranium was crunched by Cain Velasquez to the delight of a bumper crowd on pay per view. The Ultimate Fighting Championship's triumphant march to prominence is underscored by the decision of WWE president McMahon to skew younger, way younger, to find a new audience to replace those fans who've graduated to the octagon.
Boxing, meanwhile, had a heavyweight title fight two weeks ago that drew less attention than Chad Ochocinco's reality show. Elsewhere, while old standbys such as horse racing and boxing fight for page space, the ownership squabble in Liverpool and Wayne Rooney's Brett Favre impersonation made headlines in both Canada and the United States - something unthinkable even five years ago. Soccer as cultural barometer?
We're not in Kansas any more, Dorothy.