In the midst of a pandemic, one can’t be too picky.
Major League Baseball is less than a week away from completing its truncated season, and given the odds it faced at the beginning of this perilous, three-month-long journey, that’s quite an accomplishment.
So, we’re surely not going to complain about a World Series between teams from opposite coasts being played in a sparsely populated stadium in the heart of Texas.
That said, let’s hope this is a one-and-done.
MLB isn’t the NFL.
Any thought of transforming the World Series into some sort of Super Bowl-like spectacle, played in a single city that is chosen years in advance, should not be part of a much-needed discussion on modernizing the game.
Scott Boras, the most prominent agent in baseball, has been pushing this idea for at least a decade, long before anyone could’ve envisioned it would become necessary to help navigate through a pandemic that has claimed more than 220,000 American lives and some 1.1 million around the world.
He brought it up again this week in an interview with The New York Times, coinciding with the start of a World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays that is being played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
When Boras speaks, it’s certainly worth listening. He wields enormous influence within the game, and anything he is proposing is surely with a well-honed eye toward increasing revenues - and, by extension, the salaries of his clients.
“We have to be forward-thinking about how we create a game that has attention above all other sports,” Boras told the Times. “It’s already given us an indication of what the current, traditional approach has provided, and that is that baseball does not receive the attention of the Super Bowl.”
No one can deny the Super Bowl is the 800-pound gorilla that dominates the American sporting landscape, and it’s mere folly to think the World Series - or any other event - could ever approach its popularity.
But, in Boras’ view, that doesn’t mean baseball shouldn’t at least make the effort. And considering the ratings for the first two games of the World Series were the lowest in history, we’ll listen to him a little more.
“Let’s create a product that does receive the attention of the Super Bowl,” he said, “and let’s create something that allows for a World Series week and brings commerce and corporate interaction and all those things that come to a city for the Super Bowl - but we can actually deliver four to seven games as opposed to one.”
But here’s the problem.
By having just one game, which falls at the end of a carefully orchestrated week of media events, concerts, parties and all sorts of associated revelry, the Super Bowl has masterfully created a model that culminates with a huge swath of the nation gathering around their TV sets to watch what has become much more than two teams playing for the title.
A best-of-seven World Series, it would seem, hardly allows enough free time for the sort of extracurricular activities that helped transform the Super Bowl into a de facto national holiday. And one doesn’t even know if it will go seven games. It could be over in four.
Also, the Super Bowl’s most glaring drawback is the lack of crowd atmosphere inside the stadium for the game. The seats are largely doled out as high-priced perks to the league’s biggest corporate backers, with only about a third of the tickets reserved for actual fans of the two teams.
Instead of a raucous stadium, the game is usually played before a largely disinterested crowd that seems mostly concerned with being seen at the biggest game of the year rather than who wins.
At a neutral-site World Series, that would only be magnified over a long series.
“I totally understand why they’re doing it this season, and it seems to be working well,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said before Game 3 Friday night. “Saying that, I personally would feel really crummy for our Bay Area fans” - granted, not a very large sample - “if we didn’t have an opportunity to play games at home. I don’t know which way it’s going to go, and I’m glad I’m not the person making that decision, but the atmosphere created for the home team is pretty special.”
Boras, however, told the Times that he’s eyeing fans far beyond U.S. borders in a post-pandemic world.
Under his proposal, there would be no off days between games, as was the case during this year’s league championship series (which also were played at neutral sites). He insisted there would still be time for ancillary events such as an awards ceremony, a home-run derby, entertainment and massive viewing parties throughout the host city.
Boras said the absence of off days is key to his plan. He wants to promote the sort of nightly binge watching that propelled reality series such as “Tiger King” to enormous popularity.
“This is the best Netflix series you could ever want,” he said.
Without question, baseball has spent far too much of its existence resisting new ideas and defending traditions that no longer make sense in the modern world.
In this shortened season, it gave a test drive to such radical proposals as seven-inning doubleheaders, putting a runner at second base to start extra innings, expanding the playoffs to 16 teams, and adding the designated hitter in the National League.
After initial skepticism, all of those changes have generated such widespread approval that they could be part of the game going forward.
But a neutral-site World Series is not such a Super idea.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Arlington, Texas contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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