NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
I could care less about the World Series for obvious reasons, but starred commenter Tim Schultz had a nice comment earlier (sorry for my tardiness in noting):
A VIEWER’S GUIDE TO THE WORLD SERIES
The elimination of the marquee teams from New York and Philadelphia guarantees that Fox’s World Series ratings will underwhelm. Still, the Giants and the Rangers have the qualities to create an exceptional series that will reward fans without particular rooting loyalties. Two franchises with long-suffering fans and colorful rosters should add to the on-field drama, and an underappreciated truth about interleague competitiveness may hold the key to the outcome.
SUFFERING FANS HEIGHTEN THE DRAMA
Neither San Francisco nor Texas has hosted a World Series victory parade, and only the Indians and Cubs have gone longer without a championship. A matchup pitting two long suffering fan bases has occurred five times in the championship series era, and it has delivered the goods every time. The 1975 Reds-Red Sox and the 1986 Mets-Red Sox are among the five best series ever, and the 1995 Braves-Indians and the 2002 Angels-Giants were also epic nail-biters. Even the White Sox 2005 sweep of the Astros featured three tense and well-played games in which the winning run scored in the 8th inning or later.
Giants and Rangers fans don’t have the cynicism of pre-2004 Red Sox Nation or the cosmic hopelessness of Cubs fans, but there is existential angst aplenty. The Rangers won three division titles in the late 1990’s only to be eliminated each year by the Yankees. They signed Alex Rodriguez to a record contract in an attempt to get over the hump. When that plan failed, they watched Rodriguez flee to New York and lead the Yanks to the 2009 championship.
Because Giants fans have a longer history of bigger stars just barely falling short, they have had it slightly worse. Willie Mays’ best team (1962) lost a tight seven game series to the Yankees. The G-Men were swept by Oakland in 1989’s Bay Series, a loss made miniscule by the earthquake that began right before Game 3. The franchise low point came in 2002: Barry Bonds’ dominant performance left the Giants with a five run lead and six outs from a championship. But the bullpen blew the lead and the series, and the Anaheim Angels’ exorcism of their own organizational demons only added to the Giants’ pain.
Baseball is a more stoic sport than basketball or football, and that is a cosmetic disadvantage in our Oprahfied era. But when whole stadiums are full of emotional baggage, and when fans treat the first inning with the same intensity as they treat the ninth, it can elevate solid postseason ballgames into ESPN Instant Classics.
A GUARANTEED HOLLYWOOD ENDING
The Rangers dramatic season began in the offseason, when manager Ron Washington was nearly fired after confessing that he had recently used cocaine. Owing in part to bad free agent contracts, the team declared bankruptcy in mid-season and was rescued by an ownership group lead by Texas legend Nolan Ryan. Josh Hamilton overcame addiction and injuries to notch an MVP caliber season, but he entered the playoffs as a giant question mark after a September collision with an outfield wall broke several ribs.
Game One of their playoff series against the Yankees threatened to resurrect up every postseason nightmare, as Texas blew a five run lead in the 8th inning while Washington inexplicably left relief ace Neftali Perez on the bench. If Rangers Nation was tempted to get off the wagon, they were pulled back by Hamilton’s return to dominance. More impressive than Hamilton’s four series homers were the three intentional walks the Yankees issued him in the clinching game, a compliment-by-surrender previously bestowed only upon Barry Bonds. Hamilton’s talent and redemptive life story has drawn comparisons to Roy Hobbs, the mythical hero in “The Natural.” Hobbs ends the movie mobbed by teammates and showered with light fragments. Hamilton ended the Yankees series mobbed by teammates and showered by ginger ale, a concession to his hair trigger addiction. If FOX hires Glenn Close and has her stand up during every Hamilton at bat, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy refers to his roster as “The Dirty Dozen,” as his dugout features a collection of misfits not seen since Bill Clinton’s first cabinet. There is Tim “The Freak” Lincecum, the reigning Cy Young award winner with the repertoire of young Dwight Gooden and the body of your accountant. There is Aubrey Huff, a veteran playing for his fifth team in five years who inspires the clubhouse with his “Rally Thong.” (Don’t ask). There is championship series MVP Cody Ross, a former rodeo clown who is on the roster mostly by accident. Ross was claimed off waivers from the Florida Marlins in August only as a tactic to block his acquisition by the rival San Diego Padres. The team’s games are closed by ultra-quirky Brian Wilson, whose dyed black beard resembles a werewolf and whose post-save arm cross ritual is a nod to his Christian faith.
ARE THE LEAGUES REALLY EQUAL?
The Giants 92 regular season wins was two higher than the Rangers, but the Rangers built their record against much tougher competition. From 1996-2009, the American League’s winning percentage in World Series games is a whopping .622, which would translate to 101 wins over a full season. The National League won July’s All-Star game for the first time since 1996, and the AL has won over 55% of interleague games in the last six years. Had the Giants and Rangers flip-flopped schedules this year, the Rangers would have won more and the Giants less; indeed, the Rangers 14-4 interleague record overwhelms the Giants 7-8.
Objectively, the Rangers are a better baseball team over a 162 game season. But the roster advantages that tend to be borne out in a long season frequently are not in short series. In October, a bad-hop-here and a barely-snagged-line-drive-there are frequently the line between victory and defeat. The Giants and Rangers league championship upsets are testament to the unpredictability of postseason baseball. I am cautiously predicting “Rangers in seven,” but I am only certain in predicting that it will be tense, it will be loud, and it will end with one city wrapped in the kind of delirious victory glow that is only possible where redeemed suffering is involved.