The 2008 World Series wasn't what anybody expected, and already it's getting a bad rap. Experts are predicting low ratings, people are threatening not to watch, and for the first time in recent memory, we have a matchup of two teams with no clear favorite in sight because both teams are used to NOT being favorites.
That's right folks, in the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, we might be talking about the most underwhelming World Series in baseball history.
And you know what? I love it.
For once we don't have to hear about any underlying drama about one or both teams. There's no Manny vs. Boston, Joe Torre vs. the Yankees, or Joe Torre vs. the Red Sox. There's no coast-to-coast bickering over time zones, scheduling or travel days. There's no second-guessing about the winner of the All-Star Game playing a role in home-field advantage, since the Rays had a better record, anyway.
And for the first time all year, I don't have to hear the same load of crap about "Manny being Manny."
This time around, all you're going to hear about is baseball, and that's just the way it should be.
For the past few years, we've allowed ourselves to be sucked in by the media monster that fuels postseason baseball for the absolutely wrong reasons. They've made us overlook the fact that 14 different teams have made it to the World Series in this decade.
They don't care if we know that, after this series is over, four of the last five world championship teams will have not been the team with Major League Baseball's best record.
What has become more important is what media markets are watching, how the ratings stack up, and what will help throw more wool over the eyes of those of us who love watching the game for its purity and not for its profit potential.
Instead, we have the fourth-largest media market with 25 years of professional sports futility against the second-smallest payroll in baseball with last year's worst record. We have equally-matched ace lefties in Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir.
Philly's veteran thumpers like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell are challenged by upstarts like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, and Carlos Pena. Philly's got an all-around offensive threat in Jimmy Rollins, but Tampa's got Carl Crawford. Shane Victorino is Philly's clutch performer, while Tampa has Willie Aybar.
Want to make more comparisons? The Rays have a bullpen in J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, David Price, and Dan Wheeler that keeps them ahead when the offense isn't playing the "comeback kids" role (minus the mini-meltdown in Boston during Game Five of the ALCS).
The Phillies have Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge holding a virtually stamped guarantee on every lead they take into the ninth inning (and that's despite an injured Tom Gordon).
In the rotation, both teams have an addition, via trade, that has helped bolster the lower end of their five daily starters: Philly acquired Joe Blanton during the season, Tampa traded for Matt Garza at the beginning of the offseason.
Both teams play in corner lots named Citizens' Bank Park and Tropicana Field, where a baseball can fly out of the confines or strike any random thing hanging from the ceiling on any given swing, compared to the lop-sided, vast stretching alleys of the Polo Grounds and Forbes Field of years past.
It's stunning to believe that when you weigh the lineups, the rotations, and the bullpens, compare the offensive and defensive numbers, and stack up the two teams' playoff resumes against each other that the deciding factor in this series may come down to the Rays simply having home-field advantage at the Trop, whereas the Phillies have not played on an artificial surface in two years. There's gotta be more than that, right?
Of course, there's the mo-hawked Rays and their easy-going manager, Joe Maddon and his Buddy Holly specs, and the almost-literally Fightin' Phils, whose manager almost embodied said moniker when he challenged a reporter to a five-fingered duel early last season.
In fact, you'd almost forget that since rumors surfaced of Charlie Manuel's nearly imminent ousting, he's won two N.L. East Championships and a league pennant. He has, however, lost his mother during this year's playoff run, but you can only take a man's personal life so far as far as the drama on the field is concerned.
Other than those aforementioned details, there isn't much drama to attach to this series, but that's OK with me. Let them square off and play the kind of October baseball we long to see every year. If you're a true baseball fan, you're not lamenting the lack of marquee names and big-budget teams in the series.
You're cheering the fact that either way this series ends, we'll get to see an underdog on top and a city long-since starved for a winner to hang their hopes on. You don't want to see a series sweep with an evil empire continuing its reign of terror (or another in denial trying to accomplish the exact same goal).
You want to see this series go seven games, down to the last at-bat, the last possible moment stretching into November, if need be. You want to see a series that's great baseball from start to finish and nothing else.
Otherwise, don't hate the player; hate the game.
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