The pennants have been handed out and the World Series begins Tuesday. For those who love baseball, though, the fun may really just be beginning.
Apparently the Green Bay Packers lost today.
Wisconsin is a drinking state with a Packers problem. Sure, we have the Milwaukee Bucks, but that franchise alienated much of the state as it wallowed in perpetual suck for many of the Herb Kohl years, and has only begun to rebuild outroads from the five-county Milwaukee metro.
Sure, we have the Wisconsin Badgers, the former doormats of the Big Ten now a full two generations into NCAA relevance as a national power in multiple major sports.
Yes, we have the Milwaukee Brewers, who have one league pennant to their name and have reached the postseason three times in 47 years.
Make no mistake, this state goes certifiable for the Green Bay Packers. The rise of national broadcast television and the rise of the Lombardi Packers sealed the Packers as the little team that could, which is now a national power in the athletic-industrial complex with a brand and identity that are recognizable beyond borders and even American football’s oblong sphere of influence.
As a baseball fan long disillusioned with and flummoxed by professional football’s cultural cache, the facts aren’t lost on me: When the Milwaukee Braves bolted from Bushville, jilted baseball fans either lost interest in the game and reinforced that with the expansion Bucks or by doubling down on the Packers. Worse yet, more than a few became Cubs fans.
The NFL is an enormous corporate behemoth. It is Baron Harkonnen, perpetually punchdrunk on advertising and television dollars and tone-deaf to the reality that the golden age gave way to the gilded age and is one Kaepernick or CTE lawsuit a la Big Tobacco litigation away from capsizing. The rulebook is byzantine, the game plodding and predictable. It is the unassailable triumph of marketing over merchandise.
In the meanwhile, Major League Baseball has enjoyed another in a series of dynamic Octobers, another season of compelling baseball stories. Having endured its own dark night of the soul, Baseball is in the best shape it has been in years, and is positioned to stay there for a while. And its premiere events this month have largely remained on second-tier cable television.
I remember when postseason baseball was prime time network viewing: I remember watching the Kirk Gibson home run on NBC, the earthquake game on ABC, the ’91 worst-to-first Twins on CBS. Saturday night’s dramatic ALCS Game 7 was relegated to Fox Sports 1, the Ozzie Canseco of sports networks. Fox proper was too busy airing a turd between Kansas and TCU. Jayhawk football hasn’t been nationally relevant, ever–unless one counts Baby Mangino memes as relevance. Yes, postseason baseball is somehow second fiddle to a cupcake contest.
And I fully realize that I sound like one of those curmudgeon sports writers.
But, seriously: have you followed baseball this season? It’s been a great year! The Yankees are back, the Twins came back from the dead to eke into the Wild Card Game, the Astros have taken on the mantle of feelgood story of the year. Adrian Beltre made history. That Indians winning streak. The Dodgers are awesome, the Diamondbacks started looking like the latter-day Kansas City Royals. The House of David everywhere, and manifested most prominently in Charlie Blackmon. My Brewers arrived ahead of schedule and fielded one of the most entertaining teams in baseball. Giancarlo Stanton kept hammering enormous dongs. Scooter Gennett and Joey Votto give Cincinnati reason to hope for better things.
And, yeah, fine. The Cubs. Whatever.
Half the field was still relevant entering the season’s final fortnight. The postseason format is perfect right now as is. It distinguishes itself against its pro sports counterparts in that the season is so long that whoever makes it to October does so not by accident. A team can’t back into October, unlike the NBA or NHL where teams seem to go out of their way to not make the playoffs as an eight-seed. If you’re there, you’ve earned it.
The on-field product is fantastic. Pitchers are realizing they need to pitch, hitters are adjusting, the shift reigned supreme until it didn’t. Smallball and slugging are beginning to co-mingle. Bullpenning and Johnny Wholestaff started to become a thing until the game’s premiere starters reminded everyone why a great pitching duel is as compelling as a slugfest, particularly here in the fall.
What’s more, the game’s best players–and the league as a whole–are young. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Kris Bryant are all under 27. The sea change has happened and we’re beginning to see the dividends.
If anything, Major League Baseball has the best kind of problem: compelling games, a killer postseason product and a bumper crop of supremely talented players in large and small markets alike. Why, then, is attendance down nearly a half-million over the year before? Why are we scrambling to find FS1 and TBS on our TVs for these October games?
I’m a baseball homer all the way, but are you seriously going to argue that KU-TCU was a more compelling programming option than two of the largest media markets in the country having teams duking it out in a winner-take-all for the AL pennant? The Yankees, like the Cubs last year–and [unflattering comparison alert!] not unlike the aforementioned Packers–have national appeal. Houston, still cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey, is still on the national consciousness. The Cubs and Dodgers, numbers two and three in market size, deserved a better fate than being relegated to TBS’ hideous production qualities (where PxP man par excellence and television voice of the Brewers Brian Anderson’s talents were squandered preempting Big Bang Theory reruns.)
If you’re a lapsed baseball fan, I encourage you to suffer Joe Buck for the next week or so. John Smoltz is terrific, as are Verducci and Rosenthal. Get familiar with Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner and Chris Taylor, Jose Altuve and George Springer and Yuli Gurriel. The pitching isn’t bad, either: three Cy Young Award-winners will be on display in Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.
Most of my fellow Sconnies have forgotten all about baseball–they tend to start forgetting before Packers training camp starts–but, hey! Right-minded Packers fans have been blessed earlier than usual with the knowledge that they’re not getting to the promised land this year. (Pro tip: if Mike McCarthy is still head coach, the Packers aren’t getting back there. If that guy rested any harder on his laurels, they should be well-waxed, framed and sold on Etsy.) There wasn’t any baseball today–the saddest of days is the first autumnal Sunday without baseball–but there will be Tuesday. Most of you don’t have an excuse to not get reacquainted.
You just might fall in love all over again. And you’ll be ahead of the game when Spring Training rolls around.
Only four months and one hot stove away.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.