Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World Series, Then and Now

Decades ago, the World Series used to be something really special, a fall event bigger than Halloween and, for many, one that overshadowed Thanksgiving. Back then everybody knew about the Series and most people---black and white, rich and poor, young and old--cared about it. It was a force so powerful you couldn't escape it. Here's an example.

In 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers battled the New York Yankees in a Series highlighted by Don Larsen's perfect game in Yankee Stadium. I watched and listened to that game--No. 5--on a street in Philadelphia that housed about twelve businesses, including a grocery store, a bakery, a hardware store and a newstand. A giddy, sports-struck little kid, on a school holiday,  I went from store to store, hearing some of the game on the radio here, watching some on an old black-and-white television there. In every store I went to on that street, fans were huddled around radios and TVs, savoring Larsen's historic feat. And this wasn't even in New York. You can imagine how fans there were mesmerized by the Series.

Could something like that happen today, outside the home cities of the Series rivals? Not a chance.

There's a World Series in progress now, between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Outside of St. Louis and Arlington and hard-core baseball circles, there's hardly any buzz about it. There would be more interest if big-name franchises like the Yankees, the Red Sox or the Phillies were involved, but Series between small market teams that boast no huge stars simply don't attract that much mainstream attention now. Can you imagine some ladies chit-chatting in a grocery store and the St. Louis Cardinals or Albert Pujols popping up in conversation? Neither can I.

The sports world has moved on and the lustre of basball, once the crown jewel, has dimmed considerably, for a number of reasons--mainly due to the rise of pro football.

Something happened on Monday night at Dan Tana's Italian restaurant in West Hollywood that illustrates my point. There was a Baltimore-Jacksonville football game on the lone TV above the bar, at the same time as a Series game between Texas and St. Louis. The patrons preferred to watch the football game--a really boring, low-scoring, mistake-riddled contest--to watching the Series.

A few decades ago, in baseball's heyday, the choice would have been different.