By Jason Keidel
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We brand ourselves a baseball town. We carry the spirit of our postwar pastime, when we had three teams, when New York City was the vortex of baseball. We are haunted by the ghosts of Flatbush and the solemn summer of 1958, when we lost our soul while watching two-thirds of our trinity move westward.
More than that, we in the five boroughs and beyond see ourselves through an eclectic prism, worldly and wise and without boundaries, direct descendants of Lady Liberty.
But the truth is, if a New York City team isn’t on the scent of some championship, we don’t give a damn. The truth is, we share The New Yorker magazine’s template view of Earth — New York, New Jersey, then China.
All you have to do is take a tuning fork to our airwaves and hear all the World Series chatter. Keep listening. Nada. We romanticize baseball more than any sport, the baton passed down the generations, stories told while sitting on our dad’s lap. We grin at the grand moments and grainy telecasts and campy names like Red Barber and Dizzy Dean. No sport is more glued to our cornball bone than baseball.
Yet we have a classic Fall Classic right in our face and we barely brood over the highlights.
What doesn’t this series have? We have two teams on opposite ends of the baseball aristocracy. San Francisco, perhaps the most resplendent city in America, is deep among the well-run and well-heeled clubs in the sport, having been to three World Series over the last five years, joining the St. Louis Cardinals in the high orbit over the National League, and our national sport.
While Kansas City, playoff tourist, hasn’t been here since 1985. Many of you were barely alive or lucid. Some of us were already in high school, which makes this writer feel rather Mesozoic.
The last time a road team won Game 7 of the Fall Classic was in 1979. The Pittsburgh Pirates stunned the Baltimore Orioles, joining my beloved black & gold to make the Steel City the City of Champions. The last nine home teams have won Game 7.
There’s a romantic, retrograde feel to the Fall Classic this year. You have the classic, class divide, flyover country vs. redwood country. Wheat vs wine. Flat farms versus the verdant hills and vineyards.
Will the Giants use Madison Bumgarner on two days of rest? The last time a pitcher started a Game 7 just 48 hours after his last start, Mickey Lolich beat Bob Gibson in 1968. That was the Year of the Pitcher, the pitching so pronounced that the sport literally lowered the mound to make it easier to just swat a single. As far as the Royals are concerned, Bumgarner is tossing a Wiffle ball from a perch in the bleachers.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said it’s a stretch to stretch his star starter, who has allowed just one earned run in 31 World Series innings — a startling, Koufaxian stat.
Tim Hudson is getting the official nod, but it’s not just media dolts like yours truly who drool at the optics of old-school baseball. Even if Bumgarner pitches two innings, the symbolism could have been too much for the pesky Royals to hurdle. But alas, he will start the game in the bullpen and perhaps whisper a few prayers into his open glove.
Can the Giants rebound from the 10-0 drubbing they took last night? Oddly enough, the Giants lost by the same score to the Dodgers in Game 2 of their classic 1951 best-of-three playoff, before winning the NL pennant on the most heralded homer in MLB history: Bobby Thomson’s epic swing off of Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds.
The Giants are so far removed from New York, physically and metaphysically, that we need oblong historical parallels to drum up a little juice to at least get you to put one eye on the TV on Wednesday night. It’s a shame, because when we were kids we didn’t care who was in the World Series. We just loved the crisp, cool, autumnal action that only baseball delivered back in the day.
Growing up near Pittsburgh, my father’s schoolteacher literally stopped the class so that they could listen to a single radio burp from the front desk, as the Pirates and Yankees squared off in Game 7 in 1960, a game and series that took on almost biblical hues. It ended Casey Stengel’s bejeweled career as Yankees skipper and ushered in the back-nine of the Mickey Mantle dynasty.
No doubt news is local. We aren’t invested in either team unless you’re of Joe Torre vintage. Torre grew up in the Big Apple and worshiped Willie Mays and the baseball Giants when we actually had a team on the island of Manhattan.
Speaking of Torre, it feels like a part of our soul left with him in 2007. Sure, the Yankee machine chugged on and even bagged one more World Series title two years later. But the resonant, romantic ambiance seems to have seeped from our city.
Maybe it’s because the Yanks aren’t nearly as relevant anymore, and the Mets are still the Mets. Maybe football has finally leapfrogged baseball as our city’s sport. Maybe the Knicks and Nets give us no hope. Maybe the solemn sense that the Rangers are the only local team that has any heft. But no matter how good they may be, hockey will always be a fringe sport.
So please watch the World Series on Wednesday night. For the sport, for yourself, for the reality that there’s more to flyover country than an endless montage of farms, a purge of prairies, cattle and horses.
Just because New York isn’t in it doesn’t mean New Yorkers can’t be in it.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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