By Brad Kallet
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Congratulation to the Cubs — 2016 World Series champions — and to the wonderfully loyal Chicagoans who finally got to see a title after a lifetime of disappointment and heartache. (I’m supremely jealous.)
But the biggest winner on this day, now that the season has concluded, is Major League Baseball, and the sport itself. As big as Joe Maddon’s smile surely is today — and I’m sure it’s ear to ear — MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s might be even wider.
As far as I’m concerned, no Fall Classic in at least the past 30 years captured the nation’s attention as much as this one. You had two teams bidding to end droughts — the Cubs hadn’t won since 1908, the Indians since 1948 — and two cities historically rich in baseball tradition, as well as overall sports tradition. These teams have reputations as losers, chokers, teasers. We don’t see these clubs very often — I couldn’t bear to watch another Series featuring the Cardinals, Giants or Red Sox — and one of them, as unfathomable as it was to comprehend, was going to win.
One championship-less streak was going to end, and another was going to painfully persist. What delicious drama from the onset.
The Indians and Cubs are built, largely, on young, exciting, up-and-coming superstars. This series wasn’t filled with aging has-beens and players who have been recycled time and time again. It was new, fresh, unique.
It was cool, a word that isn’t used to describe baseball very often, especially among kids who tend to get bored by the beautiful game.
MORE WORLD SERIES COVERAGE: CBS Chicago
As highly anticipated as the series was, it exceeded expectations on the field. The Tribe took a 3-1 lead, and in true storybook fashion — it’s only fitting that it happened this way — the Cubs rattled off three straight wins to stun the Indians and finally, for the first time in 108 years, become champions of the world.
Baseball makes your heart beat like no other sport. It tears your heart out and fills you with joy like no other sport. Anthony Rizzo, when mic’d up during Game 7, confessed to David Ross that he could barely contain his emotions. Everyone who was watching could relate to that. Because it’s slow, and because it can, and it so often does, turn on a dime, it’s indescribably suspenseful. Fans were put through the gamut of emotions during Game 7, which will be remembered as one of the greatest, most intense baseball games of all-time.
There have been plenty of compelling Fall Classics over the past 30 years, but none, for my money, matched the aura of this one. You could make a case for 2001, when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in seven games in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As phenomenal and emotional as that series was, the Bombers had been there five of the previous six years, and the D-backs are hardly an iconic franchise.
And then, of course, there was 2004, when the Red Sox ended their own 86-year curse. The problem with that series was that it was remarkably anticlimactic. After becoming the first team in baseball history to come back from 3-0 down — to the Yankees, no less — in the American League Championship Series, Boston swept the Cardinals in four games.
Yep, this one was in a class of its own.
Americans were enthralled with this World Series, and some incredible numbers reflect that. According to SportsBusiness Daily’s Austin Karp, Game 5 earned a 15.3 overnight rating, which beat “Sunday Night Football’s” Eagles-Cowboys broadcast by a whopping 32 percent. That’s an astounding fact, as primetime football is a ratings machine — it hardly ever gets topped by anything — and the game featured two huge markets in Philadelphia and Dallas. The football game went down to the wire and it featured “America’s Team,” but it was still no match for the World Series.
Three nights later, Game 7 was the most-watched baseball broadcast in 25 years, with roughly 40 million tuning in. It had 9 million more viewers than Game 7 of the NBA Finals this past June, a game that featured LeBron James and Steph Curry, a title drought potentially ending, a 73-win Warriors team and also a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
Major League Baseball delivers strong regional ratings and posts tremendous attendance figures, but it has struggled nationally on television this century. It’s not as superstar heavy as the NBA and NFL — nor does it appeal as much to the gambler — and as I alluded to before, the knock on it has long been that it’s not fast enough. Baseball is not dead, contrary to what some pundits have claimed, but it clearly hasn’t been America’s sport for some time now.
This series was proof positive that, not only is it still relevant, but it’s very much alive and well.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet