Many ways for Series to become Super
Here at Rumblings and Grumblings, we know exactly what the World Series is -- namely, the most historic championship extravaganza in sports.We also know precisely what the Super Bowl is -- namely, the most convenient sports excuse ever invented to goof off, consume every food and beverage item in your refrigerator and sit riveted in front of your flat-screen awaiting the dramatic appearance of the GoDaddy Girl. So if you asked us knuckleheads at International Rumblings and Grumblings Headquarters which of these sporting attractions we'd rather watch, we'll take the World Series. Every time.
Make it a cultural event, not just a sporting eventThe World Series can't ever be the Super Bowl. Everybody needs to concede that before we type another sentence. It's impossible for a best-of-seven series played in midautumn to have the stop-everything pull of a single game played on a Sunday in February. But That doesn't mean baseball shouldn't aspire to do what the NFL has done -- turn its championship into more than a mere sporting event. "There have been a number of events -- like the Kentucky Derby and the Indy 500 -- that have traditionally been iconic events on the calendar, that serve as kind of a pseudo-holiday," Swangard said. "The Super Bowl is one of the few iconic events left. But if any sport would have the opportunity to do what the NFL has done with the Super Bowl, I'd like to think it's baseball, with its history and all the good things that are going on now in that sport." So how could that happen? Keep reading.
Turn Game 1 into the biggest baseball day of the yearThere's really no baseball equivalent of the Super Bowl, unless it's Game 7 of the World Series. But Game 7s don't come along every year. In fact, we haven't witnessed one in 6½ years. So it's impossible to build around a Game 7 that might never happen. Which means it's time to look at the next-best alternative -- Game 1. "There are ways to do that," Swangard said. "There are ways to build that interest and that buzz, to create the sense that there's something about Game 1 that's so compelling, you can't miss it. You're trying to send the message that there's something about the start of the World Series that is, to the end of the year, what Opening Day is to the beginning of the year. You want to say, 'Day 1 of the World Series is a day we should own in American sports.'" So how do you accomplish that? Swangard envisions using some of the same distinctive twists baseball has applied to the All-Star Game: Legends and Hall of Famers everywhere you look. Special ceremonies that involve the most recognizable faces in America -- and not necessarily just baseball faces. Media blitzes that are designed to make sure the best human stories of the World Series are not being told just on "SportsCenter."
Eight players in baseball have averaged at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs this decade. Can you name them? (Answer later.)
Dance to the music"To reach that audience [beyond baseball fans], it takes a blending of sports and entertainment together," Mannion said. "And when you're looking to do that, music is one of the best ways to go." What Mannion and Swangard envision is a spectacular combination of the Super Bowl halftime show, the NBA All-Star Jam and (our suggestion) Live 8. We're talking about a major concert production that would involve huge names, be nationally televised by, say, MTV the night before the World Series and wouldn't necessarily have to be confined to the site of Game 1. "You could literally have kickoff parties for the World Series in every major league city," Mannion said. "You could expand this to every city and every ballpark. It would be awesome." OK, so there are questions about whether Bostonians would want to celebrate the World Series if the Red Sox had just lost to the Rays or Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. But if you were to book them John Legend or Bono, we'd bet you could get them to show up, right? Still, we know what the baseball folks are thinking: Wouldn't this be a logistical nightmare? Ehhhh, sure. But there are ways around that, too. Such as
MicromanageAfter spending nine years working in the NFL, Mannion is still shaking his head about what planaholics those football pooh-bahs are, compared with just about anyone else in sports. "Where the NFL has the edge for whatever reason, is that their planning [for their biggest event] is meticulous," Mannion said. "Some of that is just knowing, a couple of years out, exactly where and when the game is. But some of it is also the culture, of worrying about every detail. It's almost got a military feeling. It's something baseball should definitely aspire to." The problem in baseball, though, is that you can't plan for the World Series in one stadium. You'd have to plan for all 30 stadiums. That's a great excuse not to plan much at all. But it's not a great reason to avoid making those plans. "Why can't you have a plan for 30 sites?" Mannion wondered. "Why not have a plan: Here's how we would execute a World Series in every site. Since it's always a last-minute deal, you could probably accomplish that by having a manual for every city -- exactly what it would take to hold a Division Series, a League Championship Series and the World Series. "You'd design your entire infrastructure -- your hotels, your air travel, your local entertainment. And then you'd depend on the teams to update the manual. But it could be done." And if it were done, there always would be plans in place -- and an extravaganza ready to bust out. But that would be just the beginning, naturally. The next step is
Embrace technologySo, say baseball could succeed in pulling off Swangard's vision -- of making Game 1 of the World Series a must-see event. Then what?
“It would seem likely that viewership would tail off for a couple of games in your average World Series until the plotlines formed and the drama began to mount. But Mannion has other ideas. He watched how his sons got hooked on baseball by playing video games that taught them the many strategic levels of the sport. So, he wonders, why not use technology to keep fans hooked from the first inning of the first game? "Part of the fun of football is its natural breaks and its huddles that have everyone guessing, 'Pass or run?'" he said. "But baseball has the same opportunity." How? By using modern technological tools to "make a passive game very interactive," Mannion said. He envisions using new media to make people watching the game feel like part of the game -- by inviting them to predict, on their computers or their iPhones or their digital converter boxes, which pitch is coming next, where the next ball will be hit, whether the hitter will be safe or out, etc., etc. Pull that off effectively, and you're literally transporting a new generation of fans inside the action. So with every game, as the two teams begin to get a better feel for each other, the audience also is getting a better feel for what might happen next. Then, he envisions selling that interactivity component to sponsors, which heightens their connection to the World Series, too. Sounds pretty darned brilliant to us. But that's just a sliver of what could be done, what needs to be done. This event needs earlier starting times, and Bud Selig agrees. On weekends, it needs a Super Bowl-type game time (6:30 p.m. on the East Coast) to enable the whole world to watch from start to finish. And Selig is pushing for that, as well. And the October schedule needs to be tightened to dodge those arctic weather fronts, keep teams in a more normal baseball rhythm and build toward a smoother World Series crescendo. Selig says his sport is working on all that, too, by the way. We'd also love to see baseball do a better job of promoting an Octoberfest pool culture that resembles all the March Madness college basketball pools -- and an October fantasy-baseball culture that would ratchet up interest for the casual fan. Some of those ideas, obviously, have no connection whatsoever with how the NFL runs the Super Bowl. But that's part of the moral of this story. Baseball has its own charms and its own character -- and that's fine, too. "You don't have to build another Super Bowl to say you're successful," Swangard said. "You just have to create something of relevance outside the tradition of mainstream fans. And that's to turn this into a cultural event that everyone watches." What would be ideal, he said, is to find a day of the week to kick off the World Series that feels like a baseball kind of day -- just as the way winter Sundays feel like pro football's day. Great plan -- but how? "What baseball should really do is create an eighth day [of the week]," Paul Swangard said, laughing. "I'm not sure how. But maybe if [Barack] Obama is as good as he says he is, he can invent an eighth day."
You don't have to build another Super Bowl to say you're successful. You just have to create something of relevance outside the tradition of mainstream fans. And that's to turn [the World Series] into a cultural event that everyone watches.” -- Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon
Rumbles in the jungle• Pet Peave Dept.: Jake Peavy to the Cubs? Oh, it may seem as if the arrows are all pointing in that direction again. But not so fast.
Third game: .281/.446
Fourth game: .281/.458
Fifth game: .291/.483
Sixth game: .305/.522
Seventh game: .321/.567
Eighth game: .356/.683 "I agree with that conclusion," one NL scout said. "Darryl Kile taught baseball a huge lesson. He had as good a breaking ball as anyone in the game. But in Denver, occasionally he'd snap off a good one, but when he didn't, it hung and it got whacked. Mike Hampton found out, too. His cutter didn't cut. So as scouts, we always accounted for that. When that team went on the road, we'd always say, 'Breaking-ball those guys to death.' So Matt Holliday, once he adjusts to sea level in Oakland, I think he'll be fine." • Economics 101 Dept.: Buster Olney ran this chart from ESPN Research guru Mark Simon in his blog Wednesday, but it's worth another look at the breakdown in free-agent spending the past three offseasons:
Free-agent spending (past three offseasons)
|$40 million-plus contracts||12||7||5|
Five winter league stat lines you won't believe• The artist formerly known as Jose Offerman (Licey, Dominican winter league): 35 plate appearances, 12 strikeouts, two hits (both doubles), nine walks, .077 AVG but a .314 OBP.
A-Rod (45 HRs, 127 RBIs), Vladimir Guerrero (33 HRs, 109 RBIs), Manny Ramirez (37 HRs, 116 RBIs) and David Ortiz (31 HRs, 102 RBIs) are the easy ones. Jim Thome (38 HRs, 101 RBIs), Carlos Delgado (36 HRs, 114 RBIs) and Lance Berkman (32 HRs, 105 RBIs) are the tough ones. And the tricky one is Albert Pujols, because he has played only from 2001 to 2008. But with 319 homers and 977 RBIs, he qualifies. (Actual average: 40 HRs, 122 RBIs. Average if you compute it for nine seasons: 35 HRs, 109 RBIs).
Headliner of the weekFinally, this just in, from the Jan. 8 edition of the always-brilliant parody site/newspaper, The Onion: Yankees Boost Payroll By Signing A-Rod Again Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
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