The GM Meetings start today in sunny Dana Point, CA. I can only imagine the amount of cream cheese they and the writers assigned to cover them go through each morning at the continental breakfast. The most glamorous (and I use that word as lightly as possible) image of these meetings are trade proposals being run through the Four Seasons by harried bellmen, and Manny Ramirez being put on waivers after a couple of poolside Mangotinis.
Whether or not that is ever the reality, there figures to be little to none of it this time around. Last year limited use instant replay was voted in at the meetings. This year, the agenda includes things like overhauling arbitration and most gallingly, the idea of a neutral site World Series.
In the annals of reactionary baseball thinking this idea is pretty high up the list. I don't think I ever heard this mentioned before last week's rainy denouement in Philly. My aversion to it is pretty simple. I like the showcasing of two different parks each year. I like the element that each fields brings to the game. One of the idea's big proponents is old school icon Whitey Herzog. I have a ton of respect for Whitey, but on this issue I have a big problem with his reasoning for the neutral site Series.
"You could call it World Series Week," he said by telephone Wednesday night before the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays endeavored to finish in windy, frigid weather a Game 5 that was suspended two nights prior.
Herzog is well aware of the opposition for such a proposal.
"You've got the old school people in baseball who say that you're taking the World Series away from the home fans and all that," he said. "That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. If you're really going to be honest, the hometown fans (because of high ticket prices) don't get to see the World Series anyway."
"Right now," said Herzog, "the World Series is only the fourth most sought-after ticket. It's behind the Super Bowl, the Masters and the Final Four. So, in that respect, you can't say that it's the national pastime.
On the surface, Whitey looks to gain some cred by breaking from traditionalists in his support of the idea. But, in reality the foundation for his argument lies in one of the most outdated and traditional notions there is, and one that I just don't understand. Mainly, that baseball has a divine right to be America's pastime, and it is somehow fundamentally wrong for it to be behind football (or anything else) in popularity.
The media's obsession with sounding baseball's death knell owes much to the feeling that once it was outpaced by football in the nation's consciousness, it was no longer relevant. Forget the fact that they drew 78 million fans this year, and in each of the previous 3 years (where there wasn't a recession going on) it set new attendance records. Arguing numbers against football's absolutely monolithic economics isn't going to get you anywhere.
The reason I don't buy into it, or even care about the argument, is because I can't think of a single instance where football becoming more popular has impacted my enjoyment of baseball. They're totally unrelated. Is the drive to be "America's Pastime" itself a sport, rooted in the inherent competition of athletics? Because if so, that's dumb. There is plenty of art, food and style more popular than the ones I like. That hasn't once made me abandon any of them.
A gigantic baseball complex sitting in the middle of Nashville (where the hell did they get Nashville from, anyway) hosting a manufactured spectacle like World Series Week, would only serve to reinforce the divide between baseball and football. If you love baseball for what it is, the downsides are glaringly obvious. And if you honestly care about making baseball as popular as football again, shouldn't you do something more innovative than hollow mimicry?