From the Windup is FanHouse's daily, extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
For the first time since the Clinton Administration, Yankee Stadium will be dark this October. The only thing more popular in America than the Yankees, is hating the Yankees, so it seems unlikely that your average non-New York baseball fan will be shedding a tear over the absence of the Bronx Bombers.
The network executives at FOX and TBS, on the other hand, can't be too pleased. People either love or hate the Yankees. Either way, they tune in to watch them in October.
The biggest draw in baseball won't be on the game's biggest stage next month, and the television types have every reason to wring their hands about the enormous void left in their wake. But hope is far from lost.
The 2008 postseason should offer plenty of storylines to keep viewers captivated -- and bean-counting executives happy -- even without the Yankees to kick around (or dote upon or whatever it is your average baseball fan likes to do with them).
Let's start with this: There's a good chance the three biggest markets in the United States will have teams in the postseason this year. New York obviously won't have the Yankees, but the Mets had a 73 percent chance of making the playoffs yesterday, according to Baseball Prospectus, and, despite a loss to the Nationals Tuesday night, will still have a better than 50 percent chance.
Los Angeles and Chicago rank second and third in the nation, respectively, in market size, and both cities are likely to have two teams in the playoffs. If the Mets were to miss out on the playoffs, the Phillies would be no small consolation prize. Philadelphia is the fourth-largest media market in the country. And there's a chance -- a pretty good one, actually -- that both the Phils and Mets will make the postseason, meaning the playoffs would have the scrutiny of the top four media markets in America.
Just based on sheer volume, the 2008 postseason could garner the most interest of any this decade, and I haven't even touched upon the truly buzzworthy storylines. Ones like these:
-- It would be a stretch to compare the Rays to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. This isn't the Miracle on Ice over six months we're watching here. Heck, I thought they had the potential to be an 85-win team coming into the year. Other folks projected that they'd win 90 games in March. But Tampa Bay is still an enormous surprise, especially to casual followers of the sport.
So maybe this isn't the Miracle on Ice, but the Rays' rags-to-riches, last-to-first surge, especially with the two pre-eminent baseball powers residing in their division, evokes images of the 1969 Amazin' Mets, and that team is one of the more famous in baseball history. Sports fans with no rooting interest are generally attracted to underdogs. With the second smallest payroll in the game and last-place finishes in nine of their first 10 seasons, who is a bigger underdog than the upstart Rays?
-- We won't have Alex Rodriguez to boo (or laugh) at, nor will we have the Overlord of Intangibles, Derek Jeter, to marvel at. We won't get to see Albert Pujols, the best hitter in baseball, either this October. But there is tons of star power left over.
If powerful personalities are your thing, Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins could be on the biggest stage. If tremendous feats of power float your boat, how about Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Carlos Delgado or Prince Fielder? If all you want to see are aces aplenty, how about Josh Beckett, Cole Hamels, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia or Rich Harden? If venerable championship-winning managers are what you admire, then Joe Torre, Terry Francona and Mike Scioscia await.
-- With three of baseball's five flagship franchises -- the Cubs, Dodgers and Red Sox -- likely to play in October, there are many possible marquee matchups. The Cubs and Dodgers could meet in the first round. A Dodgers-Red Sox World Series would be fascinating primarily because of Manny Ramirez, but for a host of other reasons as well. A Cubs-Red Sox meeting is obviously the sexiest Series possibility, even if it is about five years overdue and without the apocalyptic implications.
If the Mets, Phillies and White Sox make the postseason, not one of the 16 possible World Series combinations would be without flagship franchise or a major media market.
-- The new milennium has ushered in an era of parity in Major League Baseball. Only eight of the sport's 30 teams have failed to qualify for the postseason this decade. It's good for competitive balance, but fans also like to see greatness. The Yankees' dynasty ended in the Arizona desert in 2001, but another one could be born this year.
If the Red Sox win the World Series, and it looks like they have as good of a shot as anyone, they could lay claim to a dynasty of their own having captured three of the last five titles. Even if they don't, Boston is a huge TV draw, almost as big as the Yankees at this point. The Olde Towne Team has a passionate, nationwide following. And as much as Red Sox fans don't want to believe it, there are many fans who detest the Sox just as vigorously as the Yankees, and would like to see them lose.
-- Even the Red Sox pale next to the Cubs, though. Just as Boston's remarkable World Series run in 2004 captured the imagination of the nation, so would a Chicago run in 2008. The North Siders' title drought has reached triple digits. There seems to be special significance in that. The Cubs haven't even been to a World Series since 1945. They too have a curse, although it's hard to compare a billy goat to Babe Ruth. They even have a name (Bartman) that has become a regional curse word (as Buckner and Dent were in New England).
If the Cubs play deep into October, they might get even more attention than Boston did four years ago. After all, they've suffered 14 years longer now than the Red Sox did.
Of course, if the Yankees were in the playoffs that would just spice things up even more. On the other hand, it might be overkill. The single biggest October ratings draw might not be there this year, but there should be more than enough to make up for that absence with casual fans and TV executives.