Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

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Take The NBA All-Star Game and Add One Part Mindless Nationalism

Michael Wilbon’s latest column in the Washington Post is a suggestion of two ways of how to “fix” the NBA All-Star Game so more people are interested. Brooks already noted how the plan to have the two highest vote-getters pick teams looks like a jack of Bethlehem Shoals’ writing at Sporting News, but I’m more interested here in the hackneyed and tired “U.S. vs. the World” idea, which I’m sure someone has proffered before.

What I want to see is the best players in the world go at each other, to play not for show but for pride….

[cut for potential lineups, which are actually pretty good, go read the column – ed.]

Best of all, it would be a game . . . a real, live, seriously contested, pride-on-the-line basketball game, with defense, elbows and trash talk . . . for real. I dare anybody to tell me there wouldn’t be. If the NBA was about to stage this game, there would have been talk about it constantly for the last two weeks. We see teams admit they’ve grown stale and spice it up, as the Lakers and Suns just did; why not the league?

Ask the NHL how that “North America vs. the World” concept worked for them. I’ll tell you it won’t be a real game, because it doesn’t count in the standings and means nothing. Go ask baseball fans if their All-Star Game now means more because it determines which league gets home field in the World Series. All-Star Games are glorified exhibitions. What’s so wrong with that?

But trying to throw the jingo into the All-Star Game won’t do much for the game itself. It’s like trying to make us care more about the Olympics — our interest, our self-worth as sports fans as a country revolves around whether our ballers beat the shit out of the rest of the world in the Pan Am games, the World Championships, and the Olympics somehow. Right. Why bother with an option of mindless nationalism that’s just as outdated in its own way as Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference? Basketball is becoming a global game, hoping to achieve in the way soccer has. Can’t we just get a show-off game rather than try to imbue it with fake jingoism and meaning?

Because if the U.S. loses such a proposed All-Star game, every columnist will be wringing their hands about how American players play the game the wrong way, how the Euros and Asians are beating us at our own game….oh, now I see. Gotcha.

Cheap Shots #100.

Management apologizes for the extreme tardiness, but I got a double-shift sprung on me late last night and I can’t write entries very well at work at 3 A.M. while exhausted.

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Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want: And that would be Johan Santana in a Mets uniform. I don’t care what it takes if we get him without dealing Jose Reyes, and it looks like that’s the case. [USA Today]

Jerramy Stevens, Questionable Individual: Generally, I try to take athlete police blotter stories with a grain of salt unless the things actually go to trial. I would read this piece about the current Tampa Bay Buc and former UW standout’s off-field problems with a cynical eye, but it’s still worth looking at. UCLA fans, be concerned regarding Slick Rick on this. [Seattle Times]

Kidd Wants Out, Again: And this time, he probably will get it, but it’s a sad thing to see the Nets fall apart like this. [NYT]

Super Bowl Media Day: Sorry, slept through all the fun, although apparently the outlandish bit of the day was Tom Brady being proposed to by an Azteca reporter in a wedding dress. [Sports by Brooks]

Sizing Up a Man By The Company He Keeps: We may not know much about Bill Belichick, but knowing he does charity work with both Bill Russell and Jim Brown speaks volumes. Great column by William C. Rhoden. [NYT]

Closer and Closer to Webber Returning: He may sign by the end of today, but it sounds like a done deal for the Warriors — and hopefully, he doesn’t destroy the chemistry they have there. Not that he’s a team cancer or anything — just saying that you never know what changes can affect a team. [Contra Costa Times]

Sad Notes: Well wishes for Michael Wilbon as he recovers from what appears to be a minor heart attack. Condolences for Bob Ryan’s family after his son Keith commits suicide. [ESPN, Boston Globe]

Love for Romeo in Cleveland: Crennel gets an extension. Good, he deserves it. 10-6 is extension worthy for a team that struggled so much, even though they didn’t make the playoffs. Sarge feels differently, though. [First and 10 Inches]

Measuring Sports Depression: A look at the levels and symptoms, with context. [Ghosts of Wayne Fontes]

Tony Romo’s Next Hook-Up: Rumors and Rants is taking bets.

Kruk Has A Good Sense Of Humor: Hey, he’s voicing himself on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. [Crashburn Alley]

Get Carl Monday a Flight to Gainesville: Apparently library exposers are becoming more common. [The Sporting Orange]