MINNEAPOLIS -- Somewhere along the line, people caught on to this World Series. They weren't supposed to. Not when you've got two basically nondescript teams from flyover land. Not when the poster boys are Terry Pendleton and Kirby Puckett. This one promised all the glamour of hog-calling.
The Twins are, well, solid, and you know how solid sells -- it sells refrigerators and Volvos, not entertainment. Tina Turner, as an example, is not solid. Of course, the Braves have that wonderful young pitching staff, but I don't see Tom Glavine and John Smoltz doing Nike commercials.
If that weren't bad enough, the cities involved are smallish, by major-league standards. No L.A.'s or New Yorks, no Bostons or San Franciscos. No size and no sex appeal. Demographically speaking -- which is how so many of us speak these days -- this Series could never have been a hit, not even with the Superstation Braves.
And yet, the ratings are up, and people are talking the Series up. I don't have to tell you that.
Some of the appeal is baseball, and the baseball, for the most part, has been exciting. The first two games in Atlanta were stocking stuffers, midwinter memories made in mid-autumn, both starring the then-undiscovered Mark Lemke, who wasn't even an everyday player at the time. According to exhaustive (exhausting?) research done by others, never before in the long and multistoried history of the Series had consecutive games been settled in the final at-bat. And just when you thought there was no more baseball arcana to be uncovered.
We shouldn't underestimate, I suppose, this proliferation of unlikely heroes, from Scott Leius to the folk hero Mark Lemke, who seem to have captured the public imagination. We like underdogs, and this is the underdog's underdog Series. You have the two worst-to-first teams battling, with Leius and Lemke out front. I can't recall a Series quite like it.
But maybe the telling point is this: the peculiar -- that's the right word -- enthusiasms surrounding the two teams.
Here in Minneapolis, you have the MonstroDome. It's so ugly and so horrible and so utterly ridiculous that it gives a freak-show dimension to the Series. P.T. Barnum taught us lessons on the value of the bizarre. He would have loved this place. The fans here certainly do. Once the place was ridiculed by everyone; now, it's ridiculed by everyone but Minnesotans, who fill the Dome with a white noise that gives off enough heat to smelt iron. No wonder mere baseball players wilt here.
These players are reduced to using signs to communicate, and it's hard to say "Mine" with hand signals when you're trying to catch the ball at the same time, particularly when you're trying to catch the little white ball against the big white background. I told you it was like a carnival. Catch a ball, win a prize.
In Atlanta, they made their own noise, and this proved even more exciting. In Atlanta, they offered not only baseball but also a chop-shop, political-correctness litmus test. If you chopped, you were, at best, insensitive. While real-life American Indians staged real-life protests, people dressing up like American Indians called Braves' rallies uprisings and tomahawk-chopped late into the Southern night. Much was accomplished: The American Indians got a hearing, I got to wonder in print about a team called the Miami Jews, and people got to make fun of Jane Fonda.
For two decades, Fonda has been the person America loves to hate. And the few who still like her were faced with the image of Fonda smooching in public with her fiance, Ted Turner, of all people. Tell me: How do you get from Tom Hayden to Ted Turner? The closest I can come to that is Mia Farrow's voyage, with stops in between, from Frank Sinatra to Woody Allen. Anyway, Fonda chopped and then she didn't chop and then she sort of chopped, although it looked more like she was bouncing some invisible basketball. I don't know whether or not she's politically correct, but she got in a lot of work using her left hand.
When the Twins left Atlanta, they fell all over themselves saying how glad they were to get out of town. And you know how
pleased the Braves were to return to the MonstroDome. The players call all the distractions adversity. For the public, they've been fun. The TV viewers put away their tomahawks last night and got out their homer hankies. That's baseball.