It's a series of setbacks to tradition

October 19, 1997|By John Eisenberg

MIAMI -- And so, in the end, we have a World Series with all the allure of a weekday series in July.

Marlins-Indians at Pro Player Stadium?

Let's see Ken Burns find the romance in that.

The Marlins are a wild-card qualifier, a '90s expansion team still searching for its first division title.

The Indians had the ninth-best record in baseball this year, with fewer wins than the third-place team in the NL East.

And Pro Player Stadium? It's a jury-rigged football coliseum that appears to have been bought at Toys 'R Us, with orange seats, a teal outfield fence and giant pencils for foul poles.

Can't you just feel the tradition oozing?

The Marlins wore shorts and T-shirts during batting practice last night, resembling a slow-pitch softball team more than a pennant winner, then beat the Indians in Game 1 before the largest World Series crowd in 34 years, although it was hard to tell if the fans were more excited about the game or "Muscle Boy," a 12-year-old local legend who flexed his muscles on the stadium's TV screen between innings.

This is the year when the Fall Classic is neither in fall nor a classic.

That sounds like sour grapes coming from Baltimore, where the Indians upset the Orioles in the ALCS and disappointed fans who were counting on the Orioles playing the Braves in a starry World Series, but Birdlanders are far from the only folks feeling bored and let down.

Or maybe you didn't see what Don Ohlmeyer, one of NBC's top executives, said the other day when asked what his network wanted from the Marlins and Indians.

"Four [games] and out," he said. "The faster it's over with, the better it is."

He would rather show "Seinfeld" than "Orel and Bobby Bo" on Thursday night, it seems.

That's an "amen, brother," coming from the rest of the country outside Florida and Ohio.

With all due respect to two teams that played hard, clutch baseball to get here, this Fall Classic just doesn't have a lot of sex appeal.

The Marlins were clinically pasted together last winter during a free-agent spend-a-thon that so enthralled owner Wayne Huizenga that he decided a few months later to sell the team.

That leaves the Indians as the bastion of old-fashioned baseball ways and means in this matchup, and they haven't won a World Series since the Truman administration.

They didn't even win one in either of the "Major League" movies.

Neither team would have qualified for the playoffs five years ago, when you still had to win something to play baseball in October.

If you're one of those brave, new worlders who was determined to see baseball add wild cards, more divisions and more playoffs, hope you're happy now.

This is what you get when you lower your standards, as baseball did.

You get a World Series with two teams that don't really belong.

You get the Interleague Bud Bowl instead of the Fall Classic.

Baseball's postseason used to be special, but it's no different from March Madness now.

The hottest teams prevail, not the best teams.

Adding a third round of playoffs has left the good teams more susceptible to upsets, as the hard-earned gains made during a 162-game season become more irrelevant.

The Indians were the best team in the American League a year ago, but they didn't make it to the Series.

The Orioles were the best team in the AL this year, but they didn't make it to the Series.

The Braves were the best in the NL this year, but, well, you know what happened.

It wouldn't matter except that better teams make for better Series, and baseball could use a run of must-see Classics.

This one isn't, no matter what happens.

Baseball heroics can get only so dramatic in teal.

More than a few average fans around the country probably didn't even know there was a major-league team called the Florida Marlins.

They probably thought the Florida Marlin was a roller-coaster ride at a theme park in Orlando.

Or maybe the name of an NHL expansion team.

If you turned on the TV last night and were surprised to see that the Marlins didn't play in Tampa Bay, don't worry, you weren't alone.

Tampa Bay's franchise starts playing next season, by the way, which means they should reach the World Series in 2003 if they follow the Marlins' example and spend close to $100 million on free agents to overcome their inability to put a winner on the field.

If you can't win a pennant, buy one.

The Indians are more familiar to fans around the country, but they hardly resembled a classic Series team when they spent the season struggling to fend off the much-feared Milwaukee Brewers.

But they got hot at the right time and knocked out the Yankees and Orioles to arrive here at Pro Player Stadium, which is a terrific place for a game as long as the visitors' dugout doesn't collapse on you, as it did on the Orioles in September.

Everything went smoothly last night as an afternoon shower drifted away, fans filled bleacher sections usually covered by colored tarps, the place filled up and a pair of pennant winners played hardball between the teal fences.

It was the Fall Classic, it really was.

Really.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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