Selig isn't one to kid: Baseball is touching all the right bases this year

October 27, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

ST. LOUIS - Truly, this is the best of all possible baseball worlds.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't say it if it weren't so. He spent his first decade on the job predicting the sport's impending economic doom, and now he surveys the baseball landscape with a rosy outlook that is downright Panglossian.

"The renaissance of baseball has just been remarkable," Selig said. "As I told someone in Boston the other day, this year will be the gold standard by which all future years will be judged."

There's a case to be made. Baseball attendance continues to climb and television ratings have rebounded. The Red Sox just pulled off the greatest comeback in postseason history to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Cardinals and Houston Astros staged an unprecedented homerfest in the NLCS to set up this rematch of the 1967 World Series.

Selig is assuming that the World Series will live up to the hype and bring the season to a dramatic end, and who's to argue at this point? It has been a remarkable year both aesthetically and economically.

"I have the attendance chart from 1901 to the present in my office," Selig said. "In 1953, during the alleged Golden Era of baseball, the average major league team drew 899,000 people. That was during the golden age. This year, the average team averaged 2,430,000. By any criteria one might use, this is an amazing renaissance."

Of course, it was something of a perfect storm. There were two playoff teams from the huge Los Angeles metropolitan area, and there was a contending club in almost every other major market. So, you could also make the case that the sport may be set up for a big letdown next year.

Let's stop right there for a moment while I explain to our green-jerseyed football fans from the north (whom I will be visiting this weekend) that the pretentious literary reference above was to the optimistic Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, who insisted that everything in the world was created for its best purpose. He obviously never sat in the bleachers at The Linc.

He obviously never saw Jeff Suppan run the bases, either. The Cardinals were supposed to be at a distinct advantage at Busch Stadium because they were playing Game 3 under National League rules - since their pitchers supposedly are used to hitting and running the bases - but Suppan looked as if he was running to catch the wrong end of a bus when he was thrown out returning to third base on what should have been a routine RBI grounder in the third inning.

There really is only one explanation: The Cardinals watched the Red Sox make four errors in each of their first two victories and decided that the only way to win this series was to play worse than the opposition.

Next thing you know, they'll let their hair grow out and stop bathing.

It stopped looking like Suppan's night about the time they pulled the tarp off the infield. Johnny Damon opened the game with a lineout to right. Orlando Cabrera followed with a lineout to center. And Manny Ramirez lined a ball well into the left-field seats to put the Red Sox in front.

Starting to wonder if Suppan took the Bambino with him when he left the Sox last year to sign with the Cardinals.

Never thought I'd wax nostalgic for AstroTurf, but there was so much standing water on the field at Busch Stadium before Game 3 that I was ready to sell my soul to Monsanto.

The Cardinals went back to natural grass in the mid-1990s, about a decade after the automatic tarp nearly ate outfielder Vince Coleman during the 1985 National League Championship Series.

Selig gets the last laugh here with his response to a reporter who questioned whether it was fair to use the All-Star Game to determine the home-field advantage in the World Series.

"Well," Selig replied, "it's not like we were using Einstein's Theory of Relativity to determine who got it before."

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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