This Series more for fans than for masses

ON BASEBALL

October 21, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY

CHICAGO — Chicago-- --It's not a dreamy matchup for TV or advertising executives. It's rather ho-hum for the casual sports viewer.

Really, Americans may be more interested in which super-sized person gets punted from The Biggest Loser than in which team becomes baseball's biggest winner.

And that's too bad. The 2005 World Series, which starts tomorrow night with the Houston Astros visiting the White Sox on Chicago's South Side, is more noteworthy for what it doesn't have than what it does.

Recent heavyweights such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels all have been dismissed from the postseason. This is only the second time since the wild-card era began in 1995 that at least one of those franchises didn't make it to the World Series, and only the fourth time that one of them didn't win it.

There will be no Derek Jeter heroics or Albert Pujols butter-smooth swings or Manny being Manny.

Instead, sports' greatest miniseries will star the other ballclub from Chicago and a baseball team from a football state.

Question: Who wants to see the White Sox and the Astros? Answer: True baseball fans. The rest probably will click to something else.

Sadly, when the Yankees aren't in the Series, the country as a whole isn't as interested. The Red Sox are nearing that hallowed ground, and the Cardinals aren't too far behind in terms of having a national fan base. If those clubs were still playing, non-baseball people would pay attention just to be part of the water-cooler chat.

That's probably not the case here. Those interested in this matchup are either in the participating cities or enjoy baseball's finer points: pitching, defense and timely hitting.

That's not to say, however, there aren't any compelling story lines.

The obvious one is which team ends its World Series title drought. The Astros are here for the first time in their 44-season history. The White Sox haven't played this late in the season since 1959 and haven't won a World Series since 1917.

Yes, Houston is known for its love of football, and Chicago for its love of the Cubs. But both would go nuts to host baseball's champion.

Then there are the individuals.

Although perceived to be lacking in star power, there are three likely Hall of Famers in this World Series - and each is worth watching.

Roger Clemens, who was expected to retire two seasons ago and then again after last season, decided to play another year near his home in Houston. He's the best pitcher of this generation and, at 43, is still astonishingly dominant.

Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, 37, considered ending his tremendous 14-year career after right shoulder surgery in June before fighting his way back this September. Limited to pinch-hitting duties last month, he'll likely get some starts at designated hitter when the DH is used at U.S. Cellular Field - and then he may retire. He's played 2,150 regular-season games, all with the Astros, and never made a World Series appearance.

Compared with his teammate, second baseman Craig Biggio, that's nothing.

If you don't count Rafael Palmeiro [and few in Baltimore do anymore], Biggio, 39, has played more regular-season games than any other active player without appearing in a World Series. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Palmeiro is tops at 2,831 games and Biggio is next at 2,564 - all with the Astros.

Bagwell is sixth on the active list [incidentally, three of the top five, Palmeiro, B.J. Surhoff and Sammy Sosa, played for the Orioles in 2005].

So this World Series is worth watching just to see if Bagwell and Biggio - two of baseball's good guys - finally win a ring now that they have gotten to the finals.

The White Sox may not have individual players as compelling, but as a team they are hard to match. They have no true superstars but possess power, speed, pitching and defense.

They were fifth in the majors in hitting homers [200] and fourth in stolen bases [137]. Their 3.61 ERA was tied for tops in the American League. And they made the fourth-fewest errors in the AL. Plus, they have a knack of winning when it counts, dismissing the Cleveland Indians at the end of the season and then the Red Sox and Angels in the playoffs.

Despite winning 99 games, the White Sox have been overlooked all year, making them the consummate underdogs. And they're facing a team that started the season an abysmal 15-30 before making an amazing playoff push.

Take away the names on the front of the uniforms and the mediocre histories, and what we have is one of the most evenly matched and intriguing World Series pairings in recent memory.

It'll be interesting to see if the rest of America agrees.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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