Blanket praise for this Series nothing to get wrapped up in


October 24, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

CHICAGO -- The 101st World Series has already become a favorite of the baseball literati, but I'm not buying it just yet.

Here's the conventional wisdom: The showdown between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros is destined to be a classic because of the strong pitching of both teams and - to a lesser degree - because the Fall Classic has returned to Chicago for the first time in 46 years.

This, pine the baseball purists, is the way baseball is supposed to be played (except, of course, for the noxious designated hitter rule). The White Sox pitched four straight complete games in the American League Championship Series and everybody started whistling the theme from Field of Dreams.

It's all a bunch of hooey, of course. This thing didn't even get exciting until the pitching started to break down in the White Sox's 7-6 victory last night. The only way for it to be truly memorable is for the pitching to be forgettable, a Catch-22 that kind of blows the whole theory.

There is almost nothing compelling about this World Series, unless you count the 88 years of futility since the White Sox last won one ... and didn't we just play that tune in Boston last October?

There is no famous curse, unless you want to talk about the Curse of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, because the last time anyone considered the White Sox even close to a baseball dynasty, a bunch of players decided to make a few bucks by throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

There are no mythic figures, especially after Roger Clemens limped off the mound after only two innings of Game 1 and became questionable for the rest of the Series and maybe his career.

There is no geographical intrigue. No disrespect to the Astros, who only finished 11 games out of first place in the National League Central this year, but Houston's baseball history isn't exactly the stuff of legend, unless you grew up really believing that the Astrodome is one of the eight wonders of the world.

It's a nice enough town, but let's be honest. That part of Texas is really just a big oil field with Alamo envy.

The White Sox are rolling in historical significance, but largely because of the Black Sox Scandal, which apparently has become a source of civic pride. They proudly fly the 1919 American League pennant over U.S. Cellular Field, but owner Jerry Reinsdorf will wag a finger at anyone who makes the connection between that shameful episode in baseball history and the pitching-rich team that won 99 regular-season games this year.

"This is the first time this year that anyone has wanted to bring up the 1919 team," he told a group of reporters Friday. "Nobody ever talked about it before. They threw the World Series, but what's the connection? I don't hate Germans because of Hitler. It's different people."

That's an interesting analogy, especially coming from a guy who spent a great deal of time with the late Reds owner Marge "Hitler was good in the beginning" Schott, but the point is legitimate. There is no connection, so there's even less reason to get all excited about the White Sox and their chance to win a world title for the first time since 1917.

Because of the complete-game string in the ALCS, the Sox are getting a lot of credit for pitching it old-school, but other than giving the Orioles an excuse to let B.J. Ryan walk this winter, I don't know what all the commotion is about.

I mean, who really cares about good pitching anyway? The Sox got a strong performance from Jose Contreras in Game 1 and sent 16-game winner Mark Buehrle into the mist last night, but who are we kidding? If baseball fans wanted to watch 3-2 games, we'd still think BALCO was some kind of sporting goods manufacturer.

I'm old enough to remember when pitching was king, and everybody liked it so much that teams were thrilled to draw 1 million fans a year. So they lowered the mound and raised the offensive profile of the sport and, yada-yada-yada, pass the B-12.

So, who really wants to turn the clock back? The Astros apparently do, because they are staging their own little protest against the DH rule by starting a guy - Jeff Bagwell - who hadn't played a whole game since May 3. Bagwell is a good guy and a great player, but when you turn the World Series into an injury rehab assignment, it probably diminishes the likelihood of the Series becoming a legendary struggle.

That said, I enjoyed the weekend in Chicago and will make my way to Houston today, but I'll be staying well outside the city because a large percentage of the rooms downtown have been set aside for a quilting convention. Yes, you heard that right, the International Quilting Festival.

I rest my case.

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