Is it possible that a championship event for a sport as maligned as baseball ranks as the greatest in sports? After all, the Super Bowl gets better ratings, the Final Four has a more in-demand ticket and the NHL carries around that beautiful, distinctive trophy. But it says here that no championship event combines elements that make sports great as much as the World Series.
For these reasons, we say it is still a true Fall Classic:
NO SPORT'S MOMENTS CARRY AS MUCH WEIGHT
World Series moments are not just part of baseball history; they are part of American history. Even if one only considers home runs, the events come to mind quicker than we can write them down: Maz's clincher, Fisk's game-ender, Reggie's shot into the black, Gibson's miracle. We know exactly where the balls landed, how the batter rounded the bases, sometimes the announcer's call. Those four came at home, igniting spontaneous mini-earthquakes. Ever seen a still shot of Ray Knight scoring the winning run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? It doesn't exist. The entire stadium shook. That's a scene the Super Bowl or Final Four could never duplicate, because crowd allegiance is split, while the NBA and NHL play to smaller live audiences.
In this World Series retrospective, we remember 10 great World Series moments in a special photo essay, and we could have come up with 10 or 20 more before you could find someone on the street who can identify which two players were involved in a play often mentioned as an all-time great Super Bowl moment, the touchdown-saving tackle that ended Super Bowl XXXIV. (Answer: Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson and St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones). Other great game-ending Super Bowl moments: Scott Norwood's miss and Adam Vinatieri's make. Field-goal attempts, people. We're talking field-goal attempts.
No championship event matches the nonstop intensity of Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series, played on consecutive midweek nights. While the NHL and NBA Finals take nights off between games, Major League Baseball sends 'em back out there 20 hours after the previous night's game ends. In a span of around 52 hours, starting Oct. 30, 2001, the New York Yankees went from trailing Arizona two games to none in the World Series to leading 3-2. All that happened during that time was a 2-1 win by Roger Clemens in Game 3 and walkoff victories in Games 4 and 5 that were sent to extra innings by two-out home runs in the ninth. In recent years, teams down 0-2 have turned the tide on three straight nights in 1987, 1991 and 1996.
EVERYONE GETS TO BE A HERO
Astonishingly, the last 13 NBA Finals MVPs have been awarded to only four players. Four! Michael Jordan (6), Shaquille O'Neal (3), Hakeem Olajuwon (2) and Tim Duncan (2). Why bother suiting up the other players? NBA Finals 2004: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Jason Kidd! In the World Series, all the starters get a shot at glory. So the MVP could be future Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson (1966), Johnny Bench (1976) or Mike Schmidt (1980) or guys who struck lightning one great week in October, like Lew Burdette (1957), Darrell Porter (1982) or Scott Brosius (1998).
THE MOUND CELEBRATION
Only a few World Series have ended with the home team winning in walkoff fashion. The rest have ended with the victors in the field, and everyone knows what to do after the third out: charge the mound. Hell, in the old days even the fans charged the mound. (Now they would get a faceful of nightstick.) The first player to reach the pitcher gets to be in the poster shot. Soscia hoisting Hershier, Girardi lifting Wetteland, both riding high before the rush from the dugout collapsed them into a pile, with the outfielders adding the toppings. Best celebration of all: Jesse Orosco tossing his mitt to the moon after closing out the 1986 Series with a strikeout of Boston's Marty Barrett. Football and basketball players don't know where to run when the clock stikes zero. To midfield? To the last guy who touched the ball? To the bench? No one has a clue.
THE UNIQUENESS OF STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
In other team sports' championship events, you're pretty much assured of seeing the same players start and the rest of the roster get relatively the same amount of playing time. Exceptions come into play, of course, when an NBA star gets into foul trouble sometimes a guy will see major minutes in one game of the Finals, then disappear in the next. In the World Series, the most important rep from both teams changes each game. So you're beating up Drysdale in Game 2? Koufax awaits in Game 4. Who doesn't look ahead in any series Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez pitches in? Game 5 isn't just the day after Game 4. It's an entirely different experience, with new starters and relievers whose availability and effectiveness are directly related to their work in previous games and managers' decisions to save them for later games.
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