(2 of 2)
BASEBALL FEVER: YOU CAN'T HELP BUT CATCH IT
Going into last season, you would never have thought of Anaheim Angels fans as the wild, stick-thundering crowd that they were in October of 2002. In fact, they were probably bemoaning how the same teams always make the playoffs. But baseball's so-called problems sure seem to vanish when your team's winning. By Game 7 of the Angels' classic series against the Giants, normally laid-back Californians were no less frenzied than the normally laid-back people in Arizona were the year before. And this year, next year and in the decades to come, the World Series will still hold more tense moments, more twists of fate, more tips of the cap to years past than any other crowning sporting event, attended by tens of thousands a game who, when asked what's wrong with baseball will say, "What? I can't hear you over all this noise."
And now, in a preemptive strike against hate mail in our feedback form insult-free ones will be read, otherwise don't waste your time I'll share my overall positions on other championship sporting events, all worth watching, but none as great as the World Series.
NHL Finals: Tops all in sportsmanship, from the end-of-series handshake to the lack of fighting (call me crazy, but if fighting is not smart play during the Finals, shouldn't it be equally disadvantageous to a team during the regular season?). In the end, though, it's still hockey, and it still plays to what is essentially a rabid but niche audience. Best overtime in sports? Maybe. The puck flies from one end to the other quickly, looking to bounce off someone's stick or skate or face. Is that any more exciting than extra innings in the World Series or an overtime period in the Super Bowl?
NBA Finals: Seems almost predetermined. If a series looks like the favorite will win in five games, that's what happens. Looking back at a list of NBA Finals history, we've had one seven-game series in 15 years. The rest went according to plan, aside from when Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets dusted Shaq and the Magic, 4-0. The NBA Finals can be great again, but you need two A-list teams in there, and it seems we've been anticipating the Western Conference finals more than the championship series for years.
World Cup: Not enough Americans care. I don't know why people try to bring this up when talking about great sporting events. So what if the rest of the world cares about it? They also think David Hasselhoff is a great singer. Love the color, love the goooaaaallll thing, but you could cut up a World Cup final into two-minute bits, mix 'em all up, glue 'em together out of order, and nobody would know the difference. The game doesn't develop; it just happens.
Final Four: The entire NCAA men's basketball tournament is great, but we're limiting this discussion to the championship event, the Final Four. To me, it's a little corporate. How great can an event be if to get the best wild-fan camera shot, you have to have a TV hookup in a campus bar 2,000 miles away? A relative few number of real students and alumni are actually there. The rest are people rich enough to book hotels and flights a year in advance without even knowing who's playing. Also, I'm not sure you always get the feeling that the best team won the title.
Super Bowl: Hard to knock it, since it's such an American institution. Major, major points for being a true party day. And I don't even buy the whole "it's always a blowout" thing. The NFC teams of the '80s and early '90s were just that good, so it's not a fault of the game itself. I do think, though, that the World Series trumps it in terms of the current game's relationship to the sport's past. The Super Bowl lives for the day, and the sport evolves so quickly that comparisons to even 5-10 years ago are apples to oranges. Baseball has a smoother lineage and every World Series fights for its place in history. The Roman numerals add some confusion, too. For example, 1927 means the New York Yankees, 1955 is the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1984 is the Detroit Tigers. But XIX? Does that immediately bring to mind the 18-1 (3-0 in postseason) 1984-85 San Francisco 49ers?
Next World Series Quiz