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Neutrality is not the solution
2008-11-01 12:42
by Bob Timmermann

While this headline may sound like something written as a counterpoint to a Charles Lindbergh speech in 1940, it's actually about the World Series. In particular, it's about the idea, espoused by numerous sports columnists although few fans or baseball executives, to move the World Series to a warm weather, neutral site.

As I've thought more about this idea, I've come to the conclusion, that not only is it a bad idea. It's a horrible idea. It's an idea whose time has not come. It's an idea whose time will never come. It's a cure in search of a disease.

I normally would have dismissed the idea as one thought of by cranks, but this year even Peter Gammons thought the idea of neutral site World Series would be a good one. Is this the baseball equivalent of Walter Cronkite declaring the Vietnam War unwinnable? Or is it some other really tired analogy that I can drive into the ground? (I had started collecting links about this issue, but it got overwhelming and rereading the stories just got me mad.)

The "demand" for a neutral site World Series comes almost entirely from the media (Whitey Herzog likes it too, but, as most people know, Whitey is a cranky old man.) And this year, faced with sitting outside in a cold and wet Citizens Bank Park, the media got angrier. And colder. And wetter.

Here are some of the arguments that proponents of a neutral site use and I will follow with my disagreement.

A neutral site will ensure that baseball's premier event will be played at its highest level in ideal conditions that will be fair to each team.

If this is the goal of the World Series, why aren't the first two rounds of the playoffs also played at neutral sites also? What would be necessarily fair about sticking the Phillies and Rays in a place like Phoenix or Houston for a week accomplish?

Baseball teams, at least good ones, are formed with their home parks in mind. What would happen if say, Petco Park, was the site of the World Series. The Phillies would have seen home runs turned into fly outs to left-center. Evan Longoria's almost home run in Game 3 wouldn't have been knocked down by the win, but rather died in San Diego's marine layer.

The World Series has been played in poor weather before. Many, many times. It's been played in freezing temperatures, rain, and snow flurries. And many of these events predated television and came during day games. And earlier in October as well.

The 2006 World Baseball Classic's final two rounds were played in San Diego because it was supposed to have good weather. And, of course, it rained during the second semifinal between Japan and Korea.

Also, the World Series had a good chance of being a matchup of Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. And instead of Peter Gammons complaining about the cold and wet weather, he'd be complaining about the dry heat in Los Angeles and the weird shadows at Dodger Stadium and how there aren't any seasons in California.

A neutral site will help focus the nation's attention on baseball by making it a marquee event. Now it's just a local event.

I like to call this "Turn the World Series into the Super Bowl" argument.

If you're trying to increase baseball's visibility in the public eye, turning it into the NFL isn't going to work. Baseball isn't like pro football. It is almost the opposite of pro football.

Lots of people like the NFL. And a sizeable subset of that group likes college football too. Both sports have had a long tradition of playing championship games at neutral sites.

However, they are just playing one game with the site determined well in advance. In the case of college football bowl games, teams have around a month to plan to get to the more important bowl games. In the case of the Super Bowl, fans have two weeks to get to the game. In the case of the World Series, the ALCS ended on a Sunday and the World Series started on a Wednesday. And most people found that wait to be interminable!

The first World Series I remember watching was the 1971 World Series between the Pirates and Orioles. Game 7 started around 10 am PT. As the game ended, announcers Curt Gowdy and Chuck Thompson kept telling people to stay tuned for NFL football (San Diego at Denver!) that was coming up right after the game. Just as soon as Steve Blass closed out the game. Just wait ... You'll get your football soon enough. This was the first year that any World Series game started at night. And the World Series that supposedly was still paramount in everyone's eyes, was still being used as a leadin to a football game.

Would people start having World Series viewing parties? No, not many more than already do. (I got invited to one this year. For the first time in my life. But I couldn't make it. Sorry, Rob.) Would advertisers start spending ungodly amounts of money to run ads that get scrutinized way more than they need to be during a World Series?

The World Series is played during football season. If you play the World Series in a neutral site, it will still be played during football season. People will still care more about football. Unless a team from their own city is playing in the World Series that is. So why not play the games in front of the home fans. Or do some fans get preference because they live in a city with a more southernly latitude?

The best home fans can't afford to go to the World Series anyway.

Without a doubt, the World Series is expensive to attend. Tickets at a neutral site would be expensive too. And then fans who want to attend would also get to add in the cost of transportation and lodging! Woo hoo! Sign me up!

Essentially, this argument means that instead of tickets being sold in cities like Philadelphia, Boston, St. Petersburg, and Los Angeles, they'll just be sold to corporate types, who can take a whole week off, to fly to Phoenix or San Diego and watch the Phillies and Rays play.

Another problem with a netural site is that it not only prices out the "little guy", but it removes "the big guy" from the equation. The Phillies and Rays no doubt liked the big spenders in their area coming to the World Series games and dropping lots of cash in town. The Philadelphia and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerces no doubt enjoyed the World Series being in town.

Season ticket packages are sold to many people (if you're a contender) with the expectation that you'll get priority for postseason tickets, especially World Series tickets.

Finally, there are all sorts of unintended consequences that could develop.

The first one is that the "neutral" site might not end up being neutral. In 2001, Arizona was in the World Series. In 2002, Anaheim made it. In 2003, Florida made it to the World Series. In 2005, Houston (which has a roof) made it (although the Astros were ordered to keep the roof open for the World Series even though it may have been cold by Houston standards).

What happens if the "neutral" site is one of the participants? I would hate to be the opponent in that case. Or do you change the neutral site and hope that the other city didn't book the stadium for some other event or start some renovations? In that case, all of the advance planning for the World Series is out the window. Better tell that convention of Shriners to get out of St. Petersburg.

What if the Cubs make it to the World Series? (They will some day you know). Do you want to tell the fans of the Cubs that the first World Series games for the Cubs since 1945 will be played in Phoenix or Houston or Los Angeles. I'm not. Do you want to tell people in New York that the World Series can't be played in their city? It's not warm enough.

Why can't the World Series just stay the way it is? No matter what you can try to do to adjust the format of the World Series to make it more appealing, nothing can compare to having exciting games. A good, well-played game in front of a loud crowd is what people want.

The World Series is about baseball. It's not a social event. People want to make it more than it is. It's existed in almost the same format as it has now (sometimes it's been best of nine, sometimes the pattern of home and road games has been different), but it is pretty much the same event.

It is not the Super Bowl. It is not the Final Four. The World Series doesn't have to be. In a few weeks, most people will have forgottent that Game 5 was suspended and resumed two days later. They will remember that the Phillies won. And that the Rays lost. And next year, 30 teams will want to be in that same position. 30 sets of fans will be hoping that they can find a way to get tickets to see their team in the World Series.

Peter Gammons will have to buy a warmer coat. He can afford it.

2008-11-01 13:05:59
1.   kylepetterson
You hit the nail on the head. I don't care for either the Rays or the Phillies. That being said, I only missed 1 1/3 games of the world series. I am a baseball fan. I like it. I enjoy watching it. As you said, football is great, but baseball is not football. And I don't want it to be.
2008-11-01 13:18:03
2.   DXMachina
I totally agree. And despite his current stance, I gotta believe that Gammons would be the first to scream bloody murder if the Sawx couldn't play at Fenway.

Do you want to tell people in New York that the World Series can't be played in their city?

Can you imagine the uproar if they moved a subway series to, say, Dodger Stadium?

2008-11-01 13:39:28
3.   das411
Very very well said, Bob, but why instead of jokers like these guys can't we get sportswriters and -casters who actually care about the teams they cover??
2008-11-01 13:54:09
4.   grandcosmo
See when you think it through (which Gammons, Plaschke and their ilk obviously didn't) it makes absolutely no sense.

And again, this idea never occured to Gammons last season when his team was playing in the WS in less than balmy Boston and Denver.

2008-11-01 14:11:23
5.   fanerman
2008-11-01 14:44:49
6.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
The only thing I'd add is that the idea of a neutral site for the World Series is so half-baked, so stupid, so NOT BASEBALL, that it is hardly worth the cogent, well articulated response that Bob gave it.

Not that I didn't read this post or enjoy it...

2008-11-01 14:56:33
7.   Eric Stephen
Bob, this is an excellent post. Very well written and passionate.

This damn neutral site WS idea has gotten so much play in the last week, it's almost an idea mainstream enough to make your article Slate-worthy! Except you aren't just disagreeing to disagree. :)

2008-11-01 15:12:13
8.   Bob Timmermann
Slate would like a neutral site World Series I bet.
2008-11-01 17:30:44
9.   Sam DC
Good stuff. You really wonder if they'd be able to fill a stadium for 4-7 games in a neutral site. Probably, but doesn't seem like a sure thing.
2008-11-01 18:42:42
10.   Bluebleeder87
man, this was good...
2008-11-01 19:06:52
11.   scareduck
0 - I got invited to one this year. For the first time in my life. But I couldn't make it. Sorry, Rob.

I blame the ponies.

2008-11-01 19:07:20
12.   scareduck
8 - "Slate" is just an anagram for "stale".
2008-11-01 19:08:22
13.   scareduck
12 -
2008-11-01 22:22:17
14.   das411
For next week's episode Bob, can you similarly point out how bad an idea that one Just for Men commercial is?
2008-11-01 22:25:50
15.   KG16
If you play the World Series in a neutral site, it will still be played during football season.

There are two obvious answers to this: one, play the world series at the start of the following season, in March; two, cancel the All Star game and play the World Series in the middle of the season.

There are several problems with these ideas. Free agency would be insane. The second half of the season would be meaningless. Chicago in March probably isn't too warm, so there are still weather issues.

2 - or imagine the reaction of Red Sox Nation or the Cubs' fans if they didn't get to break their curses at home

2008-11-03 11:12:09
16.   LogikReader
Well said, Bob! I am so glad to hear the voice of reason.

I get sick and tired of everybody wanting baseball to be like football. Why can't it be different?

2008-11-03 12:38:35
17.   Gilberto Reyes
Very well written. Send this to the commish!
2008-11-04 07:31:42
18.   Paul Scott
Other things that, in my life time, have changed from "something that football does" and "not baseball" to something in baseball include:
1. Wildcards
2. Inter-league play
3. instant replay

1 and 2 I still think are terrible ideas and wish they would go away. 3 I like and I hope it expands.

I don't like the idea of Neutral Site WS, but I would not dismiss it as crackpot or as "something football does" and "not baseball."

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