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The Modern World Series

When I was a kid, the World Series was played in daytime, usually beginning on a Wednesday after the regular season ended the preceding Sunday.

I faked a sore throat every now and then until my parents got wise and sent me off to school regardless of my health. A school strike back then would have delighted me beyond happiness.

However, I lived close enough to our neighborhood school so that I, along with most of my classmates, went home for lunch. Since the majority of games, formerly known as the Fall Classic, involved the Yankees, Giants, or Dodgers in New York, the contests began at noon central time and were briskly played compared to today's games. I could catch the first three or four innings without risking tardiness for afternoon classes.

However, I still missed The Catch by Willie Mays in 1954 since he ran down Vic Wertz's drive in the eighth inning in the first game of the eventual sweep by the Giants. When Yogi Berra jumped into Don Larsen's arms in 1956 at the end of the only perfect game in Series history, I no doubt was bored at school trying to envision what was happening at Yankee Stadium.

By 1960 as an adolescent, a risk for me entailed hiding a transistor radio in a drawer in my desk during chemistry class. So when the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski jacked his famous walk-off home run in Game 7, at least I heard it. Only trouble was, so did the teacher. I never was much of a chemistry student.

Back then the World Series seemed like a big deal. The games were covered nationally in the newspapers, and even the casual fan tended to perk up and pay attention. Citizens from coast to coast were familiar with the Brooklyn Boys of Summer, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi.

Of course, times are way different today, and for those of us who remain avid fans - to quote the recent parlance coming from the White House - we need to "get over it."

Fans in the cities where the Series is played are as enthusiastic and feverish as ever, but the emotion tends to stall at the city limits. Overall, the exciting and multi-faceted seven games just completed by the Nationals and Astros were watched on television by the fewest viewers - an average of 14 million - in the past five years. That number included the 23 million who tuned in to Wednesday's finale in Houston to witness the surprising Nationals' 6-2 clinching victory.

However, in our nation's capital on Wednesday, more than half of the TVs in operation were tuned into Game 7, the highest local rating since the Nats moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005.

But nationally, the NFL game last Sunday between Kansas City and Green Bay had a 5.1 rating (16.2 million viewers) matched against Game 5 of the Series with a 2.4 rating and 10.2 million.

Should MLB panic or seek change? Aside from instituting rules to limit pitching changes, what can be done? Change happens. As an example, the 1956 World Series of seven games between the Yankees and Dodgers averaged two hours, 35 minutes compared to the 3:45 it took the Astros and Nationals to complete their games. The recent series, characterized by multiple pitchers, ended close to midnight on the east coast. The gamblers and fantasy players also prefer football over baseball so let them lose their cash while screaming at their televisions. Won't bother me.

Meanwhile, the drama on the field was compelling. As documented, it was the only Series in 119 years where the home team was winless. You'd have thought the Astros, winners of 107 games in the regular season, would have eked out at least one home victory after going 60-21 in their ballpark this season.

Washington's Stephen Strasburg was the MVP, earning victories in Games 2 and 6, illustrating that starting pitchers are not passé. Teammates Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton no doubt received support as did Juan Soto, who celebrated his 21st birthday during the Series. The kid's antics are enough to make old-schoolers squirm, but Soto can back up all of his demeanor. The kid can play.

There was a ton of talent on both sides, although one of the most impressive players, George Springer of Houston, committed an inexcusable error in the opening game. Springer, 30, completed his sixth season in 2019 with the Astros with 39 home runs and 96 RBIs despite missing time with injuries. His OPS was .974. The guy can run, and he's equally outstanding in the field.

Springer spearheaded a comeback in the first game after the Nationals assumed a 5-2 lead. With one out in the eighth inning, his double scored Kyle Tucker from first base to bring Houston within a run. Only trouble was that Springer hesitated at home plate to follow the path of his drive to right center field. Eaton made a gallant attempt to make what would have been an unreal catch against the wall, but the ball rebounded off the barrier as Springer jogged into second. Most readers of this report could have legged out a triple as Springer most certainly should have done.

Jose Altuve followed with a fly ball which would have scored Springer to tie the game had he been on third. After Michael Brantley lined out hard to left, the threat was ended, and the home team was saddled with the 5-4 loss.

Watching my 5-year-old grandson play teeball last summer, the first thing the coaches and onlookers yell after a little guy makes contact is, "Run, run, run." The kids know where to run. Most take off for first base.

This would have helped George Springer, and in many ways reminds us how too many players today approach the game. Springer stood there admiring his handiwork instead of immediately running, something those 5-year-olds are perfecting.

A guy like Springer, possessed of immense talent and at the height of his career, gaped at the flight of the ball rather than running at the crack of the bat the way we all were taught as little kids. Are the last guys on the roster, a step or two away from being released, the only athletes who consistently play hard? Too often it appears that way.

Had the Astros tied the score in that opening game, playing at home, they might have had the momentum to gain the upper hand in the Series, and the team winning the first game historically has taken the Series 64 percent of the time.

And that, my friends, is why the games, all four hours of them, continue to grab us, snatch our senses, and make us babble, "He should have . . . ," "If only . . . ," and "What if . . . ?"


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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