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Update a Classic

The World Series has become anticlimactic, too long and too late for the average fan, so here's his plan: Make it a weeklong event full of buzz at one, warm-weather site

October 22, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE

I'm playing hooky today, and I hate it.

I'm skipping what should be the most important sports event of the year, and I'm sick about it.

I'm ditching the World Series.

And it's the World Series' fault.

As a writer groomed on the baseball beat, I will always be in love with the Fall Classic, its two-minute duels, its exhausting dramas, its suffocating pressure, a tobacco-spitting metaphor for the human condition.

Since my first World Series 25 years ago -- remember Rick Dempsey? -- I embraced it, supported it, sold it, through strikes and sweeps and Detroit snow.

But as a general interest sports columnist, I must sadly admit that the World Series is no longer an event of great general interest.

OK, this year there is big interest in Tampa -- at least for the last couple of days. During a three-game home stretch this season, the Rays drew 26,798 fans combined .

And, yes, there is big interest in Philadelphia for the Phillies -- at least as long as the Eagles have a bye. A couple of weeks ago, when both were on TV at the same time, the Eagles drew nearly twice as many viewers even though the Phillies were in the playoffs.

For the last several years, I've worked the World Series amid a nagging feeling that I should be somewhere else.

And so now, mournfully, I am.

The Lakers are opening a season, USC football is walking a tightrope, Brett Favre is a big whiny baby, and those last seven words will probably generate more e-mail than our entire World Series coverage combined.

With television ratings that have dropped by 50% over the last four decades -- cable has cut into all ratings, but holy cow -- the World Series is no longer one of the sports world's big four, must-see events.

The Super Bowl is four times as big. The BCS championship football game is bigger. The Final Four basketball championship is bigger. And the Masters golf tournament is bigger.

"As related to baseball's regular season, the World Series is actually viewed as less important," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm. "The regular season has soap operas. The regular season is an event. The World Series feels anticlimactic."

This World Series features a memorable worst-to-first team against a franchise that has won one baseball championship in 125 years. It should be closely contested, hotly tempered, a true Fall Classic.

But only for baseball junkies.

For the average fan, it's too long, too late, too distant.

"The World Series feels like the end of a long line in a buffet," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "By the time you get there, you've just about had your fill."

In the era of 500 channels, seemingly each with its own sport, the World Series can't just show up anymore. The World Series has to come storming through our doors with teeth flashing and heels kicking.

Yet, lost in a century-old sense of entitlement, the World Series hasn't figured this out yet.

I love the fresh faces of the Tampa Bay Rays.

But who can see them once they don those funny-looking ski masks in 30-degree temperatures in Philadelphia?

I love that the Phillies have a closer who has been perfect for six months.

But in the hugely populated East Coast cities, how many people are going to stay awake through a four-hour game to watch Brad Lidge pitch at 1 a.m.?

Those who do watch are driven crazy that one ballpark will require a DH, and the other one won't, and that the five-game first-round division series means that the best team might not even be there in the first place.

Fix the World Series and solve everything.

Here's how:

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Hold it in a neutral site.

The public has a hard time believing it is a true championship test when a summer sport is played in snow.

Hold it in a neutral, warm-weather or domed site every year, and they'll believe.

The public also feels as if the World Series belongs only to the two cities participating.

Put it in a neutral site and let it belong to everyone.

Imagine the entire baseball world gathering in one place for one week to celebrate its biggest event played under the fairest of conditions.

Imagine the hype, the craziness, the parties.

Imagine the . . . Super Bowl?

"That wouldn't work, it's too hard to sell seven games in one place like that," protested Ganis. "In football, we're talking about people flying in for a weekend."

Oh, but that leads to my next idea . . .

--

Create World Series Week.

At this neutral site, play the seven games consecutively, no days off.

Play the first game on an afternoon, call it National Pastime Day. Play every other game at 7 p.m. Eastern time so fans everywhere can watch all of it.

Designate four games for one team's fans, and three for the other, so they each have their own "weekend."

--

Create a weeklong buzz.

Every first pitch is thrown out by a national hero. Every national anthem is sung by a national recording star.

Treat it like seven days worth of All-Star games, with appearances throughout the city by Hall of Famers and baseball legends and anyone willing to sell.

As it is now, the World Series doesn't sell, it just slowly sinks.

This year's baseball championship will be decided by two teams who advanced through a flawed playoff system for a chance to battle under unfair conditions at unreasonable hours with two different sets of rules.

Maybe I'm not ditching the World Series.

Maybe the World Series has ditched me.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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