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The Evolving Movement to Save Baseball

Can we all agree on one thing? That was the most compelling hour of baseball that we never want repeated. We liked the suspense, the tension, the passion, and we loved that it all ended before 10 o'clock. But we abhorred the aggravation and chaos endured to get there.

So, dare I ask, can we have one without the other? The fun without the embarrassment? Well, is it possible? Maybe. The good news is that there does seem to be a movement beginning to save baseball. The bad news is that this movement needs to evolve.

A week ago in his LA Times column, Bill Plaschke lamented the declining interest surrounding playoff baseball and renewed an idea to move the World Series to a neutral, sunny or domed destination:

Fix the World Series and solve everything.

Here's how:

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?

Plaschke, even before the rain delay fiasco, nailed the problem: baseball in snow -- or even in the cold October rain -- is not baseball. It's something else. Something ugly. Something to be detested. In the time since then, many other prominent sports columnists have written similar concerns in their own support of the neutral-site proposal, including Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News, ESPN baseball guru (and consummate realist about MLB policies) Peter Gammons and, this morning, Kevin Blackistone.

But making the World Series like the Super Bowl? Moving it to a neutral site? Nah. Plaschke flies awry on this point. The Super Bowl is the opposite direction baseball needs to go. It's a solution that, although well-intentioned, doesn't consider baseball's niche in the sports world nor its competitive advantages.

Baseball is not football. Nor should it attempt to be. If it tries to mimic football in an attempt to gain higher television ratings, it will get crushed. From a television viewer's perspective, football, the game in and of itself, is simply more interesting than baseball. There are more layers of strategy. More players and coaches. More feats of strength. More speed. More excitement. Judged only as a televised game, baseball cannot compete.

But baseball does have its own advantages. As not just a game, but a total experience, it's unparalleled and unique in at least two ways: its stadiums and the excuse for a day off. The former, Plaschke, et al. have overlooked. The latter, Selig, et al. have increasingly ignored.

Baseball is the world's only sport in which the stadium significantly enhances the memory of the event. Where did Bucky Dent or Bill Mazeroski hit their home runs? Where did Don Larsen pitch his perfect game? Where did Willie Mays make his catch? Where did Cal Ripken top the streak? Every avid baseball fan knows the answer to these questions.

As one of many who have been awed by the Ivy Wall, the Green Monster and the Warehouse, I imagine eliminating the possibility of all future World Series from these locations and I become nauseated.

It's not that the writers' hearts aren't in the right place. After what happened in Philadelphia, it is true that even Tropicana Field -- the Major League stadium that most resembles and feels like an NBA arena -- didn't seem so bad. But, come on. To eliminate the World Series from these uniquely American monuments is to dim the future history of the game.

Right diagnosis. Wrong prescription. Baseball does indeed need a change. Just not the neutral site.

In this sense, Blackistone's other suggestions work more toward a workable solution. In his column Thursday, he argues that MLB should move the World Series to early October by reducing the number of regular-season games and increasing the number of scheduled regular-season doubleheaders. "[T]here are only a few ways for baseball to steer itself clear of more ridiculous post-summer weather run-ins like the one it suddenly is suffering. One would be to schedule more doubleheaders like Ernie Banks famously championed."

Blackistone's suggestions directly address the recent late October weather issues, but also address baseball's bigger-picture problem -- fewer passionate fans -- with its most undervalued asset -- the weekday day game.

Call it the Ferris Bueller Theory of Fan Development. The best way to produce passionate fans is by creating environment for passionate memories. And the best way for baseball owners to create such an environment is offering more weekday day games. After all, where did Ferris go for his most memorable day off? A weekday day game at Wrigley Field.

More weekday day games, both in the playoffs and regular season, cater to potential passionate fans -- especially kids. To these fans, the weekday day game is the ultimate excuse to get away. It's an afternoon vacation. It's a free pass out of 5th period. It's nice because it's baseball. But it's awesome because you "should" be doing something else. And, most importantly, it is an experience only baseball can offer: skip work; skip school; come to the park; buy a hot dog; enjoy the sun; enjoy the game.

The NFL, NBA and NHL can't compete with that.

And yet, the weekday day game has all but disappeared -- not only in the playoffs but also in the regular season. In the inaugural season of Nationals Park, one -- only one -- weekday day game was scheduled. Pathetic. Since when does Congress stay in session throughout the summer?

Owners of course argue that they have a lot to lose -- attendance, viewers, advertising dollars -- by moving games away from prime time. But really? After the lowest-rated World Series ever, aren't they already hemorrhaging viewers and advertising dollars? MLB's obsession with optimizing Nielson ratings is short-sighted and stupid. It's a strategy that hinges on bending over for the casual television flipper. If these people watch the baseball playoffs, it's only because that's what their friends will be talking about, or, even worse, because there is nothing else on.

But baseball can gain something more important by scheduling more regular-season and post-season weekday day games: Passionate memories and passionate fans. Because of baseball -- and only because of baseball -- everyone can be Ferris Bueller for a day.

Jeff Pyatt is the Managing Editor of RealClearSports. He can be reached at jeffpyatt@realclearsports.com

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