I must admit that I’m not the biggest baseball fan, though I have spent many a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching the Jays, including a couple at the ballpark. I’ve also been a part of a fantasy baseball dynasty league that dates back seven years, and took a trip to Cooperstown back in August.
But, like I said, I’m not the biggest baseball fan. In fact, it’s easily my least favourite of the four major sports. Why, you ask? Well, unlike the NFL–my favourite league, FWIW–where teams can go from worst to first in their division from one year to the next, there is no parity in baseball, because there is no salary cap. Thus, a great divide exists between the teams that have money (New York, Philly, Boston) and spend it by the boatload, and those have-not teams who can only hope to parlay their high draft picks into solid young players that’ll lead them to a Wild Card spot or two before leaving for greener pastures. Unfortunately for Toronto, they’re stuck in a division with two of baseball’s biggest spenders, so despite having a pretty decent young team–admittedly, with some holes to fill–their chances of making the playoffs amount to Bob Rae’s settings for Ideas, Leadership and Charisma–zip, zero, zilch!
That said, I do make a point of watching baseball’s postseason, particularly its last two rounds. And as an anti-baseball-establishment fan, I tend to root for those underdog Wild Card teams over the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox. Thus, this year I was big on the Cardinals and Brewers–two teams that’ll likely lose their star first basemen to the big spenders–while in the AL, I was all for the Tigers beating the Yankees after the Devil Rays, who effectively knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs, went down in the first round. That said, I have no particular sentiment towards the Texas Rangers, who meet the Cardinals for all the marbles tonite.
The Rangers have a total payroll of 92 million, which puts them at 13th in the league, two spots and 13 million dollars lower than the underdog Cards–but well ahead of the Jays, who spent just 62 million this season. It’s worth noting that Tampa Bay made the playoffs with the second-lowest payroll in baseball–a mere 41 mil–which is why I’ll always root for them in the playoffs, even though they’ve knocked Toronto down to fourth place in the AL East.
Texas won its division, the mediocre AL West, with relative ease–and solid pitching, on a squad that’s overseen by the great Nolan Ryan. They also haven’t won a World Series in franchise history, which dates back to the early 60′s, although they lost in the finals last year. On the other hand, St. Louis has had more recent success, winning in all in 2006. That said, they’re a compelling underdog story, 10.5 games out of the playoffs at the end of August, and winning on the final day of the season to secure a spot, much like Tampa did. The Cards then went on a run, knocking off the heavily-favoured Phillies and Brewers en route to their 18th NL pennant. So, who does an impartial fan cheer for–the team that’s never won, or the true underdog story?
I must admit, I was undecided as the series swung back and forth, the two teams alternating wins over the first three games, with the Rangers gaining an edge by taking Games 4 and 5. That said, if I was only casually following the Series up until now, catching a couple outs between commercial breaks of whatever football game was on, I was fully captivated by Game 6, an all-time classic. With the Cardinals trailing by two and down to their final out–make that their final strike–local boy David Freese delivered a two-run triple to tie the game, sending it to extra innings. Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, a true comeback story himself, playing with an injured groin, delivered a two-run homer in the top of the 10th to take the lead. Then, with the Cardinals down to their final strike again, Lance Berkman drove in the tying run with a seeing-eye single. Bottom of the 11th, it’s Freese at the plate again, and he delivers a walk-off homer to win it. Amazing!
After that performance, I know who I’m rooting for tonite, and it’s not the Texas Rangers. I mean, could you imagine if the ’86 Mets lost to Boston in Game 7, then lost Keith Hernandez to free agency the following season? Well, I wouldn’t wanna see it happen to the Cardinals, either!
That’s why, for just the second time, I’m putting everything else aside to watch baseball. I’ll be heading out to a bar, where I can’t see the Flames on my laptop, and I’m even giving up my lingerie football ticket for the occasion. (It was an 18-dollar purchase on Groupon, so no biggie. I can think of several shitty albums that cost me more than 18 bucks, some of which had scantily-clad women on the cover…)
Although the sport of baseball is run with the same set of morals and ethics as Wall Street, I believe that the long-dormant baseball gods are smiling on St. Louis. It is ironic that they’d have Texas, the heart of God’s country, come so agonizingly close for two straight seasons, but perhaps they’re sending ‘em a message: Thou shalt not kill with unconcealed firearms!
LET’S GO CARDS!