Ted: Eric, you recently wrote a piece about Adrian Beltre calling for more appreciation for the third baseman. Has Beltre entered the general baseball zeitgeist, or is he still on the oustkirts? Are all of the Rangers on the outskirts of something? If so, what?
Eric: Beltre is in a weird place. If you only read baseball blogs and twitter, then he is the zeitgeist. But if you read newspapers, listen to sports radio, and are a generally sane person for whom baseball is only a minor interest, Beltre remains on the outskirts. I suspect that in this way he is indeed emblematic of the Rangers. Many of the Rangers’ best players are either sabermetric delights like Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler, or highly stylized like Elvis Andrus. If the Rangers win, then everything changes. Maybe in Texas, it already has. You’re in Houston. How do y’all perceive the Rangers down there?
Ted: Astros fans perceive the Rangers as the distant cousin that we should feel some kinship too but don’t. If the Astros moved to the AL it would be like an 80s sitcom where a city cousin and a country cousin have to move in together. In that scenario, the country cousin would be successful and charming, and the city cousin has dandruff and wears mom jeans. But I digress.
The Rangers are a truly dichotomous team. On the one hand, as you mention, they are saber-darlings who perform bigger than their popular baseball playing reputations. On the other hand, they are clearly having fun out there, and I’d imagine that the casual fan can really get into their jam. Derek Holland is a total clown whose Harry Caray and Arnold Schawarzenneger impressions were so funny that Joe Buck woke up for long enough to hand his job over to the pitcher. Adrian Beltre’s head-touching issues would amuse Michelle Bachmann on a debate night. I’m guessing teenage girls swoon over CJ Wilson. The Rangers are a sabermetric team that you’d never know it, the way you can’t tell it’s Adam Sandler playing his own sister in his new blockbuster.
Speaking of the same thing over and over, I read somewhere that the Rangers would hypothetically be the 11th different team to win the World Series since some particular time. How does that make you feel?
Eric: Well, Ted you know my theory about the number 11…
No seriously, I don’t think parity is a bad thing, if that’s what you are referring to. And by parity I mean a state in which teams with competent management like the Rangers are just as likely to lose the World Series as teams with Brian Sabean as their GM. The thing about baseball, though, is that I don’t think World Series winners are a fair measure of inequality or dominance. This is not an uncommon argument: look at the 2001 Mariners or the last 20 years of the Atlanta Braves.
That said, knowledge that the playoffs aren’t fair doesn’t hurt any less when, say, your favorite team loses to the Phillies in the NLCS consecutive years. And to write off the World Series seems like giving up on everything we believe in (after all, if we can’t embrace randomness and absurdity, then what’s the point of being a baseball fan — even a self-aware one?) That’s a serious question: Could baseball exist and be delightful without a World Series?
Ted: What you pose is the Europe v. America argument. In Europe, they do things like end a football season without a championship and end games in ties. I enjoy such bizarre, Middle Age practices on one level, as a break from the American style, but I’d never choose it for these United States.
I think the real success of the playoffs and the World Series is the fact that most any fan, no matter which team you follow, can get a quick adrenaline rush from watching most any other team experience the thrill of the playoff win. It’s an inhabitable space for baseball fans to enjoy vicariously. The only way to live vicariously like that is if unexpected things happen, like lesser teams win bigger games, or crummy players–I’m coughing as I say the name Allen Craig–pull off wildly unlikely feats. You can’t get that from the IV drip end of a non-playoff season.
So, to answer your question, baseball could exist without the World Series, but it would be House Hunters.
(At this point we ask the readers for their thoughts. Imagine that Ray Bradbury and George Will collaborated on a neo-apocalyptic novel in which there was no World Series. What would this world look like?)