Monday, August 4, 2014

City Ball

Watching the Giants and Phillies is making me think that the National League has about the best location not just amount leagues in the Majors, but among almost any American sport.  (Arguably the MLS western conference might be the second best such environment and dynamic among team locations.)
                The fact is, though, that most of these teams are almost inarguably the important teams in their area.  Cincinnati has the oldest professional baseball team in existence, Miami has a very large Cuban population, despite a terrible ownership history.  The Giants own the bay area, have the most beautiful stadium in the game, and a couple recent ‘ships under their belt, and the Phillies are still in their city!  But let’s take a look at a cross section of the most ideal locations for the National Pastime.
                Los Angeles: Despite the fact that they’ve only been in this area since 1958, this team is probably the most storied team of any kind on the west coast.  They’re the team of Sandy Koufax, Steve Garvey, and Kirk Gibson.  In the nineties they won six Rookie of the Year awards in a row.  They’ve played in the same place since moving from the Colliseum early in their residence.  They have the best announcer in sports.  And while they haven’t won a Series since ’88, the team has probably the brightest future.
                Best current pitcher in the game; one of the most exciting young players in the game; a giant new TV contract and an owner who is most famous in the town for his accomplishments in another sport.  And they’ve done it all while surviving a team that plays an hour away, but insists on calling themselves “Los Angeles”, another team in San Diego and one of the worst ownership fiascos in recent memory.  What helps the Dodgers here is that their uniforms are just classic, they have a rival in the Giants who are generally competitive and pretty close (by American standards) and did I mention more money than God?  Yes, a lot of people might argue that the basketball team still owns the town, but I have my own axe to grind with them and that team hasn’t even been the best basketball team in their town the past couple years.
                St. Louis: I hate the Cardinals.  They were named after the trim and socks’ colors on their uniform around the time of their founding, having first taken the name Perfectos.  For a time, they weren’t even the only St. Louis Cardinals (the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL having moved there around the middle of the century).  They kicked another, lamer-color-named team out of their city, and sent them to another place which liked birds.  Then they stole the design of that team’s park for their new park.  Their fan territory infringes further across their state then it should and into most of the western Mason-Dixon states.  They’ve stymied the potentially great stories of the ’67 Red Sox, the ’82 Brewers (thank you!) and the ’11 Rangers.  They have the second most championships in baseball, but their fans still complain about a measly first-base call in a (non-deciding) Game 6 against a team with only one championship in their history.[i]   But they are the best baseball city in America.
                Their fans show up year after year.  They do benefit from a lot of exposure in TV commercials, given that they are owned by a certain famous beer company.  But year after year they also have great pitching, role players who are pushed to new heights, and an environment that loves baseball above all else.
                Milwaukee:  As a Packer fan and Twins fan, this pains me.  But I also kind of feel for the place. Their current franchise is an expansion club, and they’ve only had one World Series appearance, which wasn’t in the league they are currently in.  But the first club they had was in too much of a hurry to leave, despite a couple Series appearances (including one win over the Yankees), and some of the greatest players of the generation, playing in a city that loved them.
                Sure the city is largely Packer territory, but they take baseball fandom to new (if drunken) heights.  Their ballpark is incredibly spacious and breezy.  They originated the costumed-fan races that have swept the league and for once there’s something besides Bernie Brewer sliding down three levels to come to the ballpark to watch.  Who cares if there’s probably way too much Miller Lite at the park?  They’ve got anti-heroes, cast-offs and rebels on a team which will show their true colors down the stretch, one way or another.  They used to have the greatest hat logo in baseball and they often still pay tribute to it.  And of course, despite being on the outskirts of the city, fans troop out every game-day to get sloshed in the parking lot while playing bags, and then mosey in for some more beer and delicious brats.  And maybe, for the time, some winning baseball.

[i] Yeah, it was their cross-state rival, but the Royals also had been down 3-1 in the Series.  So no sympathy, Redbirds.