How to decide who to root for in the World Series

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Obviously most of us are neither Tigers nor Giants fans, so how do we choose a rooting interest for the next eight days?  Just some out loud thinking:

  • If you’re a Dodgers fan or a fan of whatever team has decided that the Tigers are their big rival lately — White Sox maybe? — your path is clear: you root for the other guy because eff those Giants/Tigers.
  • The Tigers have a pretty high payroll: $132 million, which is fifth in baseball this year. The Giants are eighth at $117 million. Not a big difference, but if you like to root against a team that spends more, the Giants are your huckleberries.
  • That said, San Francisco has a larger media market than Detroit — 2.5 million TV households to 1.8 million — so they are presumably the richer, better-supported team overall, which kind of blurs the finances and changes the Tigers story from “rich team with bigger payroll” to “generous owner spending what it takes to win.” If you’re into that whole game, maybe the Tigers should be your horse.
  • I have always liked the Giants standard uniforms a lot (though I hate the orange alternates), but the Tigers are far and away the best-dressed team in the game, especially at home. If you’re a uniform junkie this is a great series, really, but you probably need to root for the Tigers.
  • The Giants big star is Buster Posey. It’s hard to find anything to dislike about him. The Tigers big star is Miguel Cabrera. He has had his past issues. If you follow the star power and if that sort of thing bothers you, go for the Giants.
  • If you’re looking beyond the biggest names, you have a bit of a mixed bag. And almost too-quirky-by-half thing with the Giants (Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson) that can be a bit annoying. Some Tigers who are either execrable (Delmon Young) or at the very least kinda douchey (Jose Valverde and, to some degree, Justin Verlander, even if he is a freaking pitching machine). Call that a tossup.
  • The Giants play in what I consider to be the best ballpark currently in use in all of baseball. The Tigers, however, used to play in the best park to ever exist in baseball and in a current park that is definitely top five. If you care about home park optics, the Giants probably get the edge.
  • Fan bases are an interesting way to determine a rooting interest. The Giants definitely have a wild-and-crazy vibe in the park and, as I mentioned this morning, the city is currently bonkers for the team.  Detroit, however, has what I consider to be one of the most knowledgeable and sophisticated fan bases around, even if they haven’t drawn as consistently as the Giants have over the past 10-15 years. I’d caution you against going with stereotypes here — not all Detroit fans riot and burn things when the team wins and not all Giants fans are latte-drinking liberal weenies who just discovered the team in October 2010 — but I do think you have a clear choice between a lower-intensity but sophisticated fan base with Detroit and a higher energy but maybe a bit more touristy fan base in San Francisco. Pick whichever floats your boat.
  • Playing styles: The Giants get good pitching and a are an opportunistic balls-in-play kind of offense. The Tigers get good starting pitching — and have the best pitcher on either team in Verlander — but on offense they’re a slower, more power-oriented team. The Giants may be a bit more aesthetically pleasing in doing what they do if that kind of thing matters to you.
  • What’s your take on history? The Giants have had more overall success and have won more World titles, but a ton of that came a looong time ago. They certainly have the more recent title — 2010 — but since 1945 both teams have exactly two championships, with the Giants winning seven pennants and the Tigers five. Just an insane amount of overall history here regardless. Cobb, Mays, Greenberg, Matthewson, McCovey, Kaline, Bonds, Trammell and on and on. This is a traditionalists dream.

Personally: I’m not rooting for anyone. This is less a fancy media “I must remain objective since I’m here on the scene” kind of thing than it is me really being at a loss as to how to choose. When my team is out of it I tend to go for the team that has had the longest championship drought, but it’s not like the Tigers are plucky underdogs or something. There are players on each club I like and players on each I do not like, but no serious man-crush that would tip the scales one way or another.

I want good baseball. I wouldn’t mind it going seven games. Short of that, one of these guys is gonna have to win me over on the fly.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.