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Soup of This Day #346: It’s A Different World

October 23, 2013

1903 World Series
The 1st World Series was in 1903. It was played between the Boston Red Sox (Then the Boston Americans) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. 5 of the 9 games, including the 1st, were scheduled at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. The home team, with Cy Young on the mound, lost that 1st encounter, but clinched Game 8 there to win the title 5 games to 3. You can’t make it out in the above photo, which was taken during that seminal series, but Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds had a tool shed located in deep center that was considered in play – Photo: Unknown, 1903. Image cropped by Longworth72.

In 2008 a poll found that just 28% of Americans could identify Gordon Brown as the then-Prime Minister of the UK. This lack of knowledge of international affairs is not unusual – a. There’s enough going on domestically in most countries to keep the citizenry internally occupied, and b. It’s possible that a sizable percentage of Americans had actually come across the unassuming Gordon Brown but just couldn’t believe that he was the Prime Minister of anything, let alone a global power like the UK.

Gordon’s own party once went with a slogan of, ‘Not Flash, Just Gordon.’

The point is though that folks don’t often know what is happening beyond their borders. This is a problem I’m confronting of late because I live in Australia and I can’t find many people who are willing and able to discuss American baseball and its showpiece World Series. Which starts in around 10 hours.

Fortunately though, just like Gordon Brown, I’m a problems person.

Here then is the Longworth72 FAQ primer on the 2013 World Series, the Major League Baseball (MLB) best-of-7 title-deciding stoush.

Is calling it the World Series, when it’s almost exclusively an American franchise opportunity, hubris?

Not if you define hubris as extreme pride or arrogance. The key there is the ‘extreme’ bit – For sure there is some pride and undoubtedly arrogance. It’s justified though.

Forget that ol’ chestnut that the contest between the best of the American League (AL) and the National League (NL) is named for the New York World newspaper. Regardless of how it began, this sporting challenge is now truly thought of as being a World Championship. That’s how it is referred to in pretty much every professional publication and that is how you’ll hear the winners labelled: World Champions.

MLB does, it’s true, have just 30 teams, 29 of which are based in the US. The solitary ‘international’ outfit hails from Toronto, just north of the border in Canada. You could make a case that this limited spread is hardly representative of the ‘World’, but that argument breaks down quickly when you look at a. The dearth of top quality league play in any other country, and b. The range of nationalities represented within the MLB rosters.

Quite simply, MLB is the pinnacle for any player from any country and there is very little doubt that these teams represent the best in the world. That’s a prideful and arrogant claim but it just happens to be a true reflection of the game today.

If that causes you some pain to accept then consider referring to the series as the Fall Classic. Even if Americans are the only folk to call Autumn ‘Fall’ and global warming may well be rendering the season obsolete anyway.

Where will the series be played?

It’s split across Boston’s Fenway Park and St Louis’ Busch Stadium III. The former has the home-field advantage, meaning that Games 1 and 2, plus 6 and 7 if required, will be at Fenway. The middle stretch of games (3, 4 and 5 if required) will be in St Louis.

Boston earned that home-field edge by dint of the AL winning the All-star game. To any objective person this is a bizarre method of sorting this key aspect out – Essentially, MLB has designated an exhibition game as the deciding factor – A situation unparalleled in any other sport that I’m aware of.

How does the World Series adjust to the AL and NL having different rules?

Well this boils down to the Designated Hitter (DH) role. The AL has it and the NL doesn’t. This means that pitchers don’t have a place in the batting lineup in the AL but that they do in the NL. This is partially offset by some creative use of pinch hitters in the NL but it’s still a big deal.

For the World Series, the rules are quite simply decided by the park they’re playing in. Suit up in St. Louis and your pitchers would best be prepared to swing a bat as per NL rules. Front up at Fenway though and you’ll be needing that AL-mandated designated hitter.

This makes home-field advantage all the more critical, particularly given that Boston’s pitchers managed only 1 hit during interleague play this year.

Who will be singing the national anthem for Game 1?

This might seem like a frivolous question but it’s really a crucial selection. How the chosen vocalist belts out the Star Spangled Banner is going to set the tone for that game and maybe the series – Just check the player’s body language during that rendition – The anthem will either get the juices flowing or it will set an edgier, off-kilter vibe.

Anyway, for Game 1 it will be American R&B singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige with the microphone in hand. Inexplicably, I always get Mary J. confused with Canadian-American folk-pop singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright. Maybe it’s because they are both the kind of soul-strumming tunesmith’s that make the world go round, but regardless it’s Blige getting the gig for this Fall Classic opener. There is some compensation for Wainwright though – She gets the title song for this Soup. Swings and roundabouts Martha, swings and roundabouts.

Who will throw out the 1st pitch?

For the 2013 World Series the 1st ceremonial toss will be by Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski.

Yaz played his 23 year career wholly with the Red Sox. 18 of those years he was an All-star, 7 of them a Golden Glove. His #8 has been retired by the Red Sox while he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 with 94.63% of the vote at the 1st time of asking.

All of that is epic, but it’s what he did in 1967 that’s the real clincher now – Playing in Boston’s Impossible Dream outfit of that year he helped – And by ‘helped’ I mean that he won the Triple Crown and the AL MVP – turn a 72 and 90 record from 1966 into a 92 and 70 record the following season. The team parleyed that into a World Series appearance, losing out in 7 games to those birds from St Louis.

Now, 46 years on, and the current edition of the Boston Red Sox have gone on a dream run of their own. Last year they went 69 and 93. This year they swung that around to 97 and 65 and just like for 1967, have parleyed that latter record into a World Series contest with those birds from St Louis.

So yeah, as the Red Sox look to make the Possible Dream happen, Yaz has a lock on that 1st pitch.

What’s with the focus on the beards?

Playoff beards have long been a thing in baseball (Except in Yankee-land). For 2013, the Red Sox got their beards on early, pretty much at the start of the season, and then just added insurance from there on in. So in this case it’s less a playoff superstition thing and more a sign of something magical happening within the team. As Lance Armstrong would say: It’s not about the beard. Instead it’s more about the mystical juju concentrated in those facial tentacles of awesome.

Although, just in case there is some wannabe Delilah out there with access to some chloroform and a straight razor, it’s worth noting that Koji Uehara, he of the spell-binding splitter, is clean-shaven already.

Who will win?

In the crap shoot that is the playoffs, you don’t always get the best teams in the World Series. This time out though we have, based on regular-season wins, the top outfits from the AL and the NL. Both finished with 97 wins and both did it by scoring more runs than anybody else in their respective leagues. This will be the Cards 4th trip to the Fall Classic in the past 10 years, edging the Red Sox who will be making their 3rd journey across the same decade.

They are however 2 very different outfits, particularly in how they go about their business. The Cards are efficient across the diamond, a team that thrives on work and grind rather than magic. Run production is shared and comes more via regularly safe hitting than big blasts, while the pitching shows up few weak links.

The Red Sox by contrast thrive on the mystical side of the game – If you’d have grown a cornfield at Fenway and these guys had wandered out of it at the start of each game nobody would really have been surprised, except maybe the groundskeepers. This is a side with an uncanny ability to just get it done, even if that means a grand slam at the bottom of the 8th when they’ve barely registered a hit to that point. Say it’s the beards or blame it on the dirty water, but either way the Red Sox know how to win when they’re playing bad and when they’re playing well, they’re nigh on unstoppable. So even though their run production has been down this postseason you can be assured that somebody else will step up.

Red Sox in 5.

Warm those vocals up Mary J. and let’s go Red Sox!

It’s A Different World

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