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Hartnett: The case for the Classic (Feb. 7)

Brian Hartnett | Thursday, February 7, 2013

 

Editor’s note: This is  the ninth story in a 10-part series discussing the best event in sports. In this installment, Brian Hartnett argues for the World Series.

As America’s main form of summer sporting entertainment, baseball may garner the most attention during the dog days of July and August, when the season hits full stride and the pennant races start to heat up.

However, “America’s pastime” is at its best during the chilly autumn nights of late October. It is during this time of year when tense games come down to the wire, unsung heroes emerge from the depths of the rosters and the game’s biggest stars shine brightest, all on a stage large enough to extend the world over. Yes, I’m talking about the World Series, the best event in all of sports.

To understand and appreciate the World Series is to understand baseball, a sport often criticized for its lack of action. And to understand baseball is to appreciate and treasure its extensive history, a history far richer than that of almost any other sport.

To give you a brief history, the World Series started in 1903 and has been played nearly every year since, with its 108th edition taking place last fall. And in its 108 years, the Fall Classic has seen just about everything.

Despite its highly specialized roles and team-first mentality, baseball has always had a special place for its larger-than-life superstars, many of whom have entered a mythical status in sports lore. But, while these players’ regular season feats are admirable in their own right, it’s arguable that many of them became legends in October. 

Consider Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson. They were all incredible players but, to most people, the defining moments in their respective careers came in the World Series. Ruth had his called shot in 1932 (whether it actually happened is another debate). Mays had his incredible over-the-shoulder catch in 1954 and Jackson had his three home-run performance in 1978, which earned him the moniker “Mr. October.”

This legend-building has extended to recent years, when Derek Jeter hit his game-winning home run shortly after the calendar flipped to November of 2001 and Albert Pujols tied Jackson’s record with an incredible three home run performance in 2011.

It is not always the big names, however, that have the greatest impact on the series. Time after time, players have (literally) come from out of left field to leave their mark on the big stage.

Don Larsen might have only won 81 games in his career, but he’s forever remembered in baseball history because one of those wins came as a perfect game in the 1956 series. Similarly remembered are players like Johnny Podres, who brought Brooklyn a long-awaited championship with two superb pitching performances in 1955, Gene Larkin, a career .266 hitter who drove in the series-winning run for Minnesota in 1991, Craig Counsell, a key contributor to World Series winners in 1997 and 2001, and, most recently, David Freese, who few outside of St. Louis had heard of before his breakout in the 2011 series.

Freese’s performance came in one of the most memorable series to date, a thrilling seven-game set captured by the Cardinals. While the World Series has seen its share of blowouts and duds, as has nearly every championship, it has also given fans some of the sport’s classic games. 

Who can forget the ball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986 or a hobbled Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in 1988 or Luis Gonzalez’s blooper off Mariano Rivera in 2001?

These standout plays have made past World Series memorable, but so have some of the incredible matchups found in past Fall Classics. Having been around since as early as the 1870s, professional baseball teams don’t lack for tradition and many have compelling histories.

One of these teams is the New York Yankees, baseball’s big, bad villain but also its most successful franchise. The Yankees’ battles with teams like the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals in the World Series rank among the sport’s greatest games. On the other hand, there are teams that have seen decades go by without a championship, creating one of sports’ most compelling storylines. 

Two of these teams, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, finally snapped out of their championship droughts last decade. On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs are still in search of their first World Series since 1908.

Say what you want about the passion of Cubs’ fans, but I think you would be hard-pressed to imagine a more incredible sports scene than the one that would unfold if and when the Northsiders bring the Commissioner’s Trophy home to Wrigley Field.

And what would make this reaction so incredible? Quite simply, it would be the display of pride that comes from winning the World Series, the best event in all of sports.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.