There was a time in baseball when rivalries between teams were real instead of manufactured. Before my time and perhaps yours, the monarchs of the National League – the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers provided endless arguments as to who was better – Duke Snider or Willie Mays. These were spirited and heartfelt fans who didn’t give an inch.
For the Dodgers, or “Bums” as they were called then, they would also battle the Yankees throughout the 1950’s in the World Series finally taking a lone Championship in 1955. These were geographical rivalries that could be sketched out on a map of the New York City subway system.
But geography isn’t what it used to be. Technology has redrawn and virtually eliminated the boundaries of the last vestiges of what we used to call “rivalries”.
Baseball might be losing something in this exchange………or maybe it’s simply the dust settling as the game self adjusts to a world that has already changed …….thus making efforts by baseball to retrieve the past superficial and foolhardy…….
At its core today, Major League Baseball is a grind of 162 games played over half a calendar year that begins in Spring and culminates in the Fall. The length of the season is both the pride and bane of the sport. It requires the ability to accept failure as the road to success……you lose tonight but there’s a chance and a reason to redeem yourself tomorrow. As a natural result, players today take it (and you’ll hear them say this ad nausium) “one game at a time”.
For a ballplayer, it hardly matters what team you are playing against on any given day, except for who you are hitting or pitching against once the lineups are posted. The uniforms are superfluous to the task at hand which is to win six out of every ten games you play leading to a chance to win it all in the playoffs.
Rivalries are built over time. Today, time is fleeting in baseball. Players move about freely from one team to another via free agency. General Managers stock and then restock their teams over the course of the season. As a result, teams today seldom have a “face” – meaning one or two players who can be identified as “lifers” with that team. Ted Williams – check Boston. Stan Musial – check Cardinals. Sandy Koufax – check Dodgers. And so on. Whether this is a good or bad development can be argued on another day. But the fact remains that MLB cannot continue to create manufactured rivalries via interleague play and expect its fan base to buy into it.
To put it another way, the luster gained from the novelty of The Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees has long since faded. This, while other so called rivalries like Tampa Bay versus the Marlins, the Angels versus the Dodgers, etc. never existed in the first place. Even intraleague rivalries like the Yankees and the Red Sox no longer pack the wallop they used to for the average fan.
For the media of course, it’s a different story because it gives them something to fill their column space with. But for the players, it often means offensive interruption to their daily routine and preparation for the game at hand with endless and often inane interviews and forced quotes that sound the same………”There’s a different feel in the ballpark today”……….really?
So how do we fix it? The answer is we don’t. We just ignore the manufactured hype and do what the players do by concentrating on the game at hand……..who’s pitching today, who’s in or out of the lineup, is weather going to be a factor, where is the game being televised and what channel is that……and so on.
Yes, maybe we’ve lost something here with the fading of old time rivalries. But maybe we’ve gained something too and, like the players themselves, we’ve grown up a bit too and we don’t need outside stimuli to enjoy each game as a competition……….no matter which teams are playing……….