The World Series has been in a slump lately. When it comes to Classics worthy of the name, baseball is 0 for the '80s.
Free agency and the fluid movement of talent has made baseball better in many ways. Also, artificial turf has forced teams to select swifter athletes, if not better baseball players. Record attendance can't be an accident.
In all, the whole season is better now. But, too often, the Series isn't.
More teams have a better chance in more division races than ever. The whole 162-game season, the drama that makes us cleave to the sport, still is richly fascinating. However, there's a price.
A more democratized World Series is a more mediocre World Series.
The price of competitive balance is lack of greatness, lack of identity.
Dovetailing with this trend is the impact of phony grass. An emphasis on speed, rather than the old ideal of speed and power, means that it's easier for teams built around sprinters to edge out clubs built on all-arounders.
Sad to say, we have to look to the '70s to find the last time that two great teams were on the field at once.
Let's be honest. The St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals are, by Series standards, drab collections.
Who's going to the Hall of Fame from these two starting lineups?
Maybe Ozzie Smith, for his glove.
That's it. No other regulars can even daydream about making the ballot.
Among Cardinals pitchers, nobody has a prayer. Joaquin Andujar started this year 89-89. John Tudor, until he proves otherwise, is a one-year flash.
Maybe Dan Quisenberry, if he returns to form for five years, will get a bronze bust. Among infants, Bret Saberhagen and Vince Coleman, granting huge extrapolations, might do it.
Though it's embarrassing, let's glance backward a decade.
Reds vs. Red Sox in 1975: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn and (injured) Jim Rice. For spear carriers: Ken Griffey, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Dwight Evans, Cecil Cooper and Rick Burleson.
How about Yankees vs. Dodgers in '77 and '78: Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles, Steve Garvey, Don Sutton, Tommy John. The bit players then equal the leads now: Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Ron Cey, Dave Lopes, Mike Torrez, Don Gullett.
It's nobody's fault that the Cardinals and Royals seem like threadbare champs. There's pleasure in watching Willie McGee and Tommy Herr have career years. We can pretend that run-of-the-mill sluggers like Jack Clark and Steve Balboni are Series heirs to DiMaggio and Mays when they're really more like Jim Lemon and Gus Zernial.
It's just plain hard to construct a dynasty these days. Nobody stays in one place anymore. Gentlemen named Schmidt, Murphy, Ripken, Murray, Rice, Yount, Sandberg and Garvey all played for second-division teams this year. The sport's a dogfight these days. It's been a long time since teams as good as the Mets, Yankees, Blue Jays and Dodgers didn't make the World Series.
That doesn't help us this week.
When we have to watch teams with a limp, like the 1983 Phillies, the '84 Padres or the '85 Royals as they try to reach beyond themselves to make the Series competitive, we find ourselves longing for the days when October was baseball.
The reason the '85 Series has seemed dull is fairly simple. The games, except for half an inning in Game 2, have been unexceptional and, except when Brett comes to bat, nobody of historic stature is on the field.
Does this mean that baseball is condemned to a long era of October stagnation? Is a meeting of charismatic teams in the World Series now an exception rather than the rule?
Of course we don't know. However, it might be worth noting though that a New York Mets vs. New York Yankees matchup didn't miss materializing by much. Those clubs won 98 and 97 games.
Could we have gotten interested in watching Dwight Gooden pitch to Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly? When Guidry was scheduled to face Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry, would we have chosen that inning to go to the hot dog line?
For a moment, let's forget that New York is Sodom and that all moral virtues reside in the heartland. Let's forget that only biased big city snobs rooted for a subway, rather than an I-70, Series. In other words, for a second, let's forget geography and face facts.
To the general baseball fan, it's obvious that the most "classic" clubs are not in this World Series.
Maybe the best teams are here -- you know, chemistry, cohesion and all that good stuff. But the full World Series tingle did not arrive with them. All Series games may be in prime time now, but -- hey, take a memo -- where's that concept of the old Saturday afternoon high of Frank Robinson against Roberto Clemente?
In the second inning of Game 3, the No. 5 hitters led off for both teams. That meant the prospective hitters were: Van Slyke, Pendleton, Porter and Landrum for the Cardinals and Sheridan, Sundberg, Balboni and Biancalana for the Royals.
This is the World Series?
It's not Mantle, Berra, Skowron, Bauer, Slaughter, Martin, McDougald and Ford against Snider, Hodges, Robinson, Furillo, Reese, Campanella, Gilliam, Newcombe and Maglie.
But it's the funky sort of jeans-not-tux World Series that we've seen for much of the '80s.
We'll just have to live with it, enjoy it for what it is, and hope for our luck to change.