ESPN.com's Buster Olney, one of the national baseball writers for whom I have the most respect, published an argument in favor of a neutral-site World Series in a warmer climate, an idea sparked by the monsoon that hit Philadelphia last week. Among his points:
If baseball ever takes this step, season-ticket holders initially will create an enormous backlash because they will feel as if something has been stripped from them. As anyone who attends postseason games knows, however, the high cost of the World Series generally outruns the budgets of many who go to regular-season games, anyway. The postseason crowds have a very different feel because a lot of the die-hards are left to watch on television.
With a neutral site, baseball could give season-ticket holders a first option to buy tickets to the World Series. In fact, it could prearrange airfare and hotel packages as part of the event.
It's true that baseball has priced most fans out of the World Series. The best seats go for thousands of dollars and are snapped up by corporate sponsors. But not all corporate sponsors -- and not all people who receive those tickets -- are impassionate about their home teams. In fact, you probably wouldn't go sit at an outdoor stadium in late October if you weren't passionate about your home team.
Olney's argument that postseason crowds are vastly different than regular-season crowds doesn't hold much water unless he's talking about how much better the crowds at Tropicana Field were in the playoffs than they were for the first five months of the regular season.
And his argument about airfare and hotel packages doesn't really hold water, either -- a prearranged package wouldn't make a week in Miami or Honolulu any more affordable. Season-ticket holders who can afford four World Series games at $250 apiece can't necessarily afford a week in Honolulu.
And there's no doubt that Major League Baseball could make the World Series into an incredible event because it could plan and stack up a wide array of options for fans, Super Bowl-style. Say, for example, that the neutral site were to be Phoenix in 2011. The World Series could begin on a Wednesday and go seven games in seven days. That would greater reflect how Major League Baseball is played during the regular season, with no off days and the depth of the rosters and rotations tested.
How passionate would fans in Phoenix have been about a Phillies-Rays World Series? Who would have attended seven games in seven games? Who has that kind of time? Who has that kind of flexibility in their jobs?
Imagine if the World Series had been played in Phoenix this season. Not many downtrodden Phillies fans would have splurged for a week in Arizona back in the spring -- their team has let them too many times. Not many enthusiastic Rays fans would have splurged for a week in Arizona, either -- they both had prior commitments that week already.
Along the way, MLB could arrange for Hall of Famers to attend daily fan-fest functions, panels and autograph-signing sessions and seminars. The general managers could hold their annual meetings during that week, and the GMs could break away from their hotel to hold town-hall-style talks with fans about their teams as their managers are in town. The baseball writers could announce, day by day, the winners of the major awards -- rookies of the year on the first day, managers of the year on the second day, Cy Young winners on the third day and the MVPs on the last day.
We need to go to a neutral site to announce the regular-season award winners? That's a great idea, but couldn't you do that no matter where the World Series was being held? Couldn't you have done that in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia?
Best of all, the games would be played in conditions best suited for the best baseball. Pitchers wouldn't have to worry whether they'd be able to grip their breaking ball (I wonder whether that was a factor in the pivotal double that Pat Burrell hit off J.P. Howell), baserunners wouldn't have to hydroplane into bases, and hitters wouldn't have to blink through raindrops and their own clouds of breath.
Here's another concept: Rainouts. It happens during the regular season. Heck, it happened in 1975. Luis Tiant pitched Games 1, 4 and 6 for the Red Sox, and it's not because his back-to-home-plate windup gave him some kind of extra energy. It's because Game 5 was played on Oct. 16, and Game 6 was delayed until Oct. 21 by rain.
Rainouts happen. It's part of baseball.
One last point: The postseason is something that can bring a city, a state, an entire region together. Nothing is more exciting than having your team in the World Series. Remember the Homer Hankies in Minnesota in 1991? Remember George Bush's first pitch at Yankee Stadium in 2001? Heck, 65,975 people showed up for a Marlins home game in the World Series in 2003. (I know, I didn't believe it, either.)
Philadelphia went ballistic when the Phillies won the World Series this week? Sure, it would have been exciting for those boo-happy baseball fans no matter where their team won a championship. But imagine if there had been no celebration at Citizens Bank Park, if the celebration instead had been at Chase Field in Phoenix or some yet-to-be-constructed stadium in Hawaii. It wouldn't have been the same. It just wouldn't.
Baseball, more than any other sport, brings cities together. It would be a shame to ruin that by shipping the World Series to a neutral site.