The Major League Pinball Championships resumes Tuesday in Los Angeles, with its slick baseballs and plutonium bats and shape-shifting strike zones and death of the slider and bullpen rubble and look-the-other-way racism.
You know. The baseball of the future.
Except that it probably isn’t. This is the least baseball-ish World Series ever, and while people are riveted by every bizarre whack-a-mole moment, it doesn’t actually translate to the baseball that leads to this kind of baseball.
In other words, the Giants can’t do this. The A’s probably can’t. Most teams can’t. And even allowing for the fact that this is the most homer-happy time in the history of the game, Sunday's game, which Houston won 13-12 over Los Angeles, was a Planet 9-level outlier. And if you fell in love with the game based on Sunday night, your disappointment will be palpable.
In fact, that disappointment may be felt as quickly as Tuesday, when Justin Verlander gets the start for Houston.
But the notion that the World Series should be this different than the rest of the season is a fascinating one. Not necessarily a bad one – this is not the Old Fud Hour, and change is irresistible – but a fascinating one.
If Houston and Los Angeles are really that different than everyone else, then good on them for building their teams to reflect that fact. But if the game itself is this much of a car crash throughout an entire season, is it actually sustainable by the sport’s current standards, and if not, can the sport change quickly enough to reflect it?
Yes, this is small-sample-size stuff, but a big rating World Series is going to help arrest what is perceived to be baseball’s demographic rot, and imitation is the sincerest form of cashing in. And unlike Bud Selig, who changed much about the game without either intending to or always enjoying it, Rob Manfred is more comfortable with life outside the box. If the slider dies on his watch, and the response is more home runs and eyeballs (on all your available devices, of course), he’ll take that in a heartbeat.
And not just him, but the entire hierarchy of the sport. It’s too easy to say, “Manfred this,” and “Manfred that,” just as it is cheap shorthand to substitute the names Goodell, Silver, Bettman and Garber. No, this is baseball at a new crossroads, the extreme of a clear shift toward a strikeout-or-homer sport whose nuances are under subtle but noticeable attack.
And the questions to be asked are “Can this be replicated across the sport?” “Should this be replicated across the sport?” and finally, “If it can’t be, what happens to the longterm artistic and financial vitality of the sport?”
Put another way, if Justin Verlander is truly Verlander-esque Tuesday and the final score is 3-1, how many people will be bummed out that it wasn’t enough like Sunday? I shudder to think.