Game Changers: What about a neutral-site World Series?
There were shrieks from a few select sections in the stands, and there was the sound of joyful men flinging their gloves into the sky and wrapping each other in their arms in celebration. Other than that, Citi Field stood silent in that moment when the Kansas City Royals clinched their first World Series title in 30 years. Each year, the Fall Classic ends either with this frustrated finality -- or rousing rapture -- for the home faithful. There is no in between.
But what if baseball entertained the in between?
What if the World Series, the sport's signature tournament and heretofore a bastion of tradition in its arrangement, went the way of the Super Bowl and other neutral-site championship settings? Would improving the event's logistics and possibly its national appeal be worth the accompanying compromises in regional cohesion and time-honored institution?
Even those who are against annually holding the Fall Classic in a warm-weather location can at least acknowledge the potential benefits of the arrangement. Let's break them down:
1. From weather to no weather
Or rather, significantly less weather to bear up against, because we all know what a fickle mistress Mother Nature can be. You could rotate the World Series among a handful of venues where the weather can reasonably be counted upon to cooperate (i.e. cities where the average high that time of year is 65 degrees or more):
Marlins Park (Miami)
Globe Life Park (Arlington)
Minute Maid Park (Houston)
Chase Field (Phoenix)
Petco Park (San Diego)
Angel Stadium (Anaheim)
Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles)
You'll note that I've left the permanent dome of Tropicana Field off this list, as well as the retractable roofs in the colder-weather climates of Seattle (Safeco Field), Milwaukee (Miller Park) and Toronto (Rogers Centre), because, really, it's going to be hard enough to sway certain people on this issue without guaranteeing that the games be played indoors.
If you house the World Series at any of the seven venues above, you won't have to worry about another situation like 2008, when the sixth inning of Game 5 between the Rays and the Phillies was suspended for two long days.
And, fundamentally, there is this: The World Series is supposed to be baseball played at its highest level. This level can be difficult to attain in adverse conditions.
2. No off-days to endure
October baseball is both the pinnacle of entertainment and the antithesis of the six-month schedule that precedes it. After a full season tailored to the daily grind, the calendar is suddenly littered with momentum-killing or strategy-altering off-days that affect the game's flow.
A neutral-site series would solve this in the climactic final round, forcing a test of the two pennant winners' pitching depth. An ace tapped for Game 1 likely wouldn't be available again until Game 5 -- and even then only on short rest. A manager could not empty his bullpen and subject us to a series of matchup plays without potential relief repercussions in the game or games that follow. There would be no managerial manipulation to get around a weakness in the third or fourth starting slot, probably no wiggle room to hide a pinch-running specialist in your last roster spot.
The series, therefore, would be played just like the first five months of the season schedule (before the September roster expansion) -- my 25 best vs. your 25 best, night after night after night. And tightening up the schedule might prevent those November games we so like to avoid.
3. No All-Star squabbles
A change to one jewel event would affect another. Go with a neutral-site World Series and you won't have to hear another argument about the 2003 change that made home-field advantage in the World Series dependent on the Midsummer Classic result. Equally (if not more) arbitrary was the prior arrangement, in which the home-field edge alternated between leagues.
4. More logistical logic
In the current arrangement, it behooves baseball to have some sort of handle on the potential World Series sites because of the hotel rooms that must be blocked off for sponsors, teams, support staffs and media and because of the various charity endeavors and promotional campaigns associated with the event.
Were the site to be planned out not just days, weeks or months but years in advance, the Series' reach could be extended even further. You could have a Fan Fest, you could have concerts, you could have parties or perhaps even a season awards gala. You would almost certainly have more worldwide media descending on the event because of the ability to budget and coordinate in advance.
And for baseball fans across the country, the World Series would become a vacation destination, rather than a hastily arranged traveling circus.
So those are the prime arguments in favor of this unorthodox idea. The arguments against are much more matter of fact:
1. Not so fan-tastic
Cubs fans, as the most glaring example, have now been waiting 107 years and counting for their team to win a World Series. You mean to tell me that the year it finally happens, the Cubbies will be wearing their home whites in Marlins Park while Wrigley Field sits empty? Nothing about that feels right.
2. It might not be "neutral"
While it would be cool to see a historic venue like Dodger Stadium host the World Series every five or six years or so, it wouldn't be so cool if one of those years happens to be a year in which the Dodgers themselves advance to the Fall Classic.
3. A loss of tradition
It's not enough to merely say, "This is the way we've always done it, so this is the way we're going to keep doing it." But guaranteeing home games to the American League and National League champions has worked out pretty well the last 100-plus years for a reason. Home crowds can truly impart some impact on the outcome, and there is something fundamentally interesting about watching World Series teams adopt to the environs of two parks in a single series. Some ballclubs -- the current Royals included -- are tailor-made for their home parks, and it's fun to see them tested on the road and to see their opponent tested (a la Terry Collins going with Yoenis Cespedes in center field in Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium) when they play host.
Anyway, just refresh in your mind the sound that was made when Joe Carter hit the Game 6 walk-off in Toronto. You're just not going to get that in a neutral site.
So, realistically, it seems it's either all neutral or stick to the status quo. The status quo has worked, and it's wonderful (and it would be my preference to maintain it). That being said, it doesn't mean those in favor of a major World Series shakeup don't have some worthwhile points to consider.