Local, festive flavor is what makes World Series a slice of Americana
Milwaukee — No World Series is complete these days without the perennial proposal that baseball follow pro football's lead and stage its annual showcase at a prearranged, neutral, warm-weather site.
Obviously this would make things easier for all concerned in terms of convenience and playing conditions. But anyone who was in either St. Louis or Milwaukee this past week must surely have seen that no matter how enticing these arguments may sound, taking the game away from the cities involved would be a disastrous mistake. Indeed, it is not too farfetched to say that it would destroy a large percentage of the charm and excitement that make the fall classic the unique institution it is.
The World Series is a lot more than just another big sports/media spectacle like the Super Bowl. It's a piece of Americana - part of our heritage and tradition in a way the championships of football and other sports cannot even approach. Those games appeal almost exclusively to fans, but every October millions of people who don't care much all year about baseball or any other sport find themselves caught up at least a little bit in the World Series. That's especially true, of course, when it's their team that is finally a part of the show, and their city that is suddenly playing host to the sports world.
St. Louis was absolutely bursting with civic pride for its Cardinals last week. Bands were playing and people were dancing in the streets as the crowds approached the stadium. And the festive mood spilled over into the entire city, with banners and replicas of redbirds everywhere you looked, and with the World Series practically the sole topic of conversation.
Most enthusiastic, of course, were the youngsters - boys and girls up to their teens who hadn't even been born the last time the Series was in St. Louis in 1968. And there were all sorts of stories of proud, happy fans from the surrounding area driving hundreds of miles to be part of their team's big moment.
But if St. Louis was reasonably excited as these things go, Milwaukee went totally bananas. On the eve of the first World Series game here since 1958, an estimated 25,000 ecstatic fans staged a gigantic pep rally for their beloved Brewers at County Stadium.
It was a truly incredible scene, with cheerleaders, a band playing ''Rocky's Theme,'' all sorts of costumes and decorations in the blue and gold colors of the team, and fans chanting and singing for hours.
Of course things don't get quite this wild every October. You don't always get two cities that have waited this long for the moment, but it does happen on occasion. Just two years ago, for instance, it was Philadelphia for the first time in 30 years and Kansas City for the first time ever. And even when the classic winds up in a more frequent site such as New York or Los Angeles, there's an electric atmosphere throughout the city that perhaps has to be experienced to be understood.
Sure you could bring the bands and the banners to New Orleans or Miami and whip up a lot of artificial excitement. Everybody could make airline and hotel reservations months in advance that way, and forget about packing the parkas and the ski caps. Bowie Kuhn could even leave his thermal underwear home. But what a price to pay for a little more warmth and comfort.
And yet, amazing as it seems in view of all the evidence we get every October in terms of excitement and local pride, there are people who want to do it. Worse yet, they could succeed some day.
Commissioner Kuhn, who to his credit opposes the whole idea even though it would make things a lot easier for him, fears that it will still happen at some future time. He's probably right, too, given some of the other ''progressive'' moves baseball has made in recent years to accomodate television, which would obviously love such a switch. But for the sake of the game and a great institution one can only hope that those making the decisions will continue to draw the line at destroying an integral part of what makes the World Series the special event it is.