Sunday, June 7, 2009

Turn off the hype machine please

Two months into the baseball season, some people already are developing unrealistic expectations.

While running errands Saturday, I heard an ESPN radio announcer talking about how wonderful it would be if the New York Yankees and L.A. Dodgers played in the World Series this year. The two teams (as of Saturday morning) had the best records in each league (The Yankees later that day slipped a half-game behind the Red Sox in the AL East).

Part of the justification for such a match-up is Major League Baseball's two largest markets, as well two of its most popular teams, would meet in the league's premier event. The two teams have played each other 10 times in the fall classic, most recently in 1981.

The game only suffers with the hyping of these so-called "dream match-ups." Because while it draws lots of fans to the two teams as the regular and post seasons play out, it sends most of them away if, and most likely when, that match-up doesn't materialize. A lot can happen with 97 games remaining. No team has reached the meat of the pennant race yet.

How quickly we fail to learn from mistakes. Just look at the NBA Finals to see what happens when the hype machine runs in overdrive. As the Cleveland Cavaliers cruised through the early rounds of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and the L.A. Lakers advanced in the Western Conference, we began hearing with increasing frequency how exciting the NBA Finals will be when the Lakers' Kobe Bryant takes on the Cavs' LeBron James.

Unfortunately, the Orlando Magic had different plans. They spanked the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a more forgettable NBA championship series. The Lakers hammered the Magic by 25 points in Game 1 and few signs that wouldn't continue in Game 2 today.

I don't think MLB benefits by pushing a Yankees-Dodgers World Series two months into the season. The sports media always is looking for season-defining themes, but in this case, they should be looking at the races (14 teams are within 3 1/2 games of first place and two more are within 4 1/2 games), not hoping for an end result.

What baseball really needs is a competitive World Series. While some favorite teams have returned to the World Series or won after long droughts, three of the last five have been sweeps and the other two were 4-games-to-1 victories. The last series to reach a seventh game was the Anaheim Angels' 2002 win over the San Fransisco Giants.

I suppose it is a natural baseball cycle that sometimes the World Series is the season after-thought instead of its climax. It has happened in other sports -- Remember the NFC dominance over the AFC in the Super Bowl from the mid-80s through the mid- to late 90s? -- and there likely is no cure, except to let the cycle play out.

Pushing faces or teams to artificially inflate interest is not a good bet. The odds are too high for a devastating loss.

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