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3Qs: The best of the best in baseball

The St. Louis Cardinals completed an improbable comeback win over the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series, in what one baseball expert deemed a game for both the “story books and the history books.” The Cardinals then capped-off a remarkable run through the postseason with a 6-2 victory in Game 7, which solidified the club as one of the most unexpected champions in the history of the sport. We asked journalism professor Charles Fountain, who has written about sports for many years, to analyze the pastoral nature of baseball and the effect of the Fall Classic on the future of the game.

How does this season’s World Series stack up among baseball’s best? What is the greatest single moment in World Series history?

The one certain legacy of this year’s World Series is that the Carlton Fisk foul-pole homer game has now been relegated to second place on the list of all-time World Series Game 6s. The greatest single moment? In Toronto, it’s always going to Joe Carter’s bottom-of-the-9th homer to give the Blue Jays the championship in 1993. But Bill Mazeroski’s 9th-inning walk off home in 1960 to give the Pirates the title over the Yankees probably trumps Carter’s, if only because it happened in Game 7, and Carter’s came in a Game 6.

In New York, with so many moments to choose from, is it Don Larsen’s perfect game? Willie Mays’ catch off Vic Wertz? Reggie Jackson’s three home runs on three pitches? Or the improbable triumph of the 1969 Mets? The greatest moment is going to depend on where you’re from, what team you root for and maybe where you were and how old you were when it happened. And it need not be heroic baseball to be memorable. In Boston, the greatest moment might well be the little ground ball back to Keith Foulke that sealed the Red Sox’ long-awaited triumph in 2004.

Baseball’s popularity has decreased over the last decade. How can an historic World Series impact the game’s popularity among young fans and those of small market teams, such as the Kansas City Royals? How can it impact the popularity of the sport among non-baseball fans?

Baseball’s insistence on scheduling its showcase product so that its most dramatic moments happen when half of America is already asleep almost certainly has something to do with its flagging popularity. How many people were talking about the dramatic game six last Friday? How many of those same people then admitted that they went to bed before the Cardinals staged their 9th- and 10th-inning rallies to tie before winning it on David Freese’s home run in the 11th?

With the distractions of our lives today, nothing that runs over a period of 8-10 days like the World Series is going to hold more than a tiny portion of the nation in its thrall. The Super Bowl, by contrast, has become a cultural common denominator because it’s a one-day event, happens on television at the very end of the weekend, when America is too tired to do anything but watch television.

Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel once said, “The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love.” Why does America’s Pastime evoke such strong emotion?

No other sport is so little changed over the century, no other sport so linked to its history. Nobody talks much about whether Peyton Manning is a better quarterback than Johnny Unitas, but we talk all the time about whether Albert Pujols is better than Stan Musial. The pace of baseball also lends itself to storytelling and conversation; no other sport does. Watch football or NASCAR and it’s exclusively about what you saw; watch baseball and it’s about what you saw, yes; but it’s just as much about who you saw and shared it with.

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