This year, a Rays-Reds World Series will not happen–the Reds were eliminated last night by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. But while the Reds hopes have ended, the idea of a Rays-Reds World Series will persist. Bob Costas insured that it woud.
"“If Tampa Bay plays Cincinnati in the World Series, I don’t care if the series goes seven games and every game goes into extra innings, baseball is screwed. That’s not fair to the Rays or the Reds, but it’s true.”"
Costas’ rationale is simple: Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are two of the smallest markets, and there just would not be enough attention nationally. But while Costas presumes that having two lesser-known teams in the World Series would be a major hit to baseball’s popularity, the opposite could in fact be true. The Rays and Reds aren’t exactly the Yankees and the Dodgers. But maybe that’s exactly what baseball needs.
In the same New York Times article in which Costas is quoted, Times writer Jonathan Mahler talks about baseball’s failure to market its young stars in the way that a league like the NBA does. One of the biggest issues has been the same old faces appearing year after year. Since 2010, here are the teams that have made the World Series: the San Francisco Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Texas Rangers, and the Detroit Tigers. That’s it. Those teams have their stars. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were dominant for several years, David Freese became a legend with his heroics in 2011 World Series Game 6, and Justin Verlander has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. But they all faded. Cain had a rough 2013 and Lincecum has been up-and-down for years. Freese had his shining moment, but he has proven to be more of an average player than a star. And even Verlander this season hasn’t lived up to expectations. There hasn’t been that Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in the World Series for everyone in America to idolize. But Trout and Harper’s Angels and Nationals are only two teams taht might stir up some excitement if and when they made the World Series. Who says that the Rays and Reds could not do the same?
All way too much of America knows about the Tampa Bay Rays is that they consistently rank at the bottom of baseball in attendance. But in the national spotlight, everything could change. You have David Price, an outstanding pitcher but also as interactive a professional athlete as Twitter has ever seen. Evan Longoria has turned into a superstar and Wil Myers is primed to join him. But it isn’t just them. It’s the young pitching staff, Matt Moore and Chris Archer throwing heat. It’s Sam Fuld‘s magic surfacing on a national scale. The Tampa Bay Rays made the World Series in 2008 and then they fell back to earth in 2009, leaving everyone convinced that they were a fluke. But now they have won 90 games for four years in a row and a World Series run and especially a championship could be exactly what they need to make people realize how incredible they are. The general public doesn’t know. But if the Rays make it again, they could. We’re not talking about the Tampa Bay Rays becoming America’s team. But just the presence of that young team with bright futures surpassing the odds every single season could be enough reason to make some fair-weather fans come back the next year and just maybe could get hooked.
We could go on and on about the Reds as well, from Joey Votto‘s sweet swing to Jay Bruce‘s flashes of power to Homer Bailey‘s two no-hitters and continued development into a topflight major league pitcher. But whether it’s the Rays and Reds or the Padres and the Royals or whichever small market team enters the fray, the potential is there to make baseball into a sport that isn’t just about the big cities with the big fan bases staying in the limelight. Baseball will love it if the Red Sox play the Dodgerss in the World Sereis and a large chunk of America tunes in. But if a team like the Rays makes it, there will be undeniable benefits as well.