Aug 07

What’s in a Name?

The Angels and Dodgers finish up a four-game series tonight that might very well be a World Series preview. The Dodgers lead the NL West by 2 ½ games over the Giants, and the Angels are two games behind Oakland but lead for the first Wild Card spot, 8-10 games up on Toronto/New York/Kansas City.1 While you wouldn’t necessarily call it a wrap, the odds of an all Tinseltown series (sort of) are better than an Astros/Rangers series, so that means Angelinos can dream big Hollywood dreams about a possible Freeway Series.

Ugh. What? That’s a horrible name. How can you bill something that features the likes of Kershaw and Trout with a name synonymous with gridlock traffic and Steve Martin pistol-shooting parodies? Being stuck in traffic makes me think of an overworked air conditioner, the need to pee, and a sweaty butt. How’s that for a wonderfully evocative image at the start of your Fox telecast this October? In a city of four million people that produced the disparate geniuses of Jane’s Addiction, N.W.A., and Rage Against the Machine, there’s not one person who can tie this series to Hardcastle and McCormick? I’d be happy if there was a Jack Gittes reference and an obligatory wide angle of a Malibu sunset.

There are a lot of fun series names to get the creative juices flowing, and I’d like to mention a few of my favorites.

1. Subway Series – ok, sure, there’s some East Coast bias going on with this one, and you might think this pick is entirely due to the fact the Mets are involved. To quote Lucas from Empire Records: not entirely perfect. While the current iteration has been interesting at times, including a 2000 World Series, it still hasn’t been that spectacular that it would even rank Top 10 since it’s one that’s been thoroughly dominated by the Yankees. Since the two teams began interleague play in 1997, the Yankees own a 42-56 against their crosstown rivals, and in only nine of those years have the Mets even finished above .500.

No, the Subway Series receives top billing simply because of its rich history. The first championship between New York teams occurred in 1889 when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Bridegrooms squared off.   Then came fairly regular World Series matchups with the Yankees and New York Giants (1921-23, 1936-37, 1951) and the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952-53, and 1955-56). Like the current series, the Yankees have thoroughly dominated these Series, going 11-3.

In this series, you have the Giants and the Yankees once sharing the Polo Grounds until the Giants booted them out in 1922; Brooklyn winning its only championship in 1955; Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956; a controversial tie in 1922; and by my count there are 53 Hall of Fame players that were involved in these games over the years, not including anyone from recent years but certainly Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be included. Some of the most recognizable names in baseball history played on these teams: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Mel Ott, Don Drysdale, and Pee Wee Reese just to name a dozen. As a group these men collected over 82,000 hits, 8,000+ home runs, 4,000+ stolen bases, over 2,700 wins, and 21,000+ strikeouts. My math says damn.

2. Windy City Showdown – This White Sox / Cubs game is known by so many names that it has an unfair advantage in that you can find your favorite. Windy City Showdown is my own particular favorite, with Crosstown Classic coming a close second. Since interleague play began, the south side White Sox lead the series 49-44, and in the 18 years there has been interleague play the White Sox have finished above .500 nine times while the Cubs have done the same just seven times.

These two did meet in the World Series once in 1906, a series the White Sox won 4-2. Six future Hall of Famers played in that series, including the most famous double-play trio in baseball history Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker, and Frank Chance. Whenever you’re immortalized in a poem, you’ve made it. Who am I to argue?

For non-Chicago sports fans, this series probably doesn’t hold all that much appeal. For me, it comes down to one person: Nelson Algren. His novel The Man with the Golden Arm ranks just behind Kerouac’s On the Road and Melville’s Moby Dick for my all-time favorite novels, and I’ve been fascinated with all things Chicago ever since. Also, I had a professor in college who was once a cabbie in Chicago.

3. Bay Bridge Series – The A’s / Giants series is also known as the BART series, named for the transit system that links the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, but that name is sort of dumb, so I’ll go with Bay Bridge Series. At the moment, the A’s lead the interleague series the 53-47, and for the most part both sets of fans have seen good, consistent play from these two franchises. Since 1997, both the A’s and the Giants have had just five losing seasons each with the A’s making it to the playoffs seven times, and the Giants have made it six times and won the World Series twice. In their current locations, they met once in the Series in 1989, but if you consider franchises histories, they’ve met three times when the A’s were in Philadelphia and the Giants were in New York: 1905, 1911, and 1913. There’s a reasonably good chance that these two teams will meet in this year’s Series as well.

A grand total of 14 Hall of Famers have played in this series (dating back to 1905) and three played in the ’89 Series with Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley for the A’s and Rich Gossage for the Giants. Next to Mariano, Eckersley is the best closer in baseball history, winning both the Cy Young and MVP in 1992. And, according to Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract, Henderson is the fourth best left fielder in history:

Somebody asked me once me did I think Rickey Henderson was a Hall of Famer. I told them, “If you could split him in two, you’d have two Hall of Famers.” The greatest base stealer of all time, the greatest power/speed combination of all time (except maybe Barry Bonds), the greatest leadoff man of all time, once of the top five players of all time in runs scored . . . yeah, I think that might make a man a Hall of Famer.

The ’89 Series is best remembered for the earthquake prior to Game 3, and while the A’s eventually swept, the Giants weren’t exactly pushovers. Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark finished first and second for the NL MVP with Mitchell hitting 47 homers. The A’s featured Henderson, Mark McGwire, and three pitchers that won 19+ games (Dave Stewart and Mike Moore finished second and third for the AL Cy Young while Eckersley finished tied for sixth). So, yeah, there was some good ball being played.

In addition to the baseball, there’s the controversy over territorial rights that’s currently keeping the A’s precisely where they are, in an old stadium and poor. This adds a little to the series for owners and fans.

San Francisco is also the setting for The Maltese Falcon, another favorite of mine.

4. Show-Me Series – Also called the I-70 Series (yawn), the Cardinals have pretty much dominated their intra-state rivals the Royals with a record of 46-34, but the Royals won the most important Series, the one in 1985 in the only post season matchup between the two teams. You can’t really call this a must see series if you live anywhere outside Missouri, seeing that the Royals have had precisely one winning season since 1997 while the Cardinals have just two losing ones. In that time span, the Cardinals have also made it to the post season 10 times and won two World Series (2006 and 2011). There’s a remote possibility that the two teams could meet in the Series this year.

After being swept by Boston in mid-July, the Royals have won five straight series to pull within 3 ½ of Detroit in the Central and they’re only ½ game back for one of the Wild Card berths. The Cardinals are a game back in the NL Central and sit ½ game ahead of Pittsburgh for the second Wild Card spot. So, yes, I’m saying there’s a chance.

1985, in addition to being the last time the Royals made the post season, also featured two Hall of Famers with George Brett and Ozzie Smith. Along with Cooperstown canonization, each team represented well in the MLB Awards that season as Brett finished second for the AL MVP while Bret Saberhagen won the AL Cy Young. For the Cardinals, Willie McGee won the NL MVP while John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar finished second and fourth for the NL Cy Young.2 Bill James has Brett listed as the second best third basemen of all-time while he ranks Smith as the seventh best short stop.

My wife’s favorite Christmas song comes from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, so there’s certainly that to consider. I also had a coworker from Missouri who was super proud of his origins, taking every opportunity to tell me it was called the Show Me state. With both St. Louis and Kansas City well known for barbeque, any matchup between the two gets the stomach yearning for brisket.

5. Beltway Series – I’m breaking my own rule by including a series named after a highway system, but that’s fine. Beltway sounds much cooler than freeway, and since I’ve visited both Baltimore and DC quite frequently there’s more of an attachment than to the other series geographically. For pure baseball, this series technically became the Beltway Series in 2006 after the Expos relocated to DC, and the Orioles are currently leading 29-21, but realistically, this series hasn’t been all that important for baseball reasons until 2012 when both teams had breakout years. Prior to those years, the Orioles had only one winning season dating back to 1997 while the Nationals (then Expos) had just two.

There’s an extremely good chance these two teams will meet in the World Series since both currently lead their respective divisions, and it doesn’t appear that either has a real threat to the assured playoff spot. This year, the Orioles won three of four, and each game had a real buzz surrounding it.

In addition to baseball, there just so happens to be the huge controversy between the Nationals and Orioles over MASN television rights, and believe me, this one gets pretty heated with the fans. Even an Orioles billboard just outside of DC angered Nationals fans, so the clubs aren’t exactly the best of friends at the moment.

Other Series

I didn’t list all of the series. There are others, some of which sound cooler than others. Houston and Texas have a cool one named the Lone Star Series, which is catchy, while the Marlins and Rays play the Citrus Series, which is just awful. While there’s no official name, there should be one for any time the Rockies play any of the states (and DC) that have legalized marijuana, which by my count includes the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Cubs, Padres, and Giants just in the NL. Maybe Rocky Mountain High Series is a little cliché (Mile High Clubs?), but I like it, and if Rockies’ fans just floated the name from team to team, almost as if they forgot that it had been used before, wouldn’t that be fitting? I’m simultaneously getting cotton mouth and the munchies just thinking about it.

Summary

If the Angels and Dodgers should meet in the World Series, we’re certain to see the standard freeway at night shot, sped up so that the cars become streaks of light, but that doesn’t mean the television execs can’t begin dreaming up a better name to sell this series. Honestly, any series that involves a future Hall of Famer in Albert Pujols, Trout and Kershaw who are the best in the Majors at what they do, and Yasiel Puig deserves a special name. A sweaty butt and gridlock anger just isn’t going to cut it.

  1. At this point, they all may be 10 games back or further; who knows?
  2. No one was catching Gooden for the Cy that year.

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