Sunday, December 28, 2014

THE NORTHEAST RULES!

Philly, New York and Boston have become the baseball universe's capital cities.

THE NORTHEAST RULES!

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has helped turn the Phillies into one of baseball´s elite teams. (Sarah J. Glover/Staff Photographer)
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has helped turn the Phillies into one of baseball's elite teams. (Sarah J. Glover/Staff Photographer)

Yo, all youse baseball pretenders out there in the Midwest, the Pacific Coast, the Bible Belt, the Southwest, us guys here in the Northeast can kick your sorry asses!

That's right, our rude little region of the country, that tiny geographic patch united by history and Amtrak, is the baseball capital of the universe. (We're also going to dominate the pro-football landscape this year too, but, hey, that's bragadoccio for a different season.) Get used to it.

As Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci rightly notes this week, the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees -- three of the 16 teams that comprised baseball for the first half of the 20th Century -- are at one level, the sport's other 27 clubs at another. Boston, Philly and New York won the three World Series between 2007-09 and if not for Cody Ross's hypnotic trance likely would have won again in 2010. Now, nearly three-quarters of the way through this season, the cities are home to baseball's three best records

Why?

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Sure, those three franchises also have the game's three highest payrolls but, in the case of the Phils and Sox anyway, that's more reasonably a payoff for consistent on-the-field success than any systemic advantage. If you win, they will come -- and they will watch and they will listen and they will purchase anything that includes your logo.

But what else it at play in this competitive tilt back to our three Colonial-era metropolises? Demanding fans? An urban culture that encourages spectating over participating and thus contributes to the clubs' economic good-fortune? A shift in free-agent thinking that now prods the best of them toward environments more renowned for passion than sunshine? Or mere serendipity?

Each of those arguments has a logic attached, but I've got another theory -- tradition.

Baseball is all about history. Played in a vacuum, much of its appeal would be drained. Without stats and stories and players from the past to measure the contemporary game against, baseball would possess all the charm of soccer. It would have its aficionados, to be sure, but would always be more cult than culture. It's that reverence for the past that sets baseball apart. And that reverence, moreso than that in any other sport, is passed down from generation to generation. It's a transition that is easiest in places whose populations have the deepest and oldest roots.

And what are the three oldest U.S. cities with baseball teams, you ask? Philly, New York and Boston.

You grow up in Phoenix, Miami or even L.A. and, in terms of sporting allegiances, you're probably some sort of migrant mongrel. Do you root for the team that plays in the city where your parents or grandparents lived? Or do you pull for the local nine, no matter how shallow their history and talent pool? In the mere act of making that choice, passion and allegiance are diluted. What can the grandfather of, say, a 10-year-old Rockies fan pass on? Some reminiscence about the old Triple A club he followed as a child? A story about the expansion draft that stocked Colorado's first ballclub?

When the fan passion is shallow, so is the fan allegiance.

You're right, I couldn't have made these arguments a decade ago, when the then-pathetic Phillies were winding down their days in Veterans Stadium before relatively tiny crowds. But those days are gone. These new Phils -- having finally recognized their status as a big-market team -- seem determined to stay at the lofty level they've reached since 2007. Even when the inevitable stumble comes, this baseball renaissance in Philly seems deep enough to sustain our status among baseball's royalty.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
About this blog
Reporter Frank Fitzpatrick, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is covering his eighth Olympic Games and has yet to win a medal in anything except caffeine consumption. He has also been the beat writer for the Phillies, Eagles and Penn State football.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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