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Experts predict Subway Series will keep entire nation intrigued

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


The folks at Fox are making a pretty good argument for the Subway Series carrying more than just New Yorkers to a stop in front of the television.

The thought in some circles is that few people outside the boroughs and Long Island have reason to care. But Keith Olbermann said he believes the World Series between the Mets and Yankees could prove to be the most captivating baseball has seen in years.

"Imagine seven consecutive games between USC and UCLA in football," Olbermann said. "Or seven games between the Big Five college basketball teams in Philadelphia -- any big city rivalry, but this one is for the championship of the country.

"It could be Cleveland and Florida; it would still be a World Series. I don't think it's going to detract; it can only enhance."

Olbermann sees several kinds of fans being attracted to the Series. Mets and Yankees fans are a given. There also are old-time New York Giants and Dodgers fans who fondly recall past Subway Series. The children and grandchildren of those fans also will be moved by the memories, Olbermann said.

"It can be a very compelling story if we can tell it correctly," he said. "My grandfather saw his first baseball game when he watched the Giants at the Polo Grounds in 1915. My mother met Babe Ruth, and Babe Ruth gave her a baseball. My father's best friend was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan who lost his joie de vivre when they moved to Los Angeles."

Fox will play to that crowd by lacing flashbacks of those matchups throughout its coverage. Major-league baseball will help by having stars of past Subway Series throw out the ceremonial first pitches.

Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck says he thinks it's ludicrous to suggest fans won't tune in. Buck said people everywhere in his native St. Louis were asking him about the games. He says the series will stir nostalgia much like the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did in 1998.

"This has a chance of being a huge event, a spectacle," Buck said. "I think when fans cross it on the dial, they're going to see the madness of New York. Maybe I'm nuts, but I think people are going to tune in. It's a bit of a throwback."

Jim Rome, radio talk show personality and host of Fox Sports Net's The Last Word, says what's not to like about the Series?

"When two teams hate each other as much as these two do and want to beat each other as badly as they do, I want to see it," Rome said. "A Subway Series is perfect for non-New Yorkers. Not only do we get to see the best two teams in baseball go at it in their own back yard, but we don't need to go anywhere near it. We can watch from the safety of our own living rooms.

"It will be like watching the Gulf War on CNN, with a little baseball thrown in for color."

Ultimately, ratings will judge the merits of this argument. The numbers for post-season baseball this year have been down significantly, and the most recent regional series -- Oakland-San Francisco in 1989 -- averaged 16.4 and was the third-lowest rated Series in the past 10 years.

In a word, the response of Fox Sports president Ed Goren to that point is poppycock. Though the 1989 Series, which Oakland swept after an earthquake interrupted play, drew low numbers, the 1985 I-80 series between Kansas City and St. Louis averaged 25.3. But the Royals and Cardinals went seven games.

"It's how good the games are, and it's also how many games do you get," Goren said. "I don't care if it's the Bronx Little League versus the Queens Little League, a four-game Series is going to rate lower than a seven-game Series."

Goren also noted that this post-season's ratings can be attributed to the networks' fall season starting after the Olympics.

"A part of me truly believes that if all of you call me after the World Series, this will be the highest-rated series in quite a while and the highest-rated sports series of the year," Goren said.

Olbermann said he is just hoping a different team wins each game.

"I really think the Yankees are going to win it in the bottom of the ninth in the Bronx," Olbermann said.

FINE TUNING: Fox's pregame show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with a special opening narrated by actor Billy Crystal. ... Fox's Chris Myers predicts Joe Torre will retire if the Yankees win. ... An additional 20 games will air on the Lightning Hockey Network beginning with Sunday's Rangers game. Sunshine Network has found space on open channels of various cable systems to broadcast the games. DIRECTV has said it also will offer the games as part of its NHL Center Ice subscription package on a selected channel.

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