Just Say No To This Idea

By Bruce Jenkins
Updated: November 2, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — I almost fell off my barstool the other day when Peter Gammons, the Hall of Fame baseball writer and general voice of reason, announced on espn.com that he fancies the idea of a neutral-site World Series.

This is what happens when you leave a great event in the hands of Bud Selig and Fox Sports television: The idea almost makes sense. The World Series has become little more than an afterthought in the public’s consciousness.

It seems like a terrific thing until it actually arrives, way too late on the calendar, tormented by frigid weather, trapped by preposterous starting times and strangely anticlimactic since the Giants-Angels theatrics in 2002.

The idea floated by Gammons, and some other highly respected writers around the country, is a “World Series week” in a safe-haven weather pocket such as Phoenix, Los Angeles or any stadium with a dome or retractable roof.

It would be a Super Bowl-like festival with no off-days, at least one day game, 7 p.m. Eastern starts at night, and the type of fan-friendly hoopla you’d associate with the All-Star Game.

The television element would be crucial, and we’re sorry to report that five years remain on Fox’s deal with Major League Baseball. Fox rules the World Series, because Selig allows the network to trample all over his product, but don’t rule out the possibility of change.

Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports, said this week he would consider revised starting times, and even a Saturday afternoon game, if MLB would settle for a reduced rights fee.

Granted, we’re talking about the commissioner and baseball’s owners, who would rather destroy the postseason and kill fan interest than take even a penny less.

Perhaps the argument perishes at birth, right along with a shorter spring training, regular-season doubleheaders and a trimmed schedule. (Gammons suggests 148 games, dismissing any concern about the record book because “the Steroids Era made too many records meaningless”).

Remember, though, that Selig seldom airs an original thought. He filters every remark through his sense of the majority view, which is why he hasn’t said anything of substance in a news conference. The man does have a heart, though. Deep down, he’s a baseball guy.

He unilaterally decided that Game 5 of the World Series would not have a rain-shortened outcome, and that took some nerve. Hell, if he’s got that much power in “the best interests of baseball,” he should go ahead and eliminate the designated hitter (which he’d love to do) and strike a new postseason deal with Fox.

If you remember the euphoria around the Giants’ ballpark after they won the 2002 pennant, bringing a World Series to San Francisco, you’re probably repulsed by the neutral-site idea.

I was in the stands at Dodger Stadium for all of the Series games in ’63 and ’65, and thanks to The Chronicle, I’ve known the deeply satisfying experience of walking city streets toward Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, the old Tiger Stadium and countless others in October.

It’s a feeling you can’t replace, and it puts me on the side of traditional, home-and-home World Series sites into eternity.

Besides, World Series week could be a complete failure. How many fans would go to L.A. or the Metrodome for the Phillies-Rays matchup we just witnessed?

It’s nice to imagine fans streaming in from the cities in question, but there’s the little matter of convenience. It’s a bit hard to plan a World Series trip when your team might not survive even the first round of playoffs, let alone the LCS.

The fact that it’s even coming under discussion, by serious people, should send a message to Selig, Fox and the owners: You’re blowing it, badly, and the audience is dwindling.

You’re all millionaires, for crying out loud. Show some guts for a change.