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What World Series storylines will we get tired of soon?

Oct 21, 2013, 1:37 PM EDT

Between this Wednesday and a week from Thursday there are going to be between four and seven cool baseball games which will result in one team being crowned world champion. They will win this championship by scoring more runs in more games than their opponent does. After each game we will be able to look back easily and see how and why the winner won and the loser lost, as all of the relevant data will be there for us to see in video, digital, numerical and narrative form.

But seeing what happens and then trying to make something of it is boring! The real fun part of the World Series is to create and/or identify “storylines” and assert that they cause and influence the game action. Sometimes these storylines have the benefit of being relevant, accurate and even prescient. Often they merely serve as blah-blah-blah fodder for baseball’s talking heads and writing hands to use to kill time before and between ballgames.*

So, what are some of the pre-facto, post-facto and beside-the-point-factor stories baseball’s bards will be recounting over the coming days? What are the apparently random and inconsequential events from earlier in the season or earlier in history which, after we see how history unfolds, will be claimed as evidence that history was going to unfold just so?  Here are some possibilities!

  • Hairs vs. Squares

The 1972 World Series famously pitted the mustachioed and long-haired Oakland A’s against the Reds, whose players had haircuts you could set your watch to. It was called the “Hairs vs. Squares” series by some and was seen as some sort of microcosm of the culture at large. Of course because it’s baseball and baseball tends to lag the culture, it was a microcosm which captured a cultural rift that was five or six years old at that point, but that’s neither here nor there.

These days there isn’t some huge cultural rift regarding hairstyles — anything goes, right? — but don’t be surprised if you hear a great deal of talk about how the Red Sox all have crazy beards and the Cardinals are upholders of baseball conservatism. When you hear this, try to forget that (a) beyond the Sox’ beards, there is nothing at all radical about the Red Sox and/or their style of play; and (b) that several members of the Cardinals have beards, even if they aren’t crazy.  Indeed, the whole Cardinals stereotype is based on “unwritten rules” nonsense, not fashion sense or personal style, so best to ignore this phony construct before you think too deeply about it.

  • The Best vs. The Best

This one is far less specious in that it does actually tell us something about baseball. The Cardinals and the Red Sox each have the best record in their respective leagues and thus represent some sort of throwback to the pre-divisional play days in which the two best teams would face each other in the World Series.

As a fan of pre-divisional baseball, I like the idea of the two best teams meeting one another. I will acknowledge, however, as you should too, that simply pitting the best teams against one another is no guarantee of a good World Series.  The last time this happened was 1999, and that was a clunker of a snooze-fest of a matchup for all but partisans of the winning Yankees. Meanwhile, lots of good World Series — including several involving the Cardinals — were humdingers despite featuring less-than-the-best. 2011 went seven games with a wild card winning Cards team. 2002 featured two wild card teams in the Angels and Giants going the distance in pretty dramatic fashion. Neither the Yankees nor the Diamondbacks were the best in their leagues in 2001 yet played one of the best World Series you’ll ever see.

The best vs. the best is fun. But it kinda doesn’t matter either.

  • A Matchup of Storied Franchises

Baseball doesn’t play up its founding franchises like the NHL does — “The Original 16” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Original Six” — but this year’s series is a sepia-tone lover’s wet dream. The Yankees may be baseball’s most storied franchise, but the Cardinals and Red Sox are probably in the top four. As I noted this morning, the Sox and Cards have met in the World Series several times, so you’ll be certain to get a heavy dose of 1946, 1967 and 2004 — as well as all manner of Ted Williams, Bob Gibson and Stan Musial stuff on the side — in the coming days.

All of that will certainly make for some nice sidebar material, but it obviously has no bearing on the 2013 World Series given that, with the exception of David Ortiz and Yadier Molina, none of these guys met in those previous matchups and certainly none of these guys are properly pictured in those sepia tones. Because they’re, like, in their 20s and 30s.

Still: I’d bet my first born that on media day tomorrow and throughout the series, you will hear and see ballplayers being asked what it feels like to be part of a matchup of historic franchises. Because MLB media relations people are sharp, you can bet that these ballplayers will all have semi-good, though certainly canned responses to these questions, all of which give respectful nods to the greats of Cardinals and Red Sox past. As you hear those answers, remember that the hard sliders, ungodly heat and fearsome power of their opponents in the upcoming games is taking up approximately 98.75% of their actual concentration and history means nothing to them at the moment.

  • Worst to First

I don’t think this one will get a ton of play, but be on the lookout for it: the Boston Red Sox, you may not realize, finished in last place in 2012 and now here they are in the big dance. Some may even note that the Cardinals, despite playing in the NLCS last year, had a down year themselves, winning only 88 games. Forget, if and when you hear this, that many of the same people trying to peddle this quasi-underdog thing just got done telling you that this World Series pits The Best vs. The Best.

Either way, it’s kinda hard to even buy into the Red Sox’ worst-to-first thing as anything truly meaningful. Yes 2012 was awful, and the 2011 collapse will be sung about for ages. But prior to 2012 the Sox won 90, 89, 95, 95 and 96 games in their previous five years and are still among the most successful teams in all of baseball over the past 10-15 years. Last year was a function of injuries, some bad leadership and less-than-ideal roster construction, it wasn’t some sort of pit they had found themselves in for anything but the briefest of moments, historically speaking. Yes, give credit to the Sox’ front office for fixing what ailed this club last year, but with 2013’s great year almost in the books, it’s looking less like a classic “worst to first” scenario than it is an “outlier year to first” kind of thing.

Those are the top storylines I can think of at the moment.  I’m sure as the games progress — and as the creative minds of producers and editors ramp up today and tomorrow — we’ll hear some more angles that, however interesting they may seem, are something less than illuminating in a purely baseball sense.

Which is fine, because there’s a lot of downtime between games and sometimes you need weird things like “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit” and “so-and-so and what’s-his-face used to play on the same high school team” or whatever it is we’ll get.  Just don’t mistake the fun for the meaningful. Because all that is meaningful will take place between the lines, not outside of them.

*Note: be sure to catch me on “SportsDash” on the NBC Sports Network at noon eastern weekdays! And don’t forget to read HBT for all of your baseball analysis needs during the World Series!

  1. rickdobrydney - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    You forgot the whole “Boston Strong” angle —– I am sure THAT one will be brought up as well —

    • mortymcfearson - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:02 PM

      Well we still haven’t stopped turning the 7th inning stretch into a funeral, so good luck with getting rid of Boston Strong.

      • okwhitefalcon - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:20 PM

        “Boston Strong” vs. “The Best Fans in Baseball” without doubt.

    • ltzep75 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      You do realize that the Marathon Bombings happened this year, right?

    • disappointedfan - Oct 21, 2013 at 6:11 PM

      -Man this World Series sure is gonna be boring.
      -Thanks untouchable Umps for borderline strikes against the Dodgers best, Thumbs up!
      -TBS is so awesome at baseball coverage #ErnieJohnsonIsntABaseballGuy
      -Joe Buck really is hanging onto this nepotism thing well isn’t he?
      -MLB sure knows how to schedule playoffs, once it gets to the finale series it seems.
      -Can’t say enough about how having a beard these days seems just as lame as chicks with chest tats and hoop nose piercings.

      And I’m out!

    • veraarnold - Oct 21, 2013 at 10:08 PM

      good post

    • veraarnold - Oct 21, 2013 at 10:14 PM

      Do you like acting as inhibited as you are at work in your own house, and having future work evaluations reflect how well you entertain as well as how well you do your job?
      Then by all means invite people from the office….. ℬ­­­­A­­­­ℛ­­­1­­­7­­­.Ⅽ­­­­­O­­­­­­Ⅿ

  2. stex52 - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    The Cards letting themselves be outbid for Pujols and recharging with Molina, Wainwright, Wacha and the young arms. There is a lot of validity to this story line. But we will be sick of it soon.

  3. stex52 - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    Also, the damn beards.

    • indaburg - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      I am sick of the beards. Fox treated us to the same story twice about the different names for the beards. Thank goodness for the mute button.

  4. kicksave1980 - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    The only storyline that I need is “it’s the World Series”. What else needs to be said? Really hope my Cards can avenge 2004, but either way it should be a great series. Both teams are solid and fun to watch.

    • cohnjusack - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:15 PM

      On the plus side, Scott Rolen can’t possibly get fewer hits in this series than he did in 2004.

  5. woodenulykteneau - Oct 21, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Just one, rather important edit:

    Often they merely serve as implements for baseball’s talking heads and writing hands to bludgeon their audiences before, during, and after ballgames.

  6. apkyletexas - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I think the “Yasiel Puig is not too reckless and won’t screw up big playoff games for the Dodgers” story line will get old first.

    Oh wait…

    • disappointedfan - Oct 21, 2013 at 6:21 PM

      Yeah because judging someone based on early 20th century white people ideals of baseball is totally the way to view a ballplayer you dislike because he’s not on your team. The 6th batter on your squad really knows how to stir the pot. I’d rather watch Paula Dean harass a casserole than this garbage matchup.

  7. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    How about “Which fan-base wins the title for most annoying in sports?”

    • indaburg - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      Yep. I was thinking “Best Baseball Fans” vs. Sox Nation.

      • umrguy42 - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:13 PM

        Cardinal Nation vs Sox “Nation”


      • indaburg - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        Uh oh. Is this open warfare?

      • disappointedfan - Oct 21, 2013 at 7:09 PM

        The midwest is so insufferable that because there’s nothing to do there that being an “awesome fan base” is the ONLY thing to do there. Getting a Starbucks in your city is not ‘something’ to do either.

    • blacksables - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:53 PM!Beating-a-dead-horse.gif&imgrefurl=

  8. rbj1 - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    How about “the fans of these teams are so passionate and really care about their teams. They are the best in sports.”
    I’m sick of it already.

    • proudlycanadian - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      I am passionately against both teams; however, I do think that Pedroia plays the game “the right way” to a greater extent than anyone on the St. Louis team.

      • paperlions - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        Obviously, you are not familiar with Matt “No Batting Gloves” Carpenter.

        Pedroia spends 5 minutes of each AB adjusting his batting gloves.

      • proudlycanadian - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:11 PM

        All I know about Carpenter is that he also has a beard and had not played second base until this season. He just does not look as gritty as Pedroia.

      • cur68 - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:28 PM

        WARBANG > Grit.

        Carpenter for the win.

  9. rickdobrydney - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Ahhh yes I forgot, those damn ugly , stupid beards —

  10. nfieldr - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Craig, who do you have as the 4th of the top 4 “Storied Franchises”? Cubs?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      Well, I was thinking that the top four would be NY, BOS, the Dodgers and the Cardinals, but realized that the Giants could fit in there too. Depends if you give the first part of the 20th century as much weight as later. Interesting topic, though. Maybe worth a post.

      • shandbi - Oct 21, 2013 at 6:24 PM

        ‘but realized that the Giants could fit in there too’. Um, really? I think it goes GIANTS, dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees. For goodness sake…

  11. dj8705 - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    “with the exception of David Ortiz and Yadier Molina, none of these guys met in those previous matchups”

    In terms of guys who are actually on the roster and playing this is true, but the Cardinals have other players/coaches with connections to the 2004 team.
    -Chris Carpenter was on the 2004 Cardinals, but was injured for the playoffs and did not pitch in the World Series. He has been injured for all of 2013, but is still a member of the team and will be in the dugout.
    -Mike Matheny was actually the starting catcher for the 2004 Cardinals (Molina was a rookie backup catcher then) and is the manager of the 2013 Cardinals.
    -John Mabry was a bench bat for the 2004 Cardinals and is the hitting coach for the 2013 Cardinals.
    -Jose Oquendo was the 3rd base coach in 2004 and still is in 2013.

    Your point about the history having little/no bearing on this series is still very true. I just thought it was interesting that there are some additional ties between the 2004 Cardinals and the 2013 Cardinals.

    • dj8705 - Oct 21, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      I forgot to mention the guy who ties everything together, Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.

      1946: Red is the Cardinals starting 2nd baseman.
      1967: Red is the Cardinals manager.
      2004: Red is a member of the Cardinals organization as a “Special Assistant Coach.”
      2013: Red now 90 years old, holds the same title as in 2004.

      There is your sepia tone, Craig.

      • raysfan1 - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:05 PM

        They can bring forth Red, and Yaz, as often as they like, and I will never get sick of it. I felt the same way about Musial and Williams and all the other greats that are unfortunately no longer with us. I love that stuff. I will also be happily watching old footage of those earlier series between these two teams.

  12. nbjays - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Don’t forget the whole “can Postseason Legend Carlos Beltran finally get his WS ring” narrative.

    And kudos, Craig, for the XKCD comic.

  13. nfieldr - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    “The two best teams meet in the Series”

    Current headline on
    You gotta love it.

  14. umrguy42 - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    and “so-and-so and what’s-his-face used to play on the same high school team”

    It begins:

  15. philliesblow - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Forget narratives and story lines, I’m already tired of Buck & McCarver.

    • mortymcfearson - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      And by already, you mean in 1996.

  16. gloccamorra - Oct 21, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    The “developing” story line will be the seventh game falling on Halloween and all those kids having to cut short their trick-or-treating in time for the game, or miss it entirely in the Pacific time zone. Bud Selig will go down as the Grinch who stole Halloween.

    • ltzep75 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:31 PM

      Boys and girls of every age
      Wouldn’t you like to see something strange?

      Come with us and you will see
      This, our town of MLB

      This is MLB, this is MLB
      Umpires scream in the dead of night

      This is MLB, everybody make a scene
      Stop and Stare till McCann wants to fight
      It’s our town, everybody scream
      In this town of MLB

  17. jwbiii - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    all manner of Ted Williams, Bob Gibson and Stan Musial stuff

    Which could be cool, except it will be interpreted by Bob Costas, Tim McCarver, John Kruk, or some other damn fool and so it will be bad.

  18. Jack Marshall - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    If Daniel Nava does anything of note (and it’s a crime that Farrell has passed over him for Gomes’ hype) in the Series, his amazing story will quickly become a mantra. And it’s a good one, but even good stories can be come nauseating with repetition.

  19. dapperdan50 - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    I’d love to hear some good stuff about the previous Sox-Cards Series—because I love baseball history—as long as no on tries to pretend that the history has any bearing on the current match-up and as long as they realize that most of the players are pretty clueless about the history.

    (On the Sox side, Papi might know something of the history since he was good friends with Johnny Pesky, who was around for the three previous series and will be missed in this one—but I don’t know what Papi and Pesky talked about.)

    Sadly, the bulk of the history talk will focus on the most recent series, ’04, which is far and away one of the least interesting WS, far less interesting than either LCS that year. OTOH, the ’67 and ’46 series were epic and fascinating and I can’t get enough of ’em.

  20. grumpyoleman - Oct 21, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    “advanced metrics” nonsense

  21. sfm073 - Oct 21, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    If your life is anything like you write then you must have one sad miserable life. If all of this stuff bothers you this much then please leave the game of baseball. You are very depressing.

  22. offseasonblues - Oct 21, 2013 at 8:21 PM

    The storyline we’ll get tired of is the one that’s repeated too often. Or the one we don’t like. Or the one that doesn’t favor our team. Or the one that favors a team we don’t like. Or the one that favors numbers if we like chemistry and grit. Or the one that favors chemistry and grit if we think the better players always win.

    Or maybe it’s the rules of “How to be a fan” by C.Calcaterra.

  23. evanpenn - Oct 22, 2013 at 4:21 AM

    You know, Calcaterra, for some reason I like poking holes in your logic, and disagreeing with you (maybe because your job is more fun than mine), but you did a good job here.

    When I read the 1st sentence of your “worst to first” paragraph, I started readying an enthusiastic debunking reply in my head. But when I finished reading that segment, you’d changed my mind. Last year really was an outlier. When you look at the win totals for each year that you listed, your point is hard to argue. (And outlier is a word, isn’t it? Why does my browser insist on putting a read line beneath it?)

  24. nigelben - Oct 22, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    I predict a boring North American Baseball Championship Series

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