Major League Baseball counting on swaggering Cubs to help grow sport – Chicago Tribune
It’s one thing to win a World Series, and another to revitalize a sport.
The 2016 World Series ratings were the highest since 2004, when the Red Sox ended their prolific drought with a four-game sweep over the Cardinals.
What are the common denominators?
Droughts, Theo Epstein and iconic ballparks.
Before Sunday night’s season opener against the Cardinals on ESPN, commissioner Rod Manfred gave the Cubs their props for making baseball great again.
“The Cubs victory last year, I think, has energized the sport because it showed us how good we can be,” Manfred said.
“And it wasn’t just the Cubs. It was the Cubs and the Indians and the way it all played out. It was a fantastic postseason and we’ve been thinking all season about what we’re going to do top that one.”
With all due respect to the Indians, they’re not a beloved franchise nationally, and they even had a hard time drawing locally last year, ranking 28th in attendance. No, it was the Cubs’ run that energized the game, and now it’s up to these same Cubs to keep the ball rolling.
The best way to top last year’s postseason? Do it again, but win it in Wrigley Field this time.
As much as baseball loves to tout its competitive balance, having a dynasty with a team full of young stars can be just as good for the game.
“I think the Yankees run in the late ’90s, early 2000s was good for the sport,” Manfred said, while also mentioning the “Cardinals run,” apparently referring to their two titles in a six-year span from 2006-2011.
Whether that constitutes a “run” is debatable, though to be fair, it’s certainly more than one in 108 years.
But let’s face it — baseball needs the Cubs now more than ever. The Cubs need to stay dominant to help grow the game with kids and to keep them from spending all their time on video games and Snapchat.
Will it be a disappointment to the Cubs if they don’t win it all again?
“Not at all,” Chairman Tom Ricketts said, pointing to the difficulty of winning in the postseason.
OK, then will it be a disappointment if the Cubs don’t at least get back to the World Series?
“You know what, this is Game 1 of 162-plus,” Anthony Rizzo said. “We’ve got to find out identity again this year, just like we had to do last year and the year before. So come together and obviously we want to win our division and get back, but we have a lot of things to take care of before that.”
Actually this team already has an identity — great defense, strong starting pitching and clutch hitting. The losses of Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel and David Ross don’t change that. They also have an inherent cockiness that’s best exemplified by Javy Baez’s no-look tag while pointing to his catcher in the World Baseball Classic.
Manfred said flashier players like Baez are also changing the way fans perceive baseball, traditionally a stodgier sport than football or basketball.
“The diversity of our workforce is going to make for change in the unwritten rules, which, after all, are player rules that are enforced by players,” Manfred said. “(It) is going to probably allow for a little more emotion on the field than maybe you’ve seen in the past, and I personally think that’s a good thing for the game.”
An iconic franchise that wins, shows emotion and has marketable stars is just what the doctor ordered. Even the manager is a household name, though Joe Maddon said he turned down some endorsement opportunities this winter to spend more time with his family.
Still, he loves the Bryzzo ad campaign, and isn’t worried that the Cubs players will let their off-field success become a distraction.
“I thought we handled it well last year,” he said. “I think it’s just part of who we are and playing where we’re at. I don’t see it as taking away from their focus.”
All the leading indicators point to big things ahead, but it’s still a long way to October.