Are The Rays Bad For Baseball?

Millionaire ESPN scribe Rick Reilly -- and likely plenty of others -- think so. Signal To Noise caught this exchange on PTI yesterday:

The Four-Letter's $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I'm fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays "bad for baseball."

S2N draws that out into distinctions -- whether it's bad for baseball, or bad for the business of baseball. Those are the correct distinctions to make. But it doesn't make Rick Reilly right.

Over the long term, I find it hard to believe a team like the Rays, so consistently horrible at baseball, going worst-to-first in the course of a single year is bad for baseball. If anything, it co-opts one of the things that has made the NFL so popular -- the supposed parity that allows any team, no matter how destitute, to go all Rising Phoenix in one year. This is a good thing for baseball. It creates hope. Sports fans like to have hope.
In the short term, sure, the Red Sox are a much bigger deal, but -- if I may be unscientific here -- I think just as many people are interested in the Rays' story this year. It's ultimate underdog stuff, as cliche as that is, and jumping on that bandwagon feels inoffensive and fun. Maybe the numbers will dip. Or maybe MLB will be attracting formerly casual fans with a sudden cause to root for.

Anything's possible, I suppose. But with a good story, a young franchise, and the potential for parity -- it's hard to see how any of those things could hurt the game of baseball.

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