The Athletics were two cities away from Oakland – in Philadelphia, pending a detour to Kansas City – when Gertrude Stein famously said of her hometown, “There is no there there.”
The fact the quote is out of context and likely was not meant to be as negative as it sounds is beside the point. It has been used repeatedly over the past eight decades to remark upon Oakland’s lack of there-ness.
Which is a roundabout away of getting to today’s topic - Wednesday’s American League wild-card game, and what it means to the wider world beyond fans of the Yankees or A’s.
Specifically, what it means to the business of baseball, and even more specifically to the television networks that send big chunks of your monthly cable bill to Major League Baseball to be distributed to owners and eventually players.
In summary: It’s the Big Apple, the Center of the Universe, the Greatest City in the World, Gotham, Big Town, the City that Never Sleeps, the City So Nice They Named it Twice, versus . . . well, you know, Not There.
Hence among the most passionate rooters for the Yankees on Wednesday night will be executives at Turner, which this season has the American League playoffs through the championship series.
The three teams already in the divisional round have marketing appeal, to varying degrees: the Red Sox, Indians and defending champion Astros. But even the most committed Oaklander would admit Yankees-Red Sox has more of a ka-ching to it than A’s-Sox.
This sort of discussion is a hoary sports media writing cliché, of course, one TV executives and announcers enjoy as much as a visit to the endodontist.
When matchups are good for ratings, they talk about how pleased they are. When they are not, they talk about how long playoff series are more important than sexy matchups.
Which is mostly true, except long series with sexy matchups are even better.
For an example of what is at stake here, consider those poor Fox executives who stayed up late to watch the Rockies eliminate the Cubs early Wednesday morning in a 13-inning NL Wild Card game.
The ratings-gold Cubbies needed to lose two games in two days at Wrigley Field to shove a dagger into the viewership potential of the NLDS, and for good measure they twisted the knife for an additional four innings. Then, sure enough, the overnight ratings showed a 59 percent increase over last year’s Rockies-Diamondbacks NL wild-card game.
So now it’s Dodgers-Braves (not bad) and Rockies-Brewers (not good) in the league semifinals.
Yes, yes, I know there is no good reason for any of us to shed tears for the people in charge at MLB, Fox and Turner. This is the business they’ve chosen.
Fans of the teams involved only care that their teams are involved, and the rest of us only want to be entertained. But still, if you are an unaffiliated fan looking for a reason to turn away from football or cable news this month, there is no denying the Cubs and Yankees are more of a draw than the Rockies and A’s.
The NFL does not have to fret over this sort of thing. Had the Jaguars beaten the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last winter, it likely would have put no more than a small dent in the ratings for Super Bowl LII.
Baseball does not have that luxury. It wants the Yankees. It needs the Yankees. It loves the Yankees.
There, I said it. Sorry, Gertrude.