I’ve been screamed at in London while riding a bicycle and honked at in Dublin while operating a rental car all because these people drive on the wrong side of the road!
So it was with amusement and irritation that I absorbed the recent news that the Cubs and the Cardinals will play a series in London next season. My immediate thought was that the Brits will demand that a hitter run the bases in reverse order to give weight to their centuries-old habit of riding on the left side of the road.
My next thought: Why would Major League Baseball waste a perfectly good Cubs-Cardinals series on a country that cares for the game about as much as it cares for the way we spell color, labor and humor?
Why would it deprive one of the two teams a series in its own ballpark? Why punish the fans who have supported those teams so well for decades?
And most important of all, why not send the lowly Orioles and the lowly Royals to London instead? Give the English our tired, our poor, our wretched baseball teams. If I know one thing in life, it’s that they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between good baseball and bad baseball. And maybe, just maybe, the Orioles would decide to stay a looooooong time. I don’t care if they never get back.
The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is one of the best in sports, full of heat and light. MLB wants to give the English a look at how the game is played at its most intense, but there’s a decent chance the rivalry will lose cabin pressure somewhere over the Atlantic. It helps to have fans in the stands who hate the opposing team with all the animosity they can muster. That’s not going to happen in London, where people will be too busy wondering what Cubs manager Joe Maddon means when he says, “The process is fearless.’’
It’s impossible to have the rivalry between the two teams without the rivalry between the two fan bases. And that’s where the unfairness comes in. To rob the Cardinals’ home fans of the reaction that comes with seeing the Cubs in their park for even this one series stinks.
To export the rivalry to London Stadium would be to douse a fire, all for the long-shot possibility that baseball might establish a beachhead in England. It’s not going to happen.
The NFL has been trying for years to sell football to the English, who have responded by going to the periodic game and then betting on what color (colour?) the Queen’s hat will be the next time she steps out of Buckingham Palace. They’re mad about football there, the soccer kind.
This is what I wrote from London when the Bears were preparing to play the Buccaneers there in 2011:
If the Bears had picked up Friday’s edition of The Times of London, they would have had to wade through 11 pages of soccer, five pages of rugby and a page each of auto racing, tennis, cycling and track before they got to a story about the Bears.
And even then, it was about Mike Ditka.
“It was nothing for [William Perry] to drink a case of beer after a game,’’ Da Coach revealed.
If somebody were to drink that much beer here, it’d be the only buzz associated with this game.
Baseball would be facing an even more severe uphill climb to win the hearts of the British. They already have cricket, a sport so inscrutable that it makes baseball’s complexities look like basic addition and subtraction. There is some good news: If a country has allowed itself to fall in love with a sport whose games sometimes last days, as cricket can, the criticism of baseball as slow will look silly. Clearly, the English like to flog themselves when it comes to their bat-and-ball sports.
But just try explaining the debate over home-run bat flips to these people.
Baseball is struggling at the major-league level in the United States. Attendance and ratings have fallen. Young people haven’t taken to the game the way older generations did. This seems like a strange time to take away one of the things it does very well — rivalries — and send it to another country. Isolationism is the right approach here. MLB needs to tend to its own garden before trying to grow the game somewhere else.
The Yankees and the Red Sox will face off June 29-30 in London, marking the first time that regular-season games will be played in Europe. Then come the Cubs and Cardinals the following season. In both cases, London Stadium will be reconfigured to seat 60,000 people. One thing is certain: No matter what the weather is, most of them won’t have the foggiest idea about baseball.