Conflicting styles make or break great fights. Ali v. Frazier was a great fight. Ali v. Wepner was not. The 2015 World Series on paper looks like it could be the former: a clash of contrasting, intriguing methodologies and matchups.
The New York Mets are led by four young, flame-throwing starters whose names are already starting to become local lore: Harvey, DeGrom, Syndergaard, Matz. Each tops 95 miles per hour on the radar gun with little effort and had his National League playoff opponent on the Chicago Cubs swinging at the ghosts of baseballs passed. But the free-swinging Cubs are not the Royals. The Royals are a squad that by a significant margin strikes out less than any team in the Majors. Every at-bat will be part chess match, part blind gamble, where the Royals will dare the young Mets pitchers to throw strikes and the Mets Four Horsemen will throw fat fastballs around the plate and dare the Royals to swing.
But this World Series represents more than just series of tantalizing face-offs. It also has some historical bite. Baseball has long been looked at as a mirror of where we are as a country on issues of race, “a canary in the coal mine,” to quote sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards. This World Series offers a particularly bracing and lucid look. In the entire 112-year history of baseball’s championship round, we are presented for the first time with a Fall Classic pitting two teams that never fielded all-white, segregated rosters.
The Mets and the Royals, two teams that came into the league in 1962 and 1969, respectively, entered after the smashing of the color line and never looked back. Jackie Robinson desegregated the game in 1947, and it is fascinating that this is the first time two post-1947 expansion teams have met. On one level, this is a tribute to the historic institutional power of baseball’s great teams that thrived under segregation like the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Dodgers. (The Cards and Dodgers in particular had post-1947 success when they took integration seriously, stocking their rosters with black talent.) Yet franchises maintained quotas for decades to ensure that their integrated teams would not become too integrated. It was in 1971 when the Pirates fielded the first all-black-and-brown starting nine.
Still, it is remarkable, given the success that so many post 1947 expansion franchises have had, that this is the first time the stars have aligned to see two of these franchises meet in the big dance. It is also worth remarking upon for reasons beyond historic curiosity. Even with the absence of a segregated past, the Mets have just one black American player on their playoff roster, Curtis Granderson. The Royals will be starting, barring injury, one black American player, Lorenzo Cain. Both teams employ several players of African descent from Latin America. This all speaks to the oft-discussed issue of the work baseball needs to do if it is going to find purchase in the black community in the United States. I refer all questions on this to Chris Rock, although I’ll also add that baseball’s rush to invest billions in the Dominican Republic to develop players cheaply while publicly funded urban baseball programs are being slashed plays a major role in this.