Last year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians was the most-watched World Series in 12 years, and Game 7, seen by more than 40 million people, was the most-watched MLB game in 25 years. The matchup of two teams that had not won a title in 108 years and 68 years, respectively, was ratings gold for Major League Baseball.
This year’s game between the Houston Astros and LA Dodgers is unlikely to match those numbers. But it is nonetheless a very good result for MLB in October.
It’s not the Yankees
Let’s be clear: MLB and Fox (which has the World Series broadcast rights) would have loved to get the Yankees and Dodgers: a matchup of the two biggest sports media markets in the country.
Astros pitcher Dallas Kuechel said it himself after the Astros won the pennant: “We know Major League Baseball wanted the Yankees and Dodgers… We kind of spoiled the party for them. We’re happy to do that.”
The Yankees are America’s favorite and its most hated baseball team; they have been to the World Series six times in the last 20 years; this year they have rookie slugger Aaron Judge, a lock to be the American League Rookie of the Year and potentially the AL MVP, too, and, many believe, the new face of pro baseball. And the Yankees’ ratings on YES Network in New York rose an eye-popping 56% this year.
The Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988; they have baseball’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw (though he has struggled in the postseason, which adds a layer of intrigue); they have one of the sport’s most controversial, fascinating players in Yasiel Puig.
Yankees vs Dodgers would have almost certainly been a ratings smash, and could have rivaled last year’s numbers. Instead, MLB got one out of two.
There are other pairings that also, arguably, would have been more ideal for eyeballs: Red Sox vs Dodgers; Yankees vs Cubs; Red Sox vs Cubs; or a rematch of the Cubs and Indians.
But Houston, less than two months after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and still recovering, could use the energy that a hometown championship brings. And there are other factors that make this a great, if not the best, World Series for baseball.
It’s the two best teams
The ESPN stat-head website FiveThirtyEight writes that this World Series very likely has the two best teams in baseball this year — something that, for various reasons, doesn’t typically happen. This is the first World Series since 1970 with two teams that each won more than 100 games.
Indeed, the two squads, after gradual rebuilding for the Astros and four years in a row of winning the NL West without making the World Series for the Dodgers, have been the subject of fascination for sports media. Sports Illustrated, on a 2014 cover, called the Astros “your 2017 World Series champs,” and on a cover this year asked if the Dodgers are the “best team ever.” Cody Bellinger is thought to be a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.
The Astros are a young, fun squad that has the characteristics MLB needs to attract young fans at a time when the NFL towers over American sports and the NBA is red hot with kids. They have one of the three youngest teams in the Majors, with an average age below 28. Carlos Correa was AL Rookie of the Year in 2015. George Springer was an All-Star this year.
Justin Verlander was traded to the Astros in September just in time for the postseason, and pitched a complete game in Game 2 of the ALCS, then seven shutout innings in Game 7 on his way to being named ALCS MVP.
And then there’s Jose Altuve. The shortest man in baseball (5-foot-5) is one of its fastest runners and best hitters. He is a five-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove winner. His excitement is explosive and infectious. Many believe that Altuve, and not Judge, is the biggest star in baseball right now, though he is limited by the size of the market in which he plays.
As exciting as the Astros are, can they draw in casual fans who aren’t from Houston or LA? Maybe not. “I think on the national level, it comes down to having a marquee story or a marquee market,” says Yahoo Finance’s markets reporter Myles Udland. “So you had a perfect storm in Chicago, the Red Sox are always going to draw nationally, the Yankees will draw nationally, the Cardinals will probably draw nationally, longtime fanbase there. But I just don’t see this Astros team having many elements that are going to be all that appealing… but maybe I’m just a bitter Yankees fan.”
If you add up all the positive factors — Altuve, Correa, Verlander, Kershaw, Bellinger, Puig, no title since 1988 for one team, and no title ever for the other — the 2017 World Series matchup is a great one. Just how great, for TV ratings, will be interesting to see.