Season Dwindling, Sox and Yankees Loom

Two weeks remain in professional baseball's regular season. And although some fans may be growing tired of it, another fall showdown between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees looms. Robert Siegel talks to Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Two weeks remain in baseball's regular season and, though some fans may be growing tired of it, another fall showdown between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees looms. The teams are running neck and neck in the standings and will play each other three times to end the season. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal joins us now, as he does most Fridays.

Welcome back, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (The Wall Street Journal): Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: Anything to the argument that now that Boston has actually won a World Series, the big rivalry, absent of the curse and all, this isn't such a big deal?

Mr. FATSIS: In a word, no. Whenever you think this rivalry can't top itself, it does. The last two years, of course, it came down to a seventh game in the American League Championship Series. This year, the drama could come a little bit sooner. Major-league baseball held a coin flip this week to determine which team would host a one-game playoff if they are tied for the East Division title. Memories of 1978, of course, when the Yankees and Bucky Dent's home run beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park. This year, if it happens again, it'll be in Yankee Stadium.

SIEGEL: Well, over in the National League, meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball and, last night, they clinched the Central Division title and a berth in the playoffs. But the San Diego Padres, over in the Western Division, are guaranteed, I guess, a place in the playoffs. But they have a terrible record.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, they--in baseball's worst division. And if they stay on track, they will become the first team in baseball history to win a division with a losing record. Can you name the team that's come closest to doing that, Robert?

SIEGEL: No, in a word.

Mr. FATSIS: The 1973 New York Mets.

SIEGEL: Really?

Mr. FATSIS: Yes.

SIEGEL: Well, so the Padres are racing against history. Meanwhile, the real race in the National League, which those of us in Washington are very excited about, is for the wild-card spot.

Mr. FATSIS: Yes, the Houston Astros, the Florida Marlins, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals are separated by just two and a half games. The schedule looks to be in Houston's favor because the other three teams have to play each other six times, so they're going to beat each other up a little bit. On the other hand, Houston plays nine of its last 16 games on the road. Florida also plays nine of its last 15 games on the road, and Philadelphia is on the road for 12 of its last 15 games, which leaves the Nationals here in Washington. Nine of their last 15 games are going to be at home. That's a big advantage.

SIEGEL: Yeah, the Nationals are now at home in Washington. Until this season, home was Montreal. Sometimes it was Puerto Rico as I recall, also.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: But they've had a great season after moving to Washington and they still don't have an owner.

Mr. FATSIS: No, they're still owned by the 29 other teams in major-league baseball, and that should end soon. Eight groups have bid for the rights to buy this team, includes some locals here in Washington, some baseball veterans. It's very hard to handicap who's going to end up with the franchise, though it doesn't look like baseball's going to sort of mix and match to come up with a composite ownership group. The figure right now for the price is around 425 to $450 million. That's less than what the Nationals probably could have gotten, but baseball had to cut a deal with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, to placate him because of the team coming to the region.

SIEGEL: But is it more than what it would have been if they had had a losing season this year?

Mr. FATSIS: I don't think so.

SIEGEL: Really?

Mr. FATSIS: I mean, this is all about business. This is about demographics of the marketplace. This is about this new stadium that's scheduled to be built here in DC. It's about the long term for the franchises. This was really the only great market left for baseball.

SIEGEL: Well, speaking of business and television, Major League Baseball renewed its contract with ESPN; $300 million for 80 games...

Mr. FATSIS: Yep.

SIEGEL: ...a year.

Mr. FATSIS: Until the year 2013. It's a big increase, about 50 percent. No major changes in what we'll see, but the message here is that there are competitors. The Outdoor Life Network, now known as OLN, was a serious bidder for this package. ESPN is facing some rivalry down the road.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal talks with us Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

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