Is London The Next Stop For MLB?
“I was having lunch today, and watching people walk, the way I do in every city, someone walked by with a Pirate jacket and a Cardinal jacket,” Major Leaue Baseball Commisioner Bud Selig said during his time at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “And it made me really happy.” Bud’s latest venture abroad has been a success.
After a 100 year wait, the Australian people were once again treated to some elite-level hardball action, as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played a two game series to open up the 2014 season. But is London a viable option for MLB’s next foray across the ocean?
The last time the Major League went down under was during the infamous 1914 world ‘barn storming’ tour set up by John “Mugsy” McGraw of the Giants, baseball’s most successful manager and Charles Comiskey, the White Sox owner over dinner during the 1913 season.
As expected, was a short period of time which proved to produce a myriad of stories to tell about cricket and baseball colliding. The two teams played at Sydney Cricket Ground back then, in front of a crowd believed to barely surpass 10,000. It was nonetheless a success for the two enterprising owners who saw the financial viability of an internationally supported sport way ahead of their time.
But this year’s venture to a country outside of North America is by no means a recently revived old concept. Many will remember the 2012 Opening Series in Japan with the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, the annual tour of Japan from 1986 to 2006 and the 2008 games in China between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres as examples of MLB on an international scale. Not to mention the steadily rising World Baseball Classic.
Bud Selig and the suits running Major League Baseball may be accused frequently of stagnation and anti-progression in the way the sport is organised but they are no fools. These baby steps outside the American sport bubble seem to be a direct answer to their sports league competition who have been latched onto the idea just as long as they have.
The NFL plays in London and Toronto each year, the NHL plays around Europe, the NBA plays across the world and even NCAA college football now goes to Dublin every two years. Whether it’s an attempt to grow the game across the world or just a chance to gain a quick buck, all the big American sports are shipping their assets overseas, to the beat of a multi-cultural, multi-national, ever expanding loyal fan base.
Bud Selig himself thought that this year’s series in Sydney, which saw two near-sellout games with almost 40,000 fans at each, as a triumph for the sport.
“It’s been a really marvelous three or four days for us. We’re really proud of the reception and the excitement. Baseball’s never been as popular as it is in the United States and other places, but the growth in the next decade-plus is going to be international, and that’s why these trips are so important. And they’re exciting. They’re real exciting. We need to continue to play games in a lot of different places. I say if we do this right, you won’t recognize how big and good this sport is in 10 or 15 years,” he added.
I may be biased, as a major self-proclaimed British American sports consumer, but the next logical step for baseball is to play in London. Selig has already admitted that the continent in question is on the cards. “I certainly have talked about this before. I want to play some regular-season games in Europe,” he admitted. It is only a matter of time before he cracks.
MLB is the only major American pro sports league yet to play in the United Kingdom, let alone London. London is the European hub for so called ‘wannabe Americans’ like myself. While US culture has become a one-size-fits-all way of life across the globe, no one you can argue has latched onto it like Londoners have. We wear the clothes, we listen to the music, we watch the TV shows, watch the sports, we increasingly use the slang and we even muster up 88,000 fans for a Jacksonville Jaguars home game.
But Baseball isn’t popular in London yet, in fact, it’s still considered very much an underground sport. Everyone wears Yankees, Braves and Dodgers gear without batting an eye-lid or a care in the world (much to my displeasure), but an extremely small fraction can ever admit to sitting down with a cold one during the summer for a full nine-innings.
That being said, it doubt it would take much to fill one of our stadiums with long standing MLB fans or just a bunch of curious members of the public eager to get in on the action.
The logistics of holding a game in a country without even a minor baseball field to it’s name isn’t as somber of a situation as one might imagine either. Not only do we have a share of Cricket grounds just waiting to sport a baseball diamond like Sydney, but we also have a near-brand spanking new 60,000 seat Olympic Stadium in central London to use – a place which has already attracted the interest of the MLBs International task force.
“That (Olympic) stadium, the way it’s built, actually is big enough for a baseball game,” Clive Russell of MLB International claims. “It’s not perfect, but it has some real potential.”
Selig has already told the media that baseball will go back to Australia before the 200th anniversary of McGraw and Comiskey’s legendary excursion around the world, but that still leaves plenty of time for a quick couple of games in Great Britain.
Bring some teams we’ve heard of, a marketing campaign, and the tools needed to make America’s pastime possible for us Brits, that’s all you need. Just pull the trigger and create green shoots for baseball in Europe, like Latin America and Asia before it.
Make the ‘World Series’ title, which is forever mocked, legit.
Featured photo: Mark Nolan/MLB Photos Getty Images