The real world championships
It's that time of year again -- October -- when we crown another deserving World Champion. I'm speaking, of course, about the just-concluded World DJ Championship, which was contested among turntable wizards from 25 nations and won -- I hardly need to tell you -- by the French spinner LigOne at club KOKO in London.
By contrast, the other World Champion crowned next week will have vanquished teams from two countries en route to winning the World Series. The World DJ Championship, we are left to conclude, is a far more cosmopolitan event than the World Series will ever be. The only thing the two events have in common is a lot of scratching.
So why in the world do we persist in calling the winners of America's domestic sports leagues "World Champions"? It has often been noted that the NFL is about as international as the International House of Pancakes. But that simply isn't true: IHOP has franchises in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Virgin Islands. The NFL does not have a franchise in Los Angeles.
The governing body of the World Chess Championship, FIDE, comprises 158 national associations. Given that the United Nations only has 34 more countries than that, we might consider FIDE a truly global operation. If any victor, then, has the right to slip into a "World Champion" T-shirt and duck-walk around a field of play as Tina Turner sings "You're simply the best" over the sound system, it is 40-year-old Viswanathan Anand of India, the reigning world chess champion. It would certainly make the tournament more lively.
Instead, Anand, who took a 40-hour bus ride to Bulgaria to earn his title in May, pronounced himself "relieved" to have won, then treated himself to a flight home. This backs up what Francis Bacon once said: "The less you speak of your greatness, the more I shall think of it."
Of course, that was the 16th century, and Bacon today would no doubt be tweeting us all a link to his Bacon Bits blog, where he'd have posted several more aphorisms like that one. But the point remains: "World Champions" protest too much.
The World Series, as much as I love it, isn't crowning a world champion. It is even less a world championship than the countless other events that appropriate the word "World" for their titles. The 2010 World Series of Poker was contested by players from 57 different nations. The 2010 World Series of Baseball will be contested by players from five.
The World Beard & Moustache Championships, by comparison, are far more respectful of the "world" in their world title -- preceding their competition by both U.S. and European qualifying beard-offs. Additionally, that
Even the Lumberjack World Championship features competitors from Australia, New Zealand and Canada in addition to the U.S. (Though it must be said that it still seems heavily-weighted toward axe-swingers from Wisconsin and West Virginia.)
Indeed, if you were to combine the World Beard & Moustache Championships with the Lumberjack World Championship, we would get something that strongly resembles the World Series, a contest in which men with farcical facial hair compete against each other with felled trees. Giants reliever Brian Wilson certainly looks like he could win both Beard and Lumberjack contests, to say nothing of the World Series.
None of this is to suggest that baseball is provincial. On the contrary: At any given time, Major League Baseball is played by athletes from at least 16 different countries. People care about the World Series in Latin America and Asia, among other places. It's merely the title "World Champion" that is a little silly and a bit of a lie. It's not so much parochial as it is Pinocchial.
College football and basketball's "national championships" sound so much more dignified -- and honest -- by comparison. Winners of baseball and NBA titles really ought to call themselves -- with a nod to Toronto -- the North American champions. But that will never happen, for the same reason Freddie Mercury never sang, "We are the champions ...
And so the World Series will end next week, and either the Giants or Rangers will immediately pull on T-shirts declaring themselves World Champions. The losers' "World Champion" T-shirts will be shipped abroad, to poor people in developing nations, where -- in a strange irony -- the World Series runners-up will become actors on the world stage in a way that the World Champions never will be.