According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, the number of kids between the ages of seven and seventeen playing baseball declined 24 percent between 2000 and 2009. It seems increasingly true that baseball is being abandoned as both a sport played and a sport followed across the country which once embraced it as the national pastime. The NFL has dominated the ratings when it comes to sports. Of sporting events so far this year, the top twelve most viewed are all NFL games, two of which were regular season. The first baseball game found on the list is last week’s All Star Game coming in at number thirty-six behind the Kentucky Derby and a NASCAR race (I would like to point out that three Kentucky basketball games made the list, but that is for another post).

So it is unarguable that the popularity of baseball is in decline.

The question is why?

Some say it is too boring or lazy.

At least one guy says it is because you cannot bet on baseball like you can football.

Others say that it is because baseball is unwilling to change.

Still other arguments include that Major League Baseball is not well managed, that people do not have the time to watch a game, that Americans want more action and violence like the NFL, and even further, drug scandals, cheating, overpaid players, length of the season, overtaken by foreigners, unwritten rules, the list goes on and on like… well a baseball game.

Whatever the reason people seem to look at baseball today much like baseball in this video (I tried my best to embed it, you should really watch the video, it involves Conan O’ Brien and crazy people playing baseball).

Like many of you, I grew up at a ballpark. I ate ballpark food, played baseball all summer long and, as I became older, even traveled quite a bit for tournaments, and when I came home I watched Baseball Tonight. I traded baseball cards, played wiffle ball, pickle (hot box), wall ball, pepper, tennis ball baseball, pegs, pitcher’s hand, roll the bat, ultimate baseball, and of course “practiced” sliding during rain delays.  It was a great way to grow up and I don’t regret it for minute and it saddens me that more children aren’t doing the same these days. Yes, I admit, that baseball is played at a much slower pace than the other major sports, that it takes a lot longer to play, and that it can be more expensive for the player and his family…

but I still cannot help but wonder if America’s falling out with baseball is more of an America problem than it is a baseball problem.

Is baseball too boring, or are we over stimulated and over entertained with our unending list of devices and sources for immediate entertainment and information? (I have to admit that I love these devices too)

Are baseball games too long to sit through or have we become a nation that is so much on the move that we cannot take a few hours out of our week to watch the hometown team play while eating a hot dog, drinking a beer, and sitting with our friends or family? Have we become so connected with each other on Facebook and Twitter (an even blogs) that we have lost the ability to slow down and connect in reality?  Have we lost contact with our neighbors to the point that we cannot manage sitting in the stands and conversing while watching our kids or other relations play the game?

Is baseball too stagnant and old fashioned or have we made innovation, even innovation solely for the sake of innovation, the penultimate indicator of success, relevance, and the modern man, all while ignoring the results? (violent injuries in football come to mind)

Are the athletes paid too much or have we raised the importance of an athlete (in any sport) to the point that they literally are worth the millions of dollars they are paid because of our consumption driven, capitalist above all else, society?

Does baseball lack athleticism, or are we solely focused on individual accomplishments rather than that of a team? Is baseball boring because it is harder to gamble on or are we too greedy and or flippant with our resources? Is baseball, like other sports, too much of an investment in both time and money or are we not investing in our children as much as we should? Is baseball hurt by the large number of foreign players because we have become an increasingly ethnocentric, and dare I say racist society?  I could go on like this for at least 162 questions and maybe throw in a wild card question or two.

Yes it is easy to turn around a question and direct it right back at the person asking, but I sincerely do believe that these questions are in fact worth asking.

Baseball is a great game that was once loved by the vast majority of this country; people who many would want you to believe were slow paced, simplistic, and primitive. In reality baseball helped a country through some of the most trying and complex events in its young history.  Baseball’s contributions to society are too numerous to list here, and I would encourage you to check out Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball for more on this.

In short I think that it could be said, and I am sure this is not an original thought on my part, that baseball and society have been linked for many years. When WWII hit, baseball suffered. When baseball integrated, societal changes slowly (too slowly) began to form. When the country needed heroes baseball offered them. Today we find ourselves at a fork in the road in which baseball is going one direction and the rest of society another. I honestly do not know which, if either, is the correct road or if the two roads will ever cross again, but I hope they do.

Baseball is beautiful, historical, difficult, entertaining, communal, character building, life changing, educational, wise, consoling, and steadfast in a world that is often not. Baseball, like everything else, most certainly has its share of shortcomings but…

…let’s not give up on baseball quite yet.

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Categories: Ground Ball Democracy

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7 Comments on “Baseball”

  1. Anonymous
    July 19, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    Love it! I share in your love for baseball and I no doubt think it stems from my childhood. From ages 9-15 I breathed it every summer.

    A word of encouragement, though. Average baseball attendance is up 7 or 8% since last year. Also, the average game had 30k in attendance in 2000 and in 2010 it had 31k, so it’s not doing too bad.

    I agree with your assessments for why people don’t like baseball as much anymore, though, especially if they don’t go to the games. I think it’s worth emphasizing even more than you do the violent nature of football and how that socially acceptable, bone crushing violence is appealing to ‘mericans. Also, two other criticisms of football. First off, average nfl games are about 20-30 min longer than baseball games, and in each football game there are only 11 minutes(!) of action. The rest is wasted time between plays, etc.

  2. Adam R
    July 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    I use to love baseball. I remember as a teen watching nearly every Braves game on TBS.

    Then 1994 happened. The strike that forever changed my perception of what used to be a beautiful game. Perhaps it still is, but I perhaps naively thought that players were motivated foremost by all the things that make it beautiful….the smell of grass and hot dogs, the crack of the bat, the thrill of a full count with bases loaded….

    Then there was that McGwire fellow, who went from a weenie to the hulk in about 2 months and started slamming home runs left and right. What was at about?

    Incidentally, now I love THE beautiful game….futbol!


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