This article was originally submitted on November 6, 2010. With baseball season looming and spring training started, it seemed like the perfect time for one of the fan favorite articles about baseball by Rodimus Dunn
In my short lifetime baseball, the National Pastime, has gone from the most popular sport around to discussing contraction and having the worst ratings in World Series history. The popularity and marketability of baseball is literally behind the NFL, NBA, and NASCAR. Moreover, it may have also been passed by both NCAA football and basketball. Why does no one other than the geriatric baseball “purists” care about baseball? Why has the sport people used to associate with America fallen so far?
1. Short attention span society – With the advent of high speed internet, wifi, texting, twitter, etc, American society has the attention span of a 5 year old. Baseball games average about 3 hours, therein lies a huge disconnect. If you’ve been to a baseball game lately I guarantee you’ll see significantly more people looking at their cell phones then at the actual game.
2. Minorities are the main stars – Some people are just never going to be okay with foreigners making more money than a “blue collar, red blooded, hard working American.” Over the last decade or so, baseball’s top stars have been Albert Pujols, AROD, Jeter (who is half black and half white), Ichiro, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Barry Bonds, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, CC Sabathia, and Johan Santana. Out of that group we have half a white person. People who spend lots of money on baseball want to spend money on people who look like them. That’s not racism, it’s simply capitalism.
3. The stars aren’t marketed like in the NBA – Most of the lack of marketing has to deal with reason #2 of why baseball is dying. The other major reason is that baseball is such a team sport with so much history that teams are marketed and not players. As compelling as Manny Ramirez and Big Papi were during Boston’s initial World Series run, the Red Sox history of playoff losing was what MLB focused their money and attention on. The Yankees are always loaded with larger than life players and personalities, but not a single one gets more attention than the legacy of all the former pinstripe greats.
4. Unwritten rules take out the flamboyance – The me-first behavior of athletes in other sports that attracts the casual fan is missing from baseball. Baseball’s unwritten rules prevents anyone from doing anything outside of a “web gem” that anyone will remember. There’s no post play dancing or preening for the camera. Chest bumps and tattoos aren’t seen. Asinine tweets are nowhere to be found. Nothing that happens off the field matters, and that’s boring to a lot of people. Furthermore, guys are demonized for doing simple things like watching a home run too long or fist-pumping after striking out a batter. As annoying as Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens’ antics have become, they’ve brought a lot of attention to the NFL.
5. Performance enhancement – Steroid testing may have been enhanced in baseball, but the scepter of steroids and HGH still hangs over baseball like a guillotine. Once again, casual fans are turned off by the idea that everyone in baseball cheats or has cheated. There are more people who talk about Albert Pujols possibly being a cheat than people who talk about him putting up Ted Williams type numbers. This is a major problem.
6. Sabermetrics – The battle between the old skool sportswriters and the new generation of blogging “stat geeks” has been won by the stat guys. Ten years ago things like OPS, OBP, WAR, BABIP, WHIP, UZR, and luck would never be uttered by the casual baseball fan or writer. Now they’ve entered baseball’s vernacular, and the sport is better and worse for it. Everyone benefits because there is a better understanding of which players are really good even if their traditional stats aren’t as impressive. Baseball is worse for this because now we all know that baseball is basically an individual sport masquerading as a team sport. Also, with the increased reliance on stats, everyone knows how the players are going to perform every year. Everything is basically predetermined with a few calculations. All you need now to follow the sport is a box score. That’s lame, boring, and much more than the casual fan wants to worry about.
7. Parity – When one can predict which teams are going to the playoffs just by looking at payroll, there’s a big problem. This year was a touch different with Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Texas reaching the postseason. On most other years everyone knows the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and Angels will be in the playoffs (I would include the Mets, but their front office is so bumbling the team is always a disappointment). If you don’t cheer for one of those teams, you’re disenchanted by baseball’s financial disparities and stop paying attention well before the season ends.
8. Season ends too late – Most people argue that the season is too long, but that’s not the big problem. The season ending in November is the major issue. By the time baseball ends professional and NCAA football are in full swing, NASCAR is in its postseason, and the NBA season has started. For the few people that still care about hockey, the NHL season has started by this time also. Back in 1970 this wasn’t a big deal because everyone didn’t have cable television, satellites, or the internet. In 2010 there are far too many programmatic options for people, and if they’re going to watch sports in November, it’s going to be America’s new pastime … football.