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Major League Baseball’s Wobbly Future

Has America’s past-time gone past its time?  Major League Baseball playoffs are upon us, but the future of baseball is looking kinda wobbly.

Pittsburgh Pirates' Marlon Byrd, right, is greeted by teammate Pedro Alvarez after hitting a home run in the second inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP)

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Marlon Byrd, right, is greeted by teammate Pedro Alvarez after hitting a home run in the second inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP)

If soccer is the “beautiful game” and football is the game for hitting and basketball is jazz, what is baseball these days?  Once it was without a doubt the “national pastime.”  The quintessential American game.  But America has changed.  Our lives are faster, less patient, more amped.  Major League Baseball still does just fine, thank you.  But soccer and lacrosse and video games are giving baseball a run for its money among kids.  The World Series isn’t drawing like it used to.  This hour On Point:  maybe we love it for its difference, but are baseball and America’s mainstream culture drifting apart?

– Tom Ashbrook


Jonathan Mahler, contributing writer for the New York Times, sports columnist for Bloomberg View and Deadspin and author of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City.” (@JonathanMahler)

Matthew Futterman, senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal. (@MattFutterman)

David Steele, columnist for SportingNews.com. (@David_C_Steele)

Rob Neyer, national baseball editor for SB Nation. (@RobNeyer)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Is the Game Over? — “Baseball seems simply to have fallen out of the national conversation (unless the conversation happens to be about steroids, that is). The last time baseball felt front and center, culturally speaking, was the 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. And we all know how that turned out. What happened — is happening — to our national pastime? For all the moral hysteria, the answer, I think, has little or nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs. It does have a lot to do with the broader cultural trends that have helped shape modern America.”

SB Nation: Being Another Irrelevant Essay On Baseball’s Irrelevance – “Is it October? It must be October. Or February. Or March. Because those are typically the months when people are paid good money to write about baseball’s irrelevance. It’s been happening for a hundred years, at least, but it’s been happening a lot since the early 1960s, when television networks discovered that people really, really love to spend their Sunday afternoons on a couch, drinking beer and watching huge men bruise and break each other.”

Wall Street Journal: Has Baseball’s Moment Passed? “From 2000 to 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball fell 24%, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. Despite growing concerns about the long-term effects of concussions, participation in youth tackle football has soared 21% over the same time span, while ice hockey jumped 38%. The Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, another industry trade group, said baseball participation fell 12.7% for the overall population.”

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  • WorriedfortheCountry

    The Yankees are out and the NY centered media goes ape.

    • Ray in VT

      I’ve seen some numbers of the years about youth participation, and they are something of a concern. Some in NYC might be stressing these days over the Yanks, but I think that there is some fire behind this smoke.

  • ToyYoda

    What happened to baseball? Football.

    • MOFYC

      Not sure what the difference is. Both baseball and football have maybe 10 minutes of actual action stretched out to 3 or 4 hours. But in football you get the smash into people, which I guess works for Americans.

      • ranndino

        Exactly. I like watching football… as long as it’s condensed to 10 min. Think about it. What other game can you condense to 11-13 minutes and yet be able to show every single play? NFL football.

  • J__o__h__n

    Baseball is so boring, it requires the use of performance enhancing drugs to watch it.

    • ranndino

      Ha. Best comment yet.

  • Brian

    The Boston Red Sox had a 10 year streak of sellout games end this Spring, but they’re still incredibly popular here. Multiple cable TV channels are dedicated to their programming and post-game analysis. And since 2009 we have multiple FM sports-radio stations.

    Of course though, the Red Sox are typically contenders for playoffs, and have lots of money. Perhaps fans of smaller market teams are finally getting tired of watching this, by design, unfair “Moneyball” sport :(

    • J__o__h__n

      The sold out games number was fabricated. Perhaps smaller market teams need a mayor that gives away a public street so their teams can sell more beer.

    • Ray in VT

      The economics of how MLB has been structured is, I think, a detriment to many of the small market teams. Also I think that there are 81 home games per year makes it difficult to fill those seats on a consistent basis.

  • HLB

    In chronological order..

    US government shuts down.
    Pirates enter the post season – 1st time since 1992.
    US government defaults on debt.
    Pirates win the NL pennant.
    US government reverts to anarchy.
    Pirates win the World Series.
    Armageddon descends on the world.

    Go Bucks!

    Thanks much. HLB {Mt. Lebanon, PA}


    For over a generation, MLB has schedule its biggest, most high profile games so that they end after much of the country (and nearly all of the kids, you know, the future fans) has fallen asleep. And they’re surprised its popularity is waning?!!! *facepalm*

    • Paaven

      football and basketball do the same and they don’t seem to have a problem.

      • MOFYC

        No they don’t.

        Most football playoff games start no later than 4:00 pm ET… and the Super Bowl at 6:30. The only playoff games that start later are on
        Saturday evenings.

        NBA finals games start at 8:00 pm ET but since basketball games don’t last forever, they’re usually done by 10:30 or 11:00.

        World Series games, even 9 inning ones, often end after midnight.

    • ranndino

      Perhaps, if baseball games weren’t 4 hours long they would not end so late.

  • David_from_Lowell

    My wife blames her decades-long decline in baseball fandom on free agency: she says she can’t keep track of the players any more from year to year. I partly blame commercialization and cable TV for my waning interest. I love the game, and the Sox, but I became more and more disgusted as each year passed when fewer games were broadcast on channel 38, until they fully jumped to NESN. Now you can’t even watch the playoffs unless you have TBS. Also, you have to plan (and budget) months in advance to go to a game in Boston. Thank god for the Spinners, where you can walk over after work, get standing room tickets just before the game starts, and relax with friends in the summer evening sun, all for less than $20. Baseball is a state of mind, of quick pulses of action set in a context of anticipation, planning, and intellect; of living in and accepting humbly its repetitive failures, which makes success so rare and beautiful; and of leisure of time, which we all have less of. If baseball isn’t local and accessible, it’s much less appealing.

  • Ray in VT

    Baseball is the best, but it is a slow, deliberate game in an era of many distractions and the desire for constant action. There is something that can be so satisfying about a 17 pitch at bat no matter what the outcome is.

    • ranndino

      Just out of curiosity, would you say the same about a 0-0 tactical stalemate in soccer?

      • Ray in VT

        Not really, but that may be because I don’t care for ties. Gimme a winner, even if it takes 20 innings or 4 overtimes. Plus I just can’t get into soccer.

        • ranndino

          That’s pretty much what I was trying to prove. You expect others to understand your deep passion for baseball based on your in-depth understanding of the game, yet you can’t do the same for a sport you don’t understand.

          The last sentence applies to baseball in my case.

          As for the specific thing you said, as a soccer / hockey fan, I actually never understood what’s wrong with ties. If two teams are equally matches and played to a stalemate why do you so desperately need to artificially determine a winner? I don’t even like that hockey changed to determining a winner for regular season games via a shootout. It’s still a tied game to me, just one followed by a skills competition to satisfy this silly notion that a game must have a winner.

          • Ray in VT

            The passionate fan in me wants to deride those who don’t love the game, but that gets pretty well over ruled by my more rational side. I have a couple of friends who are really passionate about stock car racing, and that I really just don’t get. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

            I think that I prefer the shootout change to determine a winner, although, as an interested although not passionate hockey fan, I don’t feel really strongly about it one way or the other. I just want the Bruins to win. A couple of years ago on a visit to Boston I felt compelled to make a passing comment to some Canadiens fans who were dissing the Bruins in the train station right under the Garden.

          • ranndino

            A rational side that overrules raw passion and emotion? You’re a rare breed these days.

          • Ray in VT

            Well, some things are facts, and some things are opinion and preference, and I do my best to recognize the difference. My brother is a farmer, and he loves Brown Swiss, and whereas I think that they are dumb (even for cows) and injury prone, I realize that he has a preference that is in part based upon real factors like milk protein and butter fat. My gut and experience tells me to really dislike them, but I can appreciate their potential benefits.

          • ranndino

            Your cow example cracked me up. Yes, I pride myself on the same. Sometimes it’s very difficult to separate fact from fiction, but, at the very least, I give it my best shot. Not something I can say about most people, especially when it comes to such divisive issues as politics, sports or mobile device / OS preferences. Unfortunately, the current media culture is predisposed to promoting people just yelling at each other and bombarding their opponents with their own talking points. That’s one thing I enjoy about OnPoint. While guests may disagree they generally do it in a relatively intelligent way.

          • Ray in VT

            I agree with your points. There have been any number of guests on On Point with whom I have disagreed, but I think that at least they mostly stay away from quests who rely on talking points and name calling. I much prefer the format of this show to something like Crossfire.

            As someone with a background in history, I really enjoy it when some guest or caller makes some sort of obscure historical reference that I recall from my time as an undergrad., and I was really happy the day that they read my question (sort of) to George Takei. Topics on here also sometimes provoke conversations in my “real world”, such as one comment recently that initiated a discussion of 19th century Japanese militarism with a friend of mine who is a history professor.

  • toc1234

    MLB has screwed itself with dragging games out by using 6+ ptichers each game (plus all the mound conferences). they also really haven’t helped themselves by showing that strike zone on the tv, now umps cant have a bit wider zone – hence more pitches taken, more walks, more time… (and now instant reply is on the way…zzz). basically you need umps calling more strikes, pitchers working faster and batters need to stay in the box. maybe shrink the number of pitchers you can have in the bullpen to reduce all these specialist situation where a P pitchers to one or two guys and departs…

  • ToyYoda

    The season is too long. The game is too long.

  • Ray in VT

    I heard some talk on Canadian radio the other day about a move to bring baseball back to Montreal. There’s some talk of a new stadium and maybe trying to lure the Astros to town. I guess that they’re also going to honor the 1994 Expos in the spring during a couple of spring training games in the city.

  • HLB

    PNC Park in Pittsburgh – a small market team – has sold out baseball games all this season. Tuesday’s wild card match w. the Reds had the biggest crowed ever, SRO to the rafters. When you look at the fans they range from infants to old timers. The team is making a profit.

    So where in America is baseball-rejection an actual life threatening disease?

    It’s not in Pittsburgh. Go Bucks!

    Thanks much. HLB {Mt. Lebanon, PA}

    • Ray in VT

      I was so glad to see the Pirates break that losing streak. I’ve been rooting for them, as an underdog, small market team, for the past few seasons. They have some nice guys there, starting with McCutchen.

  • toc1234

    another reality is that basketball and football are built for tv, whereas baseball (and hockey) are 10 times better in person. in fact, I usually just listen to the Sox on the radio I/o watching.

    • ranndino

      That’s because there’s not much to see. BTW, I actually prefer watching hockey on TV. I think it translates to TV very well, especially in HD. There are so many spectacular plays that can be replayed from different angles.

  • Jim

    I disagree a little…

    Baseball will continue to be quite popular due to the the stories made.

    But Football has got the best of baseball recently… you are correct.

    I think we need some real baseball “heroes”… like Roberto Clemente or Jackie Robinson.

    Remember,… this game is still popular in the far east with Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese players striving to be part of MLB someday…

    I hope to see Pittsburgh winning the pennant this year.

  • JBK007

    Baseball has become an elitist sport, given the high cost of tickets and beer/hot dogs (in the park) and cable TV station subscriptions required to watch (when outside the park). That, coupled with the fact that many baseball “heros” have been tainted by the steroids scandal, make it no surprise that there’s a decrease in viewership and interest.

    • JEGuthrie

      Average ticket by sport: $55 NFL, $45 NBA, $45 NHL, $20 MLB.

    • Paaven

      baseball is very cheap, relatively speaking. It’s the only pro sport I’ll attend several times a year.

  • AC

    i’m not really a sports person, but i have found myslef unintentionally getting into a baseball game. i think it’s very subtle, but there is so much tension!! i think it would be great to have the desire to follow all the players because i think a lot of the tension is psychological, but alas, i’m too busy – & there are too many games to keep up with it

  • Renee Engine-Bangger

    Baseball is a snooze.

    • RolloMartins

      There is an average of 11 minutes of action in a typical football game (WSJ). Maybe golf is more boring, but that’s about it. In baseball, something is always going on.

      • ranndino

        That is true. You can watch a player on the bench attach a piece of paper with gum to another player’s shoe and set it on fire. Probably because he’s also bored to tears.

    • Ray in VT

      My wife, and many others of course, certainly think so, but I quite like the contest between pitcher and hitter and the various strategies involved, although it can take time.

  • VanillaC

    Perhaps we should start a “Slow Sport” movement. In a world where everything moves at the speed of light we need something
    like baseball. It is tea to coffee, a crossword puzzle to video games.

    There is nothing that says summer (besides sweet corns, maybe) than having the baseball game murmuring in the background. I always mourn the last Sox game as the changing of seasons, so it is a bonus when they make it to the post-season. Summer lives on !
    I have fond memories of going to Pawsox games with my dad in the 70s when 300 people was a crowd. And now they have crowds of thousands. So, in some places it is not dying.

    Go, Sox!

  • Mat Grau

    Have followed the White Sox since 1962 (I’m 63). Before my marrigage, before my children, before my career, there was the White Sox. Every morning I wake up to the White Sox box score. The key is passion. And yes this love or passion has to be taught, passed on.

    As a teacher for 42 years, I would enter the classroom on Opening Day and tell the students, “OK, put the books away, we are going to talk baseball today. Today should be a national holiday. Kids should be cutting classes and going to stadiums to watch games through knot-holes in fences.

    Highlight of sports life, being at the White Sox vs. Astros World Series clincher in Houston in 2005 when I was exiled in Houston after Katrina.

  • Adam B

    I believe the issue of the (seemingly) diminishing appeal of baseball points to a larger philosophical change of the nation’s attitude toward “the individual hero” where an individual player controls the majority of the creative power of the game (pitcher, quarterback) vs “the team effort” where each player must exercise a certain creativity and the team as a collective is dependent on this togetherness rather than the power of the single hero (soccer, basketball, lacrosse).

    Sports that put emphasis on many singularly creative individuals working as a collective tend to be more fluid such as soccer and basketball, whereas the sports that emphasize the individual hero tend to be more mathematical and broken into smaller fragments of time.

    To me, the growth of sports such as soccer and basketball point to a switch from the mathematical, industrial revolution inspired type of mindset of baseball to the more fluid, creative type of mindset which is becoming evident in our present state of society. (Of course, football seems to break from my analysis due to its rising popularity..)

  • cre8meaning

    I love going to baseball games because it’s a nice inexpensive night out and I like watching games at home because I don’t have to sit and stare at the screen like you do for Hockey. You can actually work on other stuff too and look up when something good is happening :)

    • ranndino

      That’s like saying, “Baseball is better precisely for the reason that it’s more boring than hockey”. Sorry, but that’s nonsense.

  • RolloMartins

    The pace of baseball is slow?? Not compared to football. Next time you watch a game, time how long the last 7 minutes of the game takes. Wow. Like watching paint dry.

    • Ray in VT

      Ugh, like the last minute of a close basketball game. It’s the worst.

      • TFRX

        Do you cheer, like I do, when each time finally runs out of timeouts?

        • Ray in VT

          Yes! Then I start cheering for them to have enough guys to foul out so that they don’t have 5 eligible guys.

    • ranndino

      That’s actually true of all sports popular in America. They’ve been designed to be vehicles for commercials. An average NFL game contains just 13 minutes of actual play according to a study by the WSJ.

      Sorry, but that’s why I like soccer. 90 minutes of ads free action and I can go on with my life.

  • Vic Volpe

    What sells big-screen, HD, Dolby-sound entertainment systems?…Baseball?…Football?….the original B&W version of Casablanca?…or the latest Hollywood thriller?

  • Huck

    It’s not the pace… it’s the drugs. The general public has soured on the game because it feels like one big long cheat. It’s not the game most of us grew up with.

    • ranndino

      It’s both. A very slow, boring game played by steroid infused primadonnas.

  • thequietkid10

    I think this is still a whole lot of nothing,

    Baseball still owns a monopoly on the sports scene for two months of the year. Something no other league has,

    The players are paid extremely well, no other sport (International Soccer might be an exception here) can provide their players with 200 million dollar guaranteed contracts. The players also last a lot longer then football.

    In addition to major league level teams there are AAA teams, AA teams, single A teams, rookie league teams, and independent league teams

    Baseball is clearly bigger then hockey or auto racing and is arguably bigger then basketball. They’re doing just fine.

  • 12Gary2

    Baseball is so boring. I for one am sick of my tax dollars providing corporate welfare for stadiums and millionaire team owners.

  • Bankster

    Playing baseball was great fun; however, watching baseball is another story.

    • ranndino

      Even playing it is boring as all hell. Most of the time you just stand around.

  • nytw

    I thought I was listening to a broadcast from the 1970s. I heard these same arguments in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Paaven

    I don’t know when you’re family used to go to games, but $5.00 back in 1960 would equate to about $40 today. Can you not get a ticket for that at Fenway? In Atlanta you can park for $5, get great seats for $35 and bring in all the food and non-alcoholic drinks you want. I’ve gone to games in Philly too, and parking is $15 at the stadium though I prefer to take the train. Sounds like Sawks are just a ripoff. Go Rays!

  • ranndino

    When the fans of the sport have to resort to arguments like “other sports have too much non-stop action” as some kind of a negative comment on other sports that tells you all you need to know about baseball. Paraphrasing that it’s like saying, “Baseball is a better sport BECAUSE it’s more boring”. Which is, of course, utter nonsense.

    Of course, baseball is not dead yet. It’s still being watched by people who grew up before the internet and video games and in some cases young people who have been brainwashed by their parents into thinking that it’s fun to watch. As those people pass on the fan base will start shrinking more and more. So while it’s not dead yet it will be.

    I say good riddance as it’s the most boring team sport ever invented, with the possible exception of its cousin cricket. And I say that as someone who absolutely loves sports. There are so many better ones out there that could replace baseball in the spotlight.

  • ranndino

    Yes, radio. How current. If that’s not a comment that supports the premise that baseball is a dying sport I don’t know what is.

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