As a current player and past avid fan of Major League baseball, Chesdin Harrington, my brother and a freshmen pitcher for the University of Virginia’s phenomenal baseball team, voiced his opinion on the game of baseball, saying, “I think the game has just slowed down. Being younger and going to the game and having a hot dog and fingers crossed that a ball would be hit your way truly something special. Now, the game has just seemed to slow down. Not just in the pace, but in the personality of the players, the rivalry of the teams. Baseball is a take your time sport and today there is less of a hype around watching it.”
During a decade where baseball had the “most fundamental, startling, and dynamic change of any in modern baseball history,” historian Jacques Barzun stated, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” It was the 1950s and changes included race- allowing blacks and white to play on the same team, geography- causing teams to create major league cities around the country, technology- increasing the number of travel games played, and the game itself- speeding up the game and making the games entertaining with more home runs, triples, strikeouts, and stolen bases. Some of baseball’s greatest stars, and future Hall of Famers, like Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays began their careers at this time as well. Baseball symbolized “the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming 19th century” in America. The sport provided togetherness and fun for communities of people all over the country, but with an inability to produce major stars, the slow pace, and the game never evolving into a 21st century sport, it seems as though America’s pastime is being left in the past.
Young boys who grew up with a love for the game are now 55 years of age or older. According to Nielsen ratings, the percentage of baseball viewers over the age of 55 has increased over the past 10 years, making up over half of the overall percentage of viewers. Game night used to be a time for friends and families to gather to watch or attend the game together but young people today are not interested in watching the game. It used to be that children were brought up playing baseball, knowing the top players in the game, and collecting as many baseball cards as one could fit into their binders and shoe boxes, but over the years the interest of young people has fizzled out, if there was even an interest there at all. Marc Fisher, from the Washington Post, stated, “The single biggest predictor of avidity in sports is whether you played as a kid.” Participation in the sport influences the likelihood that the child will grow up to continue to be a fan of the game, but even with thousands of children playing at a young age, Major League Baseball is not grabbing the young players’ attention like it did when players like Cal Ripken, Nolan Ryan, and Ken Griffey Jr. were on the field.
Inability to Develop Stars
The ESPN Sports Poll survey, conducted annually, collects young Americans’ 10 favorite sports figures and for the first time, not a single baseball player was found on the list in 2015. In 2014, one year earlier, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter was ranked 7th in the polls overall. Without children being exposed to the influential stars in the game, there’s no wonder these young children’s favorite players no longer include baseball players.
Adults over the age of 55 are 11 percent more likely to have a strong interest in baseball, whereas 18 to 34 year olds were 14 percent less likely to say they have such interest. When studying the percentage of TV audience for post season games over a decade ago, only 7 percent was made up of 6-17 year olds. The percentage has now dropped to four percent. According to PRRI’s January 2013 Religion & Politics Tracking Survey, out of the 63 percent who said they watched professional sports, only 7 percent said that baseball was sport they followed closely. Without star players making the front page of the newspaper, or nowadays, the home screen on our readily available smartphone newspaper apps, the audience lacks a desire to watch the game.
Joey Spitz, from the Huffington Post, believes that the last time a baseball article has jumped out and grabbed the reader’s attention was in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series. Before that pivotal game, possibly “an image of Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa smashing home runs,” was the last baseball news to stand out to the people. Spitz stated, “Major League Baseball athletes are largely anonymous to the American public.” He continued, “Hidden under baseball caps, embattled by steroids controversy…baseball players have arguably become America’s most unknown athletes.” The summer time activity of attending a game as a family, glove in hand, and cracking open a bag of salted peanuts will still occasionally occur, but without any standout baseball stars capturing the attention of today’s youth, the game will lose, and no longer create, any new fans.
While baseball has overcome its fall in the past, the pace of modern day life has changed the way children see and enjoy the game. Fisher said, “It’s a reflection of the fact that our society’s constantly becoming faster paced.” With the idea that if the game was played faster and the overall game time was shorter, society would be more likely to watch it, has resulted in the shortening of break time between innings to two minutes and 25 seconds. Another result was the making of a new rule, “requiring hitters to stay in the batter’s box to trim hitters’ fussing and fidgeting between pitches.” Even with these advancements being made, the “idea of watching a baseball game from opening pitch to last out, without flipping channels, is not what most people, even most sports fans, would find riveting television,” Spitz said. The act of sitting through a three hour game sound “tedious and boring for most.”
Never Evolved into a 21st Century Sport
Others say the length of the game is not the issue, but it is the “perception that nothing’s going on in the game,” that turns viewers away and no longer grabs the attention of young adults. Baseball has become “too slow to keep the attention of tech-driven, need-to-be multi-tasking people that create today’s fan base.” Spitz compared baseball to a “slow, novel-like, amusement whose power lies in the accumulation and appreciation of moments.” Our culture is still interested in these spectacular moments, but not at the cost it takes to witness them during the game. The “modern sports consumer” would rather watch the replay on ESPN’s Top 10.
Sports like football are drawing in crowds, drastically increasing the popularity of the sport because they provide the “quick, big play excitement that appeal to a broader audience,” Spitz suggested. When a group of Americans were asked if football was replacing baseball as America’s national sport, 55 percent of Americans said yes. Young people, ranging from the age 18 to 29, made up 64 percent of the 55 percent who answered yes. To support these numbers even more, according to the 2014 Harris Poll, 35 percent of sports fans reported NFL football to be their favorite sport with 11 percent of the sports fans reporting college football to be their favorite in the poll.
Sports reflect and shape our culture. Since there have been many technological advancements over the years, changing the way we receive and understand information makes it difficult for us to focus, “especially on a slow-paced game like baseball. We (Americans) lack patience,” said David Roark, an opinion writer for The Week. Most Americans want instant gratification and the game of baseball is not able to fulfill these desires.
Fisher stated, “Baseball has lived for the better part of a century on its unchanging character, its role as a bond between generations, its identity as a quintessentially American game that features a one-on-one face-off of individual skills tucked inside a team sport. Can a game with deliberation and anticipation as its heart thrive in a society revved up for nonstop action and scoring.”
Baseball needs more lovable players out on the field and in the faces of America’s youth. Baseball needs high level players capturing America’s attention, making them stop and pay attention to the game. Baseball needs the good guys along with the notorious bad asses. Baseball needs single-name icons. Baseball needs to bring back the major rivalries. Baseball needs to get people watching on the television screen and live. Baseball needs to create some excitement in the young people of America today. If baseball doesn’t, America’s pastime will surely be a thing of the past.