“We’re all told that we can’t play the children’s game anymore.
Some of us are told at 18 and some are told at 40, but we’re all told.” –
scout in the movie Moneyball.
Baseball ain’t what it
used to be and that’s been true for some time now. A Harris Poll in
January of this year found that 35 percent of sports fans favor NFL
football. Major League Baseball finished second at 15 percent. When the
same poll was taken in 1985, the NFL led only 24 percent to 23 percent.
The 2014 NFL tally doesn’t include college football, which rakes in
another 11 percent for the gridiron – three times as many people say
football is their favorite sport as do baseball.
So is baseball,
America’s game during its rise to superpower status, a fading
institution? Well, if football, basketball, and baseball all were
created yesterday, it would be long odds that baseball would see the end
of the week. The pace doesn’t fit modern society as the other two do.
Nor does it fit the socialist trend of the world. Baseball is a game for
capitalists. Japan and South Korea play baseball - China plays
The game has always had two real hooks. The first is history. The
steroid era of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez that we’re
still somewhat living illustrated something about the soundness of the
game – that outrageous numbers have outrageous explanations. A .300
hitter in 1940 is relatively the same as a .300 hitter in 2010. Forty
home runs then is 40 home runs now, unless you take something that gives
you freakish strength – then it becomes 60. The best players are only
slightly better than the really good ones, but it’s as noticeable now as
it was then.
Because its history is such a draw, baseball changes
with great reluctance. The big change this year is instant replay,
something other sports have used for over a decade. It’s hard to argue
against getting a call right. But for fans, it’s a strange drama
unfolding this year in the majors - managers strolling out to umpires
after close calls and chatting politely while someone in the dugout
watches the replay and decides whether to appeal. Earl Weaver is turning
over in his grave.
In a game paced to enable casual conversation
in the stands, arguing on the field seems sacrosanct. Sedateness is
hardly the remedy for a game considered too slow by critics. Lou Pinella
throwing second base would have been the highlight of any trip to the
ballpark, as would have Billy Martin kicking dirt on an umpire. The
second big hook of the game is that it grabs you when you’re too young
to know any better – when you’re susceptible to making bad decisions
like becoming a Cubs fan. Kids’ imaginations aren’t as up for grabs in
2014. I was of the first generation of video game youth, but our video
games played on an Atari 2600. It was what you did after a day of
playing outside. Anyone with kids knows that today’s video games are
what a lot of boys want to do instead of going outside.
video assault with the restructuring of today’s Little Leagues - where
the imaginations of the players pale in comparison with those of the
coaches, many of whom see themselves building dynasties and preparing
their own kids for the majors - and you can see where this is all
headed. Not necessarily tomorrow, but almost certainly a generation from
I’ll still watch and so will the guys my age but that
decline in popularity is no anomaly. We’ll take our kids to the games
and hope they see some of what we saw in it. But as plans advance to put
a jumbotron in the left field of Wrigley Field soon, the question needs
asked: How will anyone ever be able to again see what we saw, provided
they even wanted to?