Forgive me for being self-indulgent initially, but us Australians play a quaint game called cricket; you may/may not have heard of it. We're very, very good at it, kind of how you Americans are with sports, in general. You know, the ones where you crown your winners as "World Champions" (despite the rest of us not playing them, and thinking the NFL is a poor man’s Rugby). But I digress. Anyway, one form of cricket (called "Test Cricket") is scheduled for five days. One match, five days.
Baseball has always been a perplexing one as an outsider looking in. We adore the kitsch nature of the game and the fact that it really is one of the best examples of Americana.
Baseball is summer. Baseball is patriotism. Baseball is adoring crowds in caps and jerseys. Baseball is hot dogs and beer.
But baseball is also considered slow (not five days slow, so I don't know what you Yanks are complaining about) and a game that is suffering for many reasons.
It pains me to write this list of 15 reasons for why baseball is dying. It hurts me to my core to think that something so iconic of America, so rooted in nostalgia, is suffering. It shouldn't be the case.
So here it goes, time to rip off the Band-Aid.
15 The Regionalization Of The Game
Major League Baseball certainly has its share of star players. While there’s the old guard like David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, there’s also been a steady influx of young superstars in recent years with the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant taking the baton. But their stardom is somewhat obstructed due to the regionalization of the game.
As big as Mike Trout is, he’s not a LeBron James. Your mom won’t ask you about him at the dinner table on a Sunday evening, for example. This is because regional markets dominate the coverage of baseball, so unless you actually follow baseball as a whole (read, listen and watch each day), chances are, these star players’ performances will only be glazed over in sports highlights and through hearsay bar conversations, rather than be absorbed and discussed in any detail on a national level. It’s not like yesteryear, where everyone nationally knew how the Yankees were going (badly in case you were wondering this year). These days fans only know what’s happening locally.
It’s like saying you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, but only saw the plot line involving Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace and missed the rest of the film.
14 The (Seemingly) 52-week NFL Season
We’re all aware that the NFL is like an insatiable beast, eating away at the national sports landscape. It was inevitable for the competing winter sports (NBA and NHL) that they would suffer, but the coverage of the NFL has also been eating away at baseball for years now.
Once a sport that essentially had a good five months in the summer to dominate the sports news cycle (because nothing else was worth covering), baseball’s regular season is now significantly lower on our radars because of the NFL Draft, training camps and preseason. Even the NBA Draft and free agency period carves into baseball.
But it doesn’t stop there. Most of us at the moment are obsessed with the composition of our fictitious NFL teams! I know I’m constantly number crunching my salary cap for my NFL Fantasy Team (called “The Big Bottomed Wombats” in case you’re wondering), all this while the baseball season is finally starting to get exciting!
13 The Whole “Pastime” Thing
Baseball is referred to as the “National Pastime.” Many fans argue that the second word in that name is more appropriate than ever.
To those people who argue that baseball isn’t a sport – you’re so, so, so wrong. It’s not a "pastime," that’s just a phrase from long ago. Only an idiot would regard it as anything less.
Yet baseball certainly lacks the physical spectacle that most other sports tend to have.
The one-handed Odell Beckham Jr. catch, the LeBron tomahawk dunk and the myriad of bone-crunching hits in any NHL game dwarf baseball’s best, unfortunately. Seeing a home-run smacked off a bat is wondrous to see in person, but then the batter saunters around the bases and that’s it. Home runs look exactly the same each time.
If batters could hit home runs by holding the barrel of the bat and hitting it with the handle, then that would be unique!
Or what if they hit one blindfolded?!
12 “My Name Is Soccer”
So not only does baseball have to deal with the NFL (and NBA) encroaching on their traditional hallowed viewership turf, but now there’s this upstart sport they play in Europe (and Africa, and South America – everywhere basically) wanting a piece of the pie.
Soccer’s influence on baseball hurts more than we realize. Not only is it a "vogue" sport, but it’s also the most participated sport for kids and women. The Latino population is also quite enamored with the round ball. So we’re talking about a pretty huge chunk of the population here who would prefer a soccer match over three hours or more of baseball.
Furthermore, continuing on from the previous topic, soccer tends to have these pesky tournaments in their arsenal, which most of the world seems to watch – during the summer time. This year, we had the European Championships, the Copa America and even the Olympic tournament. Every four years, there’s that thing called the World Cup. And the Premier League goes for 38 weeks of the year (and you thought baseball was a long season)!
Baseball just can’t catch a break.
Imagine you’re a parent. Let’s come up with a conservative cost guide to a day at the ballpark.
You decide to take your two kids (they might even be yours) and partner to the game.
You take public transport to the game because the parking is really expensive ($10).
Let’s say your tickets cost you $30 each (you live in a small market, not Boston, Chicago or New York). The kids won’t want to be in the sun anyway, so get the cheap seats.
You get in the stadium and the kids are hungry already, so you get four of America’s finest hot dogs ($20), two sodas ($8.50) and you and your partner get an adult beverage because the kids are being painful already ($14).
This (and I must stress is incredibly conservative in cost estimation) is already costing you $172.50 before the first pitch. Unfortunately this is beyond the purse strings of your average American family.
Fans are simply put off by the prohibitive costs of a day at the ballpark. Granted, some teams charge very reasonable prices and my estimates are over what they charge. But unfortunately, many of us are not in such a position.
Have you been to Wrigley lately? It’s $8.75 for a Bud Light!
10 Big Markets Wanted
The game is at its healthiest when the big markets are in the playoffs, and winning them. As gratifying as it was last year to see the Kansas City Royals win the World Series, teams like the Royals don’t get ratings.
As tedious as it sounds, baseball is at its best when the Boston Red Sox are playing the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and the Chicago Cubs are playing the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series (or something close to that in each league). And we haven’t had those sorts of combinations of teams in the Championship Series for some time now.
Small markets simply do not get the ratings and the attention of the nation. I would love to see the San Diego Padres play the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series (I think…), but it just wouldn’t help the game at all.
And it really doesn’t help when the World Series is played just as football is back on our screens.
9 Pace Of Play Issues
Baseball is a lengthy viewing experience, but is it really as lengthy as your average NFL game? The answer is actually not that much more really.
The problem baseball has though is that it’s not just a small sample of 16-19 games (so the NFL can get away with its own pace of play issues); it’s for 162 games!
Periods of inactivity in games only add to the frustration of fans. Every time there’s a dreaded “call to the bullpen” (who in their right mind wants to sponsor a game delay?), fans collectively roll their eyes. Every time there’s a coach visit to the mound, fans roll their eyes. Every time the pitcher messes up the catcher’s call, they have a chat at the mound. And now there’s challenges?
Major League Baseball has admirably taken measures to correct its pace of play issues. But it still has some way to go.
I still think you Yanks don’t know what long is until you’ve seen Test Cricket.
8 "This Presentation Of MLB Is Brought To You By The Folks At Pfizer”
Fans are more than aware of the recent legends of the game that have tainted their legacies through the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Many were found out, while other players suffer from being painted with the same brush merely because they played in the infamous "steroid era."
In my view, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Baseball Writers Association should embrace the disgrace of this era with a wing or some sort of section that memorializes it. Call it “The PED Wing, brought to you by Pfizer.”
The McGwire vs. Sosa single-season home-run record chase in the summer of 1998 is often credited with saving baseball. If this is the case, how can baseball ignore it?
This constant battle of morals the writers have with the steroid issue is perplexing to say the least. Let them in… but make sure to put a big asterisk on their plaques.
7 Nostalgia Isn't Revered By Youth
Basketball has a fantastic thing going with its huge variety of vintage jerseys for fans to wear. The kids love the bright colors of yesteryear, even if they aren’t fully aware of the player’s history on their backs. Hip-Hop in the early 2000s did much to make these niche items more widespread in our fashion consciousness. And now Michael Jordan’s jerseys are being made more readily available.
Baseball just doesn’t seem to have the same market penetration that basketball does in this instance. Mitchell and Ness certainly make vintage baseball jerseys (that’s what they started with), and some of them are beautiful pieces. Unfortunately, you just don’t see kids wearing them like basketball jerseys. Baseball has vintage jersey nights, but how many times do you see people in vintage jerseys?
Kids are just not connecting with the nostalgia of baseball, whereas in the NBA, kids are more than happy to wear the legends of the game on their back.
6 Let The Kids Have Some Fun!
Ever heard the term “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball?" Well, all that really is is “Old School Bull****”. Basically, a pitcher can fist pump and yell and carry on when he makes a big strike out, but if a batter hits a home-run and watches it for too long, “Cadillacs around the bases,” or flips his bat (in Jose Bautista’s case last post-season against the Rangers), he better be prepared for a fastball in the ribs or worse next time the next time he's up at bat.
Showboating in the game is frowned upon by the stalwarts of the game, and too many players choose to uphold these bizarre unwritten rules.
But do you know what kids like? Cam Newton dabbing in the end zone, LeBron James and his pre-game routine, and a whole team celebrating a goal in the NHL.
Baseball needs to start embracing flamboyancy. Just ask Bryce Harper about it.
5 You Think 82 games Is A Long Season?!
There’s been much discussion lately about how the NBA and NHL seasons are too long with an 82-game schedule. When you add the playoffs into this, these leagues have quite long seasons. The players’ unions of each league complain about the length of the season, citing excessive injuries among other reasons as proof of this.
Baseball has a 162-game season, which, let’s face it, doesn’t become particularly important for teams until after the All-Star break. A shorter season is desperately needed in baseball. Think to the start of this season how many games were missed because the weather was so bad – if the season was reduced and started a little later, the league would avoid this and all the fixture congestion later in the season when trying to make up the games.
But this won’t happen any time soon. TV deals have been signed and revenue must be made.
Baseball is a sport that thrives on storytelling and the cult of personality. The game’s greatest names are often the most flamboyant personalities – Babe Ruth being a perfect example.
So why is our coverage of the game not in a similar vein? Chiefly, I blame ESPN. The coverage they provide is far from extensive and becoming more and more selective season by season.
Their football analysis has some of the most famous names in the game, yet in baseball, it appears to be a cast of also-rans. I regard the commentary quite highly on ESPN – let me be clear. But it could do with some flair.
Compare the presentation of College Gameday for example. That is addictive viewing! Why doesn’t baseball have something similar at the ballpark from which they’re broadcasting? Let the fans have their signs and yell and chant while they’re on TV.
ESPN could do more to create a spectacle.
3 Analytics Talk Alienates
Wins Above Replacement, Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, Ultimate Zone Rating, Win Shares, On Base plus Slugging percentage… does this sound like a made up language to you?
It kind of is, very much in the upper echelons of the stratosphere of baseball mumbo jumbo.
Sabermetrics has certainly made the game better for the front office decision makers and coaches of baseball, but your average fan really could not care less about these types of statistics. It’s just too complicated or uninteresting for them.
So, when commentators talk about these casually in conversations about a player's performance (or lack of performance), their eyes collectively glaze over.
Sabermetrics isn’t like how it is portrayed in Moneyball – it’s not a niche concept anymore. Every team uses it, and seemingly much better than the supposed pioneers of it -- the Oakland Athletics. The "over-intellectualism" of the game is alienating the casual viewer.
2 Stirrups & Sunflower Seeds
Baseball is a far from fashionably conscious sport. The players simply don’t look good to young viewers. As was previously written, you don’t see many kids wearing baseball jerseys at the local mall (unlike the NFL or NBA).
But have a think about what else might be seen as corny to the kids.
Sunflowers seeds. Sunflower seeds? Yuck! Kids will never touch those unless they somehow age the seeds in Mountain Dew or Mountain Blast Powerade.
Bubblegum? Kids do not chew bubblegum anymore. Period. Their schools ban it and bubble gum tastes awful with Mountain Blast Powerade or Mountain Dew.
Old men chewing tobacco? What is this? The Wild West? Have you ever actually had chewing tobacco? It’s literally the worst thing you could have in the world. I had to rinse my mouth out with Mountain Blast Powerade when I had it because I needed to kill all my taste buds.
Above all of this, baseball uniforms have stirrups, cups and belts. Enough said.
1 Lack Of Connection With Youth
Growing up in yesteryear, as I’m sure you’re made aware by anyone your senior, was so much better.
“When I grew up we’d spend our summer days outside at the creek catching bullfrogs and playing ball games ‘til our parents called us in. Then we’d watch baseball ‘til bedtime. Those were the days.”
Does something like that sound familiar?
Sure, growing up back then was amazing. But if you grew up with a PlayStation 4, an iPhone 6 and hilarious memes, you probably would’ve skipped the creek and let the local bullfrog population balloon to infestation proportions.
Your average Gen Y (even Z now) has too much to do because of connectivity and social media. Their digital literacy is beyond belief, so an activity like sitting down for a baseball game for four hours isn’t terribly appealing.
Today's youth may be worse off in the eyes of their parents because of all the "digitalia" in their lives, but that is actually quite far from the truth. We just need to get them to embrace the game in a different way. Maybe they can chase baseball cards around the city and collect them by throwing a virtual ball at them. Sound familiar?