Three years ago, nearly to the day (6/19/08), the blog that occupied this space was about baseball and its decrease in popularity. With the record performance by Rory McElroy at the U.S. open, baseball may lose the fans it may have gained back when Tiger Woods’ game went south. Although golf takes even more time than baseball, will the rise of McElroy and a possible rivalry with Woods move more fans away from what used to be America’s past time?
The interest in baseball in this country has been waning for the past decade or so because of the change in the attitude of American society and the lack of change in the game of baseball. Today’s generation is an instant gratification one; people can’t relate to something that doesn’t have a time limit - whether it’s a sport, a meeting, a lunch or even a phone (if anyone’s so lucky to even receive a phone call in today’s constantly “on-the-go” world). It’s so much easier and more efficient, although much colder and more impersonal to email or text.
Baseball is a simple game (score more runs than the other team before you run out of at-bat opportunities), yet a complex game (a team sport in some regards but, in reality, a series of one-on-one confrontations between pitcher and batter). The intracies of baseball are fascinating, if that sort of thing captures your fancy, but, at the same time, the traditions of the game have it trapped in a time warp.
Basically, there are two kinds of traditions: the first is the barbaric type (which “baseball people” will defend to the death), e.g. timing of the pitcher’s delivery motion by the batter as the pitcher warms up. This one actually did result in a near-death on July 5, 1999 when a Wichita State pitcher intentionally hit a University of Evansville batter as he practiced his swings…24 feet from home plate. And the coach from WSU admitted, “(If) the on-deck hitter is standing too close to home plate, you brush him back. I teach that…. So I guess if there needs to be blame, blame me.” What’s sad is that to this day, there are players, coaches and fans who think the coach is right and the batter wrong and he simply got what he deserved.
On a lesser scale, but still from the Neanderthal school of thought is the “You hit our guy, expect retaliation” or “Break up a double play by going too far out of the way to take our guy out, we’ll do …”) whatever it is cavemen do to show loyalty. You’ll know if you’re a true baseball person if you take offense at these remarks.
Update: With the controversy stemming from the injury to Buster Posey, how will baseball purists react to future plays at the plate?
The second tradition that is hurting baseball is the “cat and mouse” nature of the game, e.g. a pitcher works too fast, call time out, tie your shoe, go back to the dugout for more resin; or if a runner is a threat to steal, throw over to keep him close … even if his lead is an inch and a quarter. All these are time honored traditions, but time wasters in the eyes of the fan. And now they’re talking about adding instant replay? Baseball wanted to speed up the game and after a year, the results were released and games were actually shorter - by three minutes!
The reader will be shocked to know that, when I was a kid, baseball was my favorite sport and, as far as witnessing a game in person, there’s not a sport I enjoy more to watch in person (assuming the weather’s good) than baseball. If that’s the case, then why the blog? I’m not talking about relics like me; I’m not from “today,” as my grandfather was fond of saying.
This blog’s about why the interest in baseball’s decreased and, while much of it is due to lack of the foundations the game was built on, a greater reason is due to the lack of patience and leisure time (at least to spend on watching something - today’s leisure time has to do with working out, hiking, water skiing, doing stuff).
I recall the late, great sportswriter, Jim Murray, writing a column on baseball and why they couldn’t speed up the game. Murray stated something today’s generation (and a good deal of the previous one) doesn’t seem to grasp:
“I can’t ever remember a time I went to the ballpark in a hurry.”