Last month, I watched part of Game 2 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees with a colleague. While watching, it dawned on me that this was the first game of this year’s baseball post-season that I’d seen. To me, that is a significant revelation regarding the plight of Major League Baseball and its trajectory for the future. I’d consider myself one of baseball’s more hardcore fans, one who has unfailingly watched postseason baseball games for more than 30 years, even if my team, the Cincinnati Reds, are not in the postseason (which unfortunately has been the case most of the nineties and in the 2000’s). I’m the type of fan who can still recite most of the uniform numbers of Reds players and their main rivals since the 80’s and also can mimic the batting stances of most of those players as well.
The fact that I didn’t watch any of the divisional and league championship playoff games to me is not a good sign for baseball. Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t know who won each game—I still look at the headlines on espn.com, cnnsi.com or Yahoo! sports and listen to sports radio or watch Sportscenter on ESPN so I will always be informed. And this month has been pretty busy with my work and personal life, but every year is busy and I’ve found ways to watch games in the past. To me, it’s a sign that my interest has waned, my passion has subsided, and I’ve found other things to occupy my leisure time in October (and now November with the ever lengthening baseball post-season schedule).
In his book, The Meaning of Sports, Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do , author Michael Manelbaum walks his readers through the history of baseball.
From an anthropologist’s point of view, he links the history of baseball and the purpose it served to the dominant agrarian economy and lifestyle of America during its rise. The agrarian society at the time was slow paced, slowly waiting for crops to be developed during the summer and then harvested in the fall, just as the long baseball season of 162 games proceeds during the summer and culminates with the World Series in the fall. The lack of a clock in baseball also reflects this type of life. Today’s fast paced lifestyle with constant appointments and meetings down to every hour more closely resonates with the timed experiences of football and basketball. Baseball on the other hand, reflects an era where people would say, “I’ve got all day available” – not “I don’t have all day”. While his analysis seems a bit too convenient and simple, I certainly believe that the link to American tradition is a key driver in the sports popularity over the years.
And the fact that this type of tradition is really subsiding from today’s lifestyle seems to me the biggest link to its decline in comparison to football and even basketball. Today’s society is typified by on the go, constant accessibility for both personal and work life, and what may be called widespread ADD, baseball will naturally lose popularity. While I still love baseball, and the drama of a late inning post season is hard to be matched, the pace and length of the season which used to be celebrated is starting to become a grind. In the past, I could watch the post-season even if my team, the Cincinnati Reds weren’t in the playoffs. Now it’s becoming more of a nice to have in terms of being able to watch a playoff game—not a must do. Of course, if the Reds make the playoffs again, I’ll certainly be there watching and my love affair with baseball will start up again all anew.