Halftime Sports

The Hypocrisy of Baseball Apathy: Making a Case for America’s Pastime

November 6, 2015

Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles May 24, 2011

On Sunday Night, the Kansas City Royals won the World Series after a gritty, drama-filled series including not only amazing comebacks and extra innings but also striking human interest stories.

In this epic finish to an epic series, the Royals were down 2-0 at the bottom of the ninth and valiantly battled back to win the championship title after 12 long innings. Both starting pitchers of the evening, Matt Harvey of the Mets and Edinson Volquez of the Royals, had background stories worthy of multiple headlines; though their pitching alone warranted much admiration.

But despite this histrionic World Series saga, the final game was second in ratings to Sunday Night Football, which featured a recently grooving Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos and an NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers. In other words, mid-season football, which of late has been receiving more coverage on ESPN for its own dramatic off-the-field stories than actual playing coverage, smothered the World Series in ratings. Baseball’s biggest night lived in the shadow of a fairly decent mid-season NFL Sunday Night game.

The phrase that came to mind when I first found this information was the ghostly echoes of baseball is America’s pastime. Since the commencement of the National League in 1876 (that’s right, only 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence) sandlots across the country hosted primitive baseball games. Children and adults alike attended games, sometimes sporting fields with trees growing in the middle of the outfield, years before a National Football League even attempted to exist, let alone before it actually was established. Baseball is marketed, at least, as a purely American sport – from more recent films such as Angels in the Outfield, 42 and Fever Pitch to the classics such as Field of Dreams and A League of their Own, we can see how baseball has been both an escape and measure of contemporary American culture.

But according to the Harris Poll, football has been America’s favorite sport for 30 years. And each year, the disparity between those who name football as their favorite sport and baseball as their favorite sport continues to augment. Fewer and fewer people identify with America’s pastime as their pastime. But why?

At first, I wondered if the decline of the love of baseball was because of the changing place it held in people’s lives. Gone are the days where stickball dominated kids’ weekends – we’ve all heard the never-ending spiel about how the children of today are spending more time in front of their laptops than playing outside. And don’t even get me started on the antics of Little League – I think any participant of Little League will know that the current American system lends itself much more to unqualified coaches living vicariously through their sons than it does promote the pure joy of previous generations’ playing baseball. As an ex-little leaguer who spent just as much time practicing her swing for the big Sunday morning game as she did entire summers at Dodger Stadium (I’m from LA…I couldn’t help it) and watching the New York Yankees with her family, I can unquestionably say that my little league experiences are part of what drove me out of baseball. But while I never had much experience with Pop-Warner and other youth football leagues, I suspect that the gig must be similar – so I can’t really say that the childhood connection to football hasn’t suffered a similar high-pressure, micro-managed fate.

Forgive me for sounding like a disgustingly hypocritical adolescent… but the biggest correlation I see between the drop in interest in baseball and the reasons why Americans state that football is the “better” sport seems to have a lot to do with our shortened attention spans as the media has exponentially groomed us to hunger for fast-paced images. In this list on CBS Sports of 25 reasons why football is better than baseball, many of them cite the fact that football is more fast-paced, easy to understand, shorter and more exciting. While only a certain kind of person can presumably sit for three to four hours and appreciate the nuances of a fastball painting the outside corner 162-plus times a season, almost any sports fan can take interest in the 60 minutes of glamorous downfield passes just 16 short times a year.

In other words, football yields more immediate rewards—both in the fun of watching a game as a fan of the sport and watching a team as a fan of that team. Football is more glamorous, with a higher concentration of blatant excitement in a much shorter period of time. All of this lends itself to countless research that our society is conditioned to want fast answers, fast images, fast pace. And maybe this wasn’t quite the case in 1985, but then baseball and football were virtually equal in fanbase. Since our interest in flashing, self explanatory, short-attention span media has grown in recent years, so has our interest in a slow, detailed and nuanced sport declined.

       This World Series was epic–both from the stories on and off the field. And don’t get me wrong, I love football just as much as everyone else; after all, most of my articles’ subjects are football-based. But the epidemic of today’s baseball apathy, both in those around me and in the media this year, is a disease caused not by the sport itself but by forces that have nothing to do with sports. And while it’s too late to appreciate this year’s World Series, I implore everyone: when April comes around, reinvest in baseball.
I think it’s time we all remind ourselves why we named it “America’s pastime” in the first place.

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