Spring training has started, but does anyone still care about baseball? It’s difficult for anyone under the age of about fifty to remember what it was like when baseball was the top sport in America, and you may have to be older than that to really remember. But in 1985, when the Harris Poll first came out, Major League Baseball and Pro Football (the USFL still existed back then) were essentially tied: 23% to 24% of adults said baseball and football, respectively, were their favorite sports. These days baseball barely edges out college football. It’s possible you would have to go back even farther than that, Gallup polls suggest the change may have been as far back as the 1960s. America’s pastime no longer.
The relative successes and failures of the two sports has also changed how we think about the great players of the past. Joe Montana’s legacy looms huge in the sports fan’s psyche, maybe bigger than it was even when he played; he’s certainly in more ads. His contemporaries in baseball are all but forgotten. Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson. Who were those guys? Who the hell even cares?
And baseball continues to decline, not just relatively, but absolutely. MLB has made a few changes in the past couple of years: more wild card teams, less time between pitches in a way to make the game more appealing, but is it too little to late? As it continues to lose ground to sports that offer more action and bigger spectacles, I think these deck-chairs on the titanic exercises distract from the biggest issues facing the game.
This is the first in a series, and we’ll see what is causing the decline, and if there’s anything that be done to save baseball from irrelevance.