The National Pastime?
|When I was young and growing up, we spent our afternoons playing whiffle ball in my next-door neighbors front yard. It was the mid to late sixties and I lived about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. Every day after we finished our homework and jobs around the house, we met outside for the daily game. And it was always the Dodgers vs. the Giants. We were those teams. My best friend Steve was a big Dodger fan, so I naturally went for the hated archrival San Francisco Giants. |
My team was loaded. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry were my pitchers. My big hitters? The Willies, Mays and McCovey. And a young Bobby Bonds. Steve’s Dodger team had a couple of pretty good pitchers. You might recall them. Sandy Koufax and Big D, Don Drysdale. Maury Wills played on his team. So did Ron Fairly and Willie Davis.
Baseball used to be known as our National Pastime. It was the nations most popular sport. Nobody really cared about football because baseball was king. Somewhere along the way everything changed. Football is now king. The Super Bowl is huge. Companies pay millions to advertise because the entire country will be watching. Not to mention people outside the US. I’ve thought a lot about this and I want to share a few of my conclusions and see what you think.
Baseball has become about individuals while football has remained about team. Sure football has its stars, but they remain part of a team. For most of their career. Think of Brett Favre and what team comes to mind? The Packers. Think of Peyton Manning and you think of the Colts. Marshall Faulk? Rams. Jerome Bettis, Steelers. See how easy this is? Now try this. Roger Clemens. Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros. Reggie Jackson…Oakland A’s, Yankees, Angels. A-Rod…Mariners, Texas, Yankees. Are you seeing a pattern here? It is hard to be passionate about a team when you do not who the players will be, or if your favorite player will be there tomorrow.
It wasn’t always like that. Cal Ripkin…Orioles. Willie Mays…Giants. Johnny Bench…Reds. There was comfort and familiarity in knowing that Ernie Banks would always be a Chicago Cub. And that bred loyalty and interest from the fans. With players moving around so much these days, it is hard to remain committed to “your” team because your team no longer exists. I am convinced baseball has to address this if they want to reclaim their position as the national pastime. The NFL understands this. They have figured out a system where the players can make money and yet pretty much the stars stay in place. Why can’t baseball do that?
The other big issue is time. You used to be able to watch a baseball game in less than two and a half hours. Now you have to invest almost an entire night. Hey baseball, we are too busy for that. And when your games start at 8:00 at night, can you really expect me to take my kid to a game? He has school the next day! Even your championship series is on so late that those on the east coast must go to bed before the games are over. How does this bring in new fans? I know you think you are making more money by broadcasting in prime time, but at what long-term expense? I believe we are now seeing the results of 25 years of Championship Baseball being played at an hour when kids should be in bed resting up for school. Ratings, interest, and participation in Little Leagues are all down.
So that’s it. I love baseball. I want to see it grow and flourish, but like most of you, these next two weeks my thoughts will be on football. That said, I am rooting for the Steelers. What better story than to see Jerome Bettis end his career with Pittsburgh by winning a Championship. But I think the Seahawks will win. Oh, and by the way, my Giant teams usually beat Steve’s Dodgers!