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Bye bye, baseball — a rant

- February 13, 2009

The players are packing their bags and heading down to Florida or out to Arizona, and I couldn’t care less.

I grew up loving — living for — baseball. College football was popular, but pro football was no big deal, at least ’til the Greatest Game Ever Played (Colts v. Giants in 1958), which is generally considered to have been the turning point for football’s popularity. Pro basketball was mainly a bunch of big clumsy white guys wheezing up and down the floor, and college basketball was, at many schools, a nice way for the football players to stay in shape during the off-season.

Baseball was It — for me and for millions of others. Football, ehh. Basketball, nott.

Alas. That was then and this is now.

At several points over the years, the Gallup Poll has asked random samples of Americans to name their “favorite sport for watching.” Here’s how football, baseball, and basketball have lined up. (I pulled down the data on which this chart is based from the Roper Center’s online iPoll archive.

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What comes through clearly in these time lines is, first, the rise in the popularity of football and, second, the even more rapid decline in the popularity of baseball.

My own feeling is that this — at least the first trend I just noted — is too bad. Football these days strikes me as an excellent way for 350-pound brutes who start huffing and puffing after playing for three straight downs to wreck their knees and shorten their lifespans. Moreover, I think George Will got it exactly right when he proclaimed football a perfect reflection of how we now organize our society: three seconds of action followed by a thirty-second committee meeting.

I was a happy camper in the olden days, when there were eight teams per league, the teams had pretty much the same players season after season, the games — even the World Series games — were mostly played during the day, and football and basketball just weren’t important. Now the players, instead of being drunks, are druggies, the games last so long and end so late that they’re virtually unwatchable, there are so many teams that I can’t even name them all, and the players move around so much that there’s no real sense of continuity anyway. I don’t really care much about baseball any more, and the Gallup Poll figures indicate that I’m not alone.

Of course, the culture has changed in many ways that play to football’s defining characteristics and not to baseball’s — e.g., slam-bang action, periods of intense activity that are ideally suited to short attention spans, lots of violence perpetrated by anonymous, larger-than-life creatures who are dressed up more or less like Darth Vader, etc.Once every half dozen or so years, I hearken back to Chris Schenkel’s old line — “What better way to spend an autumn afternoon?” — and venture up to Penn State to take in a football game, and I confess to having watched the entire second half of the recent Super Bowl. But that’s enough. I’d rather be out riding my bike.