There are changes coming with the new major league baseball season that started last Sunday. Apparently, the big push is to speed up the game. Stay in the batter’s box. Get ready to pitch or hit when the beer commercials end. I read a sociological study of why baseball is apparently dying again that claims that the youth of America want action, all the time,see? That what keeps people interested these days is something beyond the thirteenth pitching change of the game. The game is losing popularity to other sports, especially football, and the thinking seems to be that, after the baby boomers die off, attendance and, more importantly, television viewing of what used to be called the national pastime will revert to 1898 numbers.
It made me think of a movie from 1975, Rollerball. There is not more action in football, really. When you see a game in person, there is an awful lot of standing around. Huddles. Timeouts. More huddles. Futbol, however, is non stop action, but we’ll cover that some other time. What football does have, however, is carnage. Cracking helmets, cracking bones and cartilage, lots of yelling. Smashmouth, they call it. This is what Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite for, as we also see in pseud wrestling, hockey, and even basketball and car racing now. I don’t think that it has spread yet to golf or tennis. So that’s what baseball is up against, even though it can be as dangerous as you might want it to be if you are the third baseman with the infield in and Miguel Cabrera at bat.
The crucial difference in attitudes toward sports in the 21st century is that they have become spectator events that a good number of spectators have never actually engaged in themselves. That makes it easier by far to become bored with it, much as I might become watching people sew or plant their gardens. When I was young lad, baseball games were rarely on television although radio had every game. The advertising and general comments and descriptions were, for the most part, aimed at people who already understood the game, it seemed to me. People who went to games , it seemed to me, had played some and identified with the players and the coaches. Today, the announcers, writers, and “fans” seem to identify more with owners and their management teams while depending on the insights of scouts and ex-players to help them understand what the hell is going on.
So what should the baseball hierarchy do to “save” their millions of spectators? Encourage beanballs and brawls? Maybe for the short term, but if anyone out there is interested in the long term success of baseball, we need to get more people PLAYING the game. I have played baseball and football and baseball is much more fun. My football experience was that, when I was little, I had to block for the big guys so they could run and pass and score. This was in pick up games, often tackle ball with no pads or helmets. Then, when I became one of the bigger guys, in 9th and 10th grade, I had to block for the little guys so they could run and pass and score. Blocking was fine but I wasn’t much for tackling. The only way to get into that shit was to muster up some big hate for the other guys and that was hard for me. I was never frightened on a football field but in baseball, well, it wasn’t just fear of failure. A hard thrown or hit baseball will make you pay attention. In backyard ball, I threw one that hit my friend Davy Turco right in the Adam’s apple. He didn’t want to kill me or anything and was actually really nice about it while I was scared to death. To this day I am grateful to him for that. So sometimes scary,yes, but so much fun even if, like me, you weren’t very good at it.
Speed up the game? That’s not the idea of baseball. No, my cure will never be adopted, but here it is anyway: 1) more day games and absolutely no night games in the postseason; 2)cut the regular season back to 154 games and end the postseason before mid-October so more kids can watch and conditions are more autumnal than wintry; 3) provide space and equipment for young boys and girls to play and otherwise ban adults from involvement with the possible exception of a coach or two not related to any of the kids.
I can dream, can’t I?