Baseball is losing its place in the popular culture

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It used to be, you could hand someone a calendar and ask them to circle the date of the All-Star Game.  Sure enough, they’d go for somewhere around the 4th of July to the 10th.

In today’s sporting world, that no longer seems the case.

Major League Baseball’s Midsummer Classic was always signified by the coming of the Fourth of July holiday.  A time for grilling burgers and hot dogs and enjoying the summer by taking a dip in the pool with family and friends.

Now, with the baseball season stretching out (long gone is the Sunday doubleheader), the All-Star Game is little more than another game.  Strange that a sport that prides itself above all else on tradition would give up its traditional position on the calendar for one of its two greatest events.

The All-Star effect nowadays is diluted.  We have the NBA All-Star game, and the Slam Dunk Contest that precedes it.  We have the NFL Pro Bowl — not that it gets as much notice, but it still detracts from where Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game once stood – at a place where it didn’t need Home Run Derby to maintain its prominence.

In a fast-paced world where everyone under the age of 40 has an iPhone and is on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook every waking hour, baseball is not as talked about as it used to be. 

The trend toward complex statistics (endless Sabermetrics) does not make baseball more accessible and enjoyable for most of us.  Fantasy baseball gave the real game a boost two decades ago, but soon it was largely displaced by fantasy football.

With an aging Baby Boomer fan base that’s not tuned in to much of the social media, baseball is in danger of dropping out of the popular culture.  Although game attendance continues to rise, this curve will flatten in the near future.

The younger generation dominates technology culture.  Photos, articles and videos can go “viral” in a matter of minutes.  In order for this to happen, a large number of people have to care about the subject of interest.  The truth is that not many younger people care about baseball anymore.  Recent polling shows the median age of baseball fans is 53.

The game is too slow; the games last too long.  Every season the average game time grows a few seconds.  And those who govern it resist all efforts to speed up a sport that once had a much faster rhythm than it does now.  Two-hour games occurred in the 1990s and were common in earlier decades.

Basketball, football, soccer, hockey and even tennis far outpace baseball in the action they provide.  Soccer and hockey have less scoring then baseball, but they offer constant athletic movement to justify our attention.

ESPN declared the day after the All-Star Game as the “deadest” day in sports.  They had a point.  No major U.S. sports were scheduled for action.  Even if baseball had been available, relatively few people would have been interested. 

The World Cup recently ended.  Wimbledon is in our rearview.  The NBA playoffs seem like forever ago, and football season is still too far out of sight.  What’s a sports fan to do?

Baseball, in its gritty and grueling manner, will trudge on as the only continuous major team sport (unless you count MLS) through the summer months and into the fall.  At 162 games, it has the longest schedule of any major sport in the United States, which makes it even harder to hold our attention.

On a game-by-game basis, baseball is fairly meaningless until we round the corner out of summer and into the fall.  But even its playoffs, smack dab in the middle of football season, tend to be overshadowed.  There’s not much buildup to the Fall Classic.  The World Cup quarterfinals and semis pulled higher TV ratings than baseball playoff games;  the soccer final (Germany-Argentina) rated higher than the World Series.

It’s sad.  The sport that has always claimed to be America’s past-time (and for almost a century truly was) is in danger of being relegated to the past.  For the most part, my generation will read more into Tiger Wood’s preparation and recovery for the PGA championship at the end of the summer, and hold their breath for football season.

Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, there is just not a whole lot of excitement surrounding baseball in July.

Click here for link to FiveThirtyEight’s article, “The Deadest Sports Days of the Year.”


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