Reese Kaplan -- Why Some of Us Love Baseball


If you polled many youngsters today and asked them their favorite sport the answer could very well come back basketball.  The game rose to its apex during the Michael Jordan era that’s long passed.  However, the basketball answer is somewhat easy to understand given the limited amount of equipment needed, the confined space required and the fact you can even enjoy practicing the game alone if no one else is available to join you.  If you did play the requisite game it would only necessitate finding 9 others to join you and you could have a simulation of a professional contest.

One of the reasons soccer is so popular world wide is the minimal equipment necessary with the added benefit to many participants that physical size is not necessarily an attribute that portends success on the field.

The numbers don’t lie either.  Basketball has surpassed baseball in popularity with fewer than 10% of people citing baseball as their favorite spectator sport.  Part of it is age – the median age of baseball fans is 57.  That means half of the fan base is even older than that (including me).  Contrast that with soccer whose fan base median age is just 40 and who now trails baseball by just two points in popularity for that entertainment dollar.

Football remains the number of spectator sport even after the various controversies from kneeling in protest at the playing of the national anthem as well as the various players involved in incidents of domestic violence and other criminal activities.  The median age of football fans skews younger than baseball at 50, but higher than basketball’s 42.

It can’t be the sheer number of players required to start a game (assuming a field is available) because football actually demands at least 22 players for a regulation type game (and that’s if the folks are willing to assume the roles of both offense and defense).  I bring that up because many immediately point to the 18 players necessary to play baseball, so that’s not the issue at hand with football being more popular. 

The sheer number of people is one of the issues brought up when comedian Bob Newhart once suggested how difficult it was to pitch the idea of the game of baseball were it to evolve nowadays vs back in Abner Doubleday’s era.

The other issue with baseball is the pace of the game.  It is indeed a slower experience than the many “up and down” games like soccer, basketball and football.  In these sports there are rigid time limits, a constant (and defined) type of action that must take place.  Comedian George Carlin suggested that the pastoral and relaxed pace of baseball is a positive compared to the militaristic tone of professional football.   

Without getting political, I often quote the famous conservative columnist and TV personality George Will who had two notable thoughts about the game we love.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”

But perhaps his most cogent observation was his take on the difference between football and baseball that resonates best with me:

“Football is a mistake. It combines the two worst elements of American life. Violence and committee meetings.”


Tom Brennan said...

It is always baffling to me to consider soccer's popularity. Slow-paced, low scoring - lots of empty action. I cannot watch it.

Basketball is high tempo and can have huge moments, and situations where you surge on a team, or try to squelch a surge.

I still like baseball best.

But my suggestion to baseball would be KIDDIE PRICING. Get them to games, and make them fans. Maybe you lose $$ in the short run, but make bigger bucks, with a younger fan base, in the long run.

Hobie said...

What has been lost, I think, is less about the game itself than how we choose to live. Mid April to early October of my pre- and early teens was filled with—maybe even dominated by—a peer community of baseball in the sandlot.

As I think about it now, the logistics of that were staggering. A dozen or more 10 to 13 year olds managing to organize themselves into teams, agree on a batting order and position of play, invent highly specialized ground rules (over the LF fence into the crabby old lady’s yard was three outs—and the perpetrator had to retrieve the ball), and settle the fair/foul, out/safe disputes in order to continue play. There were fights, but they were extremely rare and soon forgotten as were the errors that at the moment seemed catastrophic. Natural leaders emerged and they weren’t necessarily the best athletes.

I mourn the loss of that caldron where ingenuity, competition, the politics of compromise, self-organization and self-regulation all stewed together. I don’t think it’s my youth I mourn; it’s more about short changing my grandchildren of that facet of their education..

I guess basketball is now the only sandlot game...it explains a lot.

Reese Kaplan said...

How much does the philosophy of the "participation trophy" water down the competitive spirit?

Mack Ade said...

It;s funny...

My daughter has never showed any interest in baseball, Now in her 40s. 100% NY Giants and Ckemson football. I couldn't even get her to join me at a Clemson baseball game.

My 3 grandchildren have no desire either. They are all soccer and Tigers football.

Hobie said...

My sons are Mets/Jets fans, not much into hoops. We go to couple of G/yr. Too soon to know about their kids.

Was headed to zHartford last week for an AA game with son & 5 yr old G'son but plans fell thru. Was looking forward to kid's reaction and meeting his cuz who was pitching for Richmond. Ighy have a turn-on moment missed.

Mack's Mets © 2012