On a day like Super Bowl Sunday, all the hoopla is surrounding the end to the 2014-15 football season. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but the NFL has lost it’s luster to me. Obviously since Roger Goodell’s takeover, the NFL has changed drastically, from how it’s portrayed in the media, on the internet, and on the field. The Super Bowl is an event, in the same class as the World Cup, NBA Finals, and Stanley Cup, and probably on a much higher scale than the World Series or WrestleMania.
In recent years, especially thanks to the damage the steroid era did to the perceived integrity of baseball, the game has been deemed a ‘dying’ sport. Ratings have gone down, attendance has gone down, and more often than not, the casual fan finds baseball ‘boring’ or ‘dull.’
Fast-paced action movie type sports like football, basketball, hockey, and wrestling are more heavily followed, covered, and anticipated.
- Wrestlemania XXX received nearly 11 million in ticket revenue, and estimated a $142 million ‘economic impact.’
- Super Bowl XLVIII was the most watched in history, with 112.2 million viewers. The 2015 Pro Bowl ratings were down, but still clocked 5.6 million viewers.
- The NBA Finals ratings were up last season, as nearly 18 million, tuned in to watch the Spurs play the Heat in game five. The All Star game had 7.5 million viewers.
- The Stanley Cup averaged between 3-6M per game.
- Over 26 million Americans tuned in for The World Cup.
- However, the 2014 World Series, one of the best ones in recent memory, had the lowest single-game ratings in World Series history for game four, five, six, and seven.
What does this all mean?
In my opinion, it’s nothing more than a societal paradigm shift. Baseball is an old game. Baseball, arguably, has roots going back to 1344, where a French manuscript shows illustrations of a game extremely similar to baseball. Baseball itself has been referenced as early as 1744. It’s the National Past time, without even a close second.
It’s an old game. It’s an old soul’s game. It’s a thinking man’s game. However, much of the way society is functioned now eliminates thinking. We live in a world where the best commercials, movies, shows, or so we think, are the ones that show the most images per second, giving us a lot to process and very little to actually think about. People want big hits. People want slam dunks. Fast breaks. Power play goals. Choke slams. Upper 90 corner kick goals. Touchdowns. People want simplistic plays…not baseball. Not everyone is as intrigued by the pinch runner and the pitching change as I am.
Baseball isn’t overdone. There’s no confetti, no terrible halftime performances littered with nudity and awful music, no pre-game ceremony, and no pre-tense or hype about how incredibly entertaining and American it’s going to be. The most baseball has done to modernize itself is have managers talk to announcers in between innings. The most showy it gets, is the Home Run Derby, which some could argue has more negative impacts than positive. I could go into what the Home Run Derby does to a swing, but that’s another argument for another article.
It’s not a grand show, and hasn’t changed much since the beginning.
Sure, you have the DH rule, and now you have instant replay, which people have been rumbling about for years, but if I wanted to roll Art Donovan out of his grave, take him to dinner and watch the Super Bowl, he would be, I feel, a bit confused. The rule changes would be a lot for a veteran to process, in addition to the flashiness.
Now, if I wanted to roll Honus Wagner out of the grave, a much older player than Donovan, to watch a minor league game, he wouldn’t be so confused by what he’s seeing. Sure, he might be confused by the velocities and names of the pitches, but it’d still be a baseball game.
“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and five the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” – Earl Weaver.
Weaver, a Hall of Fame manager in his own right, has never spoken more eloquently.
In football, once you get a 21-10 lead with three minutes left, you run the ball a couple of times, kneel it, and the game’s over.
In basketball, teams tend to eat clock when they get up big.
In UFC, fighters often jump on their opponents, with their knee camped inside the opposing fighter’s face, and pound on them for the entire round.
In soccer, when up a goal or two, teams just kick the ball across the field, and waste clock.
In baseball, you have to make your pitches, whether you’re down 7-0, up 7-0, nursing a one run lead in game seven of the World Series, or in a tie game. They’re the same pitches every time. In football, a team clearly plays the game differently depending on the score. If a team is up 35-0, they’re going to run the football. If they’re down 21-10, they’ll have a more pass-friendly approach, and if they’re down 21-10 with limited time left, they’ll likely run no huddle.
And I won’t even touch on the “injuries” people suffer in previously mentioned sports. In the World Cup, players will take seconds – minutes even – off the clock, only to jog off the field perfectly healthy. In football, in these no huddle situations that I mentioned, often times defensive players will fake injury to ease the tempo that the offense is working in.
Can’t really do that in baseball. Of course, baseball compensates for this by being more slow-paced, and there are of course, pitching changes, pinch runners and hitters, and defensive replacements. But you can’t fake a knee injury while grabbing your shoulder, take two innings off the scoreboard, only to jog off the field in perfect health.
Other sports like football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, soccer, ultimate fighting, and boxing might be more thrilling, and viewed, but that doesn’t make them better or more credible or even honorable. If anything, baseball’s decline is a very convincing indictment on the society we live in.
Just because The Expendables earned $13.3 million on its first day of release, doesn’t mean it was actually a good movie. In fact, it was awful. But, people eat movies like that right up, just as they eat up these other sports, and digest them a lot better than baseball. People have trouble digesting the complex, while the simple-minded things are accepted because they don’t require any patience or work to think through. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. However, it does take some insight to judge a pitcher, as not all pitchers are the same. David Price and Cliff Lee, both lefties, have had significant success in their careers, but couldn’t be more different as pitchers.
How seriously can their ratings be taken when Bates Motel, a complex show, averages about three million viewers an episode, while Keeping Up With The Kardashians averages up to five? How many of those people are giving their ratings to basketball, or football, or hockey, soccer, or wrestling, over baseball? Should these even mean a thing to baseball?
In conclusion, baseball is not dead.
If anything, it’s the other sports that are, and that’s why they’ve needed to evolve, or have died off as a result of their evolution. Basketball has become something of a reality show over the years, with the best teams changing every year, contracts being the central point of discussion throughout the regular season, and new teams forming like cliques every offseason, as free agents just jump onto the bandwagon with the biggest buzz, only to disband a few years later. Soccer, football, wrestling, hockey, ultimate fighting, and boxing will always attract more attention, but it’s telling to me that baseball has survived all this time without changing much.
With new commissioner Rob Manfred, there’s been talk of enforcing rules like a pitch timer, forcing hitters to stay in the box at all times, and eliminating the defensive shift, which in my opinion would all be terrible rules. Baseball will always survive due to its history, which passes from ancestor to ancestor.
Historically, most sports that people find preferable don’t even shine baseball’s shoes. Football has a poorly documented history up until about the 50’s, and didn’t even keep track of key defensive stats like tackles and sacks up until the 80’s and 90’s.
Even sports like boxing, soccer, tennis, with comparable, or even superior histories, don’t document as well as baseball has. And while there’s more parity in baseball than other sports, it’s still the same old game, year after year, decade after decade, and generation after generation.
No matter how much show and pretense you get on Super Bowl Sunday, don’t be fooled. The NFL brings the multi-imaged frames and flash and showy nature, as does the NBA, NHL, as well as WWE and UFC, but that doesn’t make them superior – it only makes them modern – but is modern truly superior? In my opinion, those brands are only playing to their target audiences, which they recognize as less willing to digest a complex brand like Major League Baseball, who plays to their loyal audience.