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by
Rick Moran

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April 1, 2013 - 5:44 pm
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There was a time when Opening Day of the baseball season was one of the most anticipated annual events in America. For most Americans, the significance of the day transcended sport, marking the welcome change of season, and the arrival of warm weather and an alteration in the landscape from burnt umber to a glorious green. The day also rekindled hope in the breasts of baseball fans everywhere. Everyone had a favorite team whether you lived in a city with a pro franchise or not, and before any wins or losses were tallied, the dream of post-season glory was alive in every beating heart.

For those born after 1970, it is difficult to describe the hold that baseball had on the national consciousness. Today, despite record-setting attendance at ballparks, gigantic television contracts, and four 24-hour sports networks, Major League Baseball has fallen from its perch as the most dominant game in America, replaced by football in the hearts and minds of sports fans.

There are a plethora of reasons why this is so. Overexposure is a big one. When baseball was king, there were only one or two nationally televised games a week. Even if you were lucky enough to live in a city with a pro franchise, roughly half the games would be televised. I have fond memories of taking a transistor radio to bed, hiding under the covers to listen to Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Elson call a West Coast game, or sitting on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon with the game on the radio and the family gathered around.

Today, every single game is televised, with the all-sports cable networks broadcasting replays and highlights all day long. Something special went out of the game when baseball became so ubiquitous. It lost some of its mystique, its perception as a special event.

I wrote this back in 2005, while the White Sox were making their magical run to a World Series crown:

While there are many that bemoan the fall of baseball from its preeminent position as the number one sport in America, you cannot escape the fact that the game has fallen victim to what is the essence of America itself: an unalterable and inexorable fact of life in this country that things do not remain the same, that society and culture are in a constant state of motion.

America has changed. Baseball hasn’t.

Baseball couldn’t change. The game itself is draped in tradition, in memory. There is no other game seen through the prism of remembrance quite like baseball. Sitting on the back porch in 1950s and ’60s suburbia listening to the hissing, static filled play-by-play on radio while the fireflies blinked to announce their presence and the sweet smell of Jasmine filled the nostrils with the scent of summer, of family, of a shared passion. Or perhaps in the city you sat on the front stoop with every other house on the block blaring out the call of the game, a broadcast legend conducting a city wide symphony of sound, mothers with babies, fathers with sons, and the young, the old, laughing, talking, arguing, loving. A neighborhood, a community united around a passion so intense that enmities were temporarily forgotten as “the boys” or “the bums” performed extraordinary feats of effortless athleticism with both the workmanlike attitude of the blue collar hero and the pizazz of a circus performer.

Yes, that America existed at one time. And while memory may skew some of the details and gloss over much of the unseemly realities from those times, there is no doubt that baseball for much of the country occupied a privileged position in the hearts and minds of the people. In a time before the total saturation of sports, before ubiquitous replays, before free agency made players into hobos, before steroids turned the players into Frankenstein monsters, before rape trials and murder trials and divorces and scandal after scandal there was the pitcher, the batter, and the lovely dance of strategy and possibility. To bunt or not to bunt. To swing away or hit and run. To pitch out, or put the rotation” play on, or simply to play “straight up.” This was actually part of the national conversation when baseball was king.

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All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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I remember the MALE teachers I had in grade school 1964-71. They would turn on the radio during the world series; and I remember having a lot of "reading time" every October. We even talked a couple of the female teachers into letting us listen sometimes.
Maybe that is why when the kids in the neighborhood today are selling candy bars for the local soccer league GASP!.... I never buy any.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Shame on you! You SHOULD buy from the kids. They have little enough outlet these days and should be encouraged............scold over.

When I was in Junior High the Oakland A's where in the World Series - 3 years in a row. So from 7th through 9th grade at the beginning of the year every classroom had a tv and we'd watch the games. It was GREAT!!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the face."
---Albert Spaulding, January 1881
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You forgot Hockey. Much more exciting than baseball.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes, and back then when the President threw out the first ball, he didn't throw like a girl.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
SERIOUSLY!!! THAT was embarrassing, wasn't it? A National Disgrace!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You know - I AM a girl and I throw better than that!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Maybe it just got boring for the masses, like rock and roll has.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm with Zeke with the greed of the pro-sports franchises and I'm someone who believes someone should be able to make a buck.

Baseball lost me with their incessant striking! I believe the strike of the early 90's lost me for good. It was a strike right after another they had had.

Then the owners jacked up ticket prices to the point that father's couldn't take their sons to the games anymore - and yes, I came from an area that had oodles of sports teams. We weren't poor, but at that point my dad just didn't think it worthwhile to take me or my little brother to the games anymore. They were always sold out so we'd just watch on tv.

Now I live across country and couldn't care less.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I like baseball. However, by today's standards, baseball is boring, a slow, plodding game appreciated only by the true aficionados who see the subtleties in the moves of the runner on first who is contemplating stealing second.
By contrast, football is Action! An orgy of collisions that fun to watch, much like the gladiators of ancient Rome. It also fits well with today's attention-defect disordered populace.
While I agree with Zeke on the wealth and greed, unfortunately there are a lot of fans who do not, and continue to spend big bucks on tickets and paraphernalia on perennially losing teams like the Philadelphia Eagles.
Finally, I'm not sure if overexposure is a problem. Up until the 1950's, horse-racing was one of the most followed sports. In Seabiscuit's day, he was one of the nation's most popular "athletes". The story I've heard about horse racing's demise is that they preferred to remain exclusive and not be part of the newfangled fad of televised sports. Soon after, horse racing's popularity was eclipsed by those sports which embraced television.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is the TV intermissions. 3 hours to play a game!!? My 7 inning softball games take 1 hour max. Who really ever has 3 hours to kill anymore? I never go to Wrigley or Sox park because of the hassle. Who has 5-6 hours to kill for all that hassle?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I like the Cubs, but prefer the Sox game day experience. a modern park, plus tailgating outside and edible good inside. the cubs need to think seriously about a full teardown and rebuild of wrigley. wouldn't mind a move to the suburbs either. Cub games take about 2 hours 20 minutes because of the pitchers swinging and missing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When the professional sports of baseball, basketball and football made it know it was all about wealth and greed and not the sport, I quit watching them. Thats been years now! I only follow closely collegiate sports now and am quite content.

That aside, I would like to know how much consumer debt is racked up each year on credit cards for attending the games of those sports. What is the annual cost of lost tax revenue 'supporting' those sports in the cities and states that host their operations? I see them more as racketeers the past several years more than legitimate sports.

Sure, the nations has changed but I think the particular pro sports of baseball, football and basketball have influenced a lot of that change to what will eventually become their demise to some greater degree.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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