Though it was once dubbed “America’s Pastime,” baseball has fallen on hard times.
Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no denying baseball held a special place in America’s heart. The crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd were once the soundtrack of American summers as crowds would flock to stadiums to cheer on their favourite team.
Baseball’s significance extends beyond mere entertainment. It’s played a pivotal role in shaping America’s social fabric breaking down barriers and serving as a powerful unifying force. Baseball welcomed the first Black athlete into a major sporting league when Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier with his 1947 signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Despite baseball’s role in the American cultural landscape, love for the sport is waning and those cheers that once echoed through ballparks have grown faint.
Fans no longer want to sit down to watch a three-hour game where excitement isn’t guaranteed, which is why they’re turning their attention to more engaging sports like basketball and football. Baseball’s slow pace and often limited action makes it hard for the sport to compete with the constant motion and high-scoring nature of its counterparts.
Unlike baseball, basketball and football provide spectators with continuous, almost non-stop displays of athleticism, frequent scoring, and shifts in momentum. These games are exciting to watch and appeal to greater demographics and fans.
Baseball, on the other hand, frustrates more than it entertains. Though pitchers stepping off the mound, batters adjusting their gloves, and catchers calling time are all integral parts of the game, they contribute to a slower rhythm, testing the patience of fans and viewers.
Although the MLB is experimenting with ways to address this issue by introducing pitch clocks and limiting mound visits, little has changed.
Frankly, baseball isn’t as exciting as it used to be. A significant part of this decline is attributable to the diminishing offensive action in games, a trend that has persisted over the past few decades.
Last season, the MLB saw a mere average of 2.15 home runs per game—marking the lowest average since 2015 Teams only averaged 4.33 runs per game, the lowest number of runs since 2012. Fans don’t want to watch three-hour pitcher duels, but that’s what they’re getting.
Another glaring issue plaguing baseball today is the lack of star power. The league arguably has some of the best and most talented athletes right now, but none of them possess the charisma and influence needed to transcend the sport.
Players like Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, in my opinion, are two of the best athletes to play the game. Yet they’re widely unknown to non-baseball fans. When compared to other athletes like Lebron James, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes, they lack the necessary star power to attract fans.
To the broader audience, baseball players seem to lack personalities. Although this might be the case, the lack of personality is also due to the MLB’s unwritten rules around showboating, which prevents players from expressing and marketing themselves.
Take Jose Bautista for example. Eight years ago, former Toronto Blue Jays player Jose Bautista hit a three-run shot and flipped his bat in game five of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers. Despite it being an iconic moment in Blue Jays and MLB, history, Bautista received a lot of criticism from fans, commentators, and past players for being too eccentric and even a disgrace to the game.
Had this been any other sport, fans and commentators would have revelled in this celebration. In 2018, Tyreek Hill, a wide receiver on the Kansas City Chiefs, engaged in a celebratory routine that emulated a cameraman and playfully recorded his teammates after scoring a touchdown. This celebration was widely regarded as entertaining and creative, and received positive attention from fans, commentators, and even the NFL itself.
Rather than criticizing its own players, the MLB should put more effort into marketing its star players, letting fans know them as people, not just players who run around on their TV. After all, athletes are people too.
While football may have taken baseball’s title of “America’s Pastime,” it’s not too late for baseball to reclaim its former glory.
The sport which was once known for transcending racial barriers and being a pop culture staple, isn’t dead. But steps do need to be taken for baseball to become the beloved, unifying force it once was.
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