You may think you’re enjoying tonight’s game-163 between the Rays and Rangers. And it may seem exciting and everyone you know may be talking about it and the playoffs. But you’re just deluding yourself, everyone. Because the New York Times tells us that, once again, baseball is dying:
… baseball seems simply to have fallen out of the national conversation (unless the conversation happens to be about steroids, that is). The last time baseball felt front and center, culturally speaking, was the 1998 home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. And we all know how that turned out.
What happened — is happening — to our national pastime?
As usual, TV ratings are cited. Without reference to the fact that baseball’s TV life is an inherently locally fragmented life and that, locally speaking, it does well. And that the game is financially flush and attendance remains near historic highs. It’s just another lazy “baseball doesn’t hold people’s attention like it did back in the 50s” kind of worrying, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t until the 50s or, really, the 60s, that baseball had serious competition from other sports on a national scale. Of course baseball isn’t going to dominate now like it did then. Heck, the U.S. had 60% of the world’s GDP after World War II ended. It doesn’t now. Not because the United States is dying, but because the world is a different place.
Even in the context of TV alone you never see anything treated as myopically as baseball gets treated. I watched the “Breaking Bad” finale last night. So did a lot of other people. It consumed all manner of oxygen in pop culture circles. But its ratings, historically speaking, were low compared to even the most pedestrian TV events. Seriously: the “Alf” series finale in 1990 got better ratings than “Breaking Bad.” Yet does anyone claim TV is dying? Of course not. Indeed, many claim that we are in a golden age of television. They say this acknowledging that TV is very different now than it was in 1990. It’s more fragmented, and the numbers tell us less.
Why can’t this level of intelligence be applied to baseball? Why must baseball’s current popularity always be compared to its old, completely unsustainable and unrivaled popularity in the first half of the 20th century? Why does a publication as smart as the New York Times approach this issue in such a dumb way?