Baseball Isn't Dead; It Just Takes More Work To Appreciate

Apr 2, 2013
Originally published on April 3, 2013 5:19 am

It being the start of baseball season, that means we've been inundated by predictions — who'll win the divisions and the pennants and the World Series? We know two things on this subject. In every sport, at the start of the season, the experts are bound and determined to make these long-range predictions. And second, they are invariably wrong.

In baseball, there is always one other long-term prediction, namely that baseball is dying. The non-baseball experts have been bleating this for years, because, they say, baseball is too slow and doesn't appeal to young people. Of course, the young people it wasn't supposed to appeal to when baseball first allegedly started dying are now old people buying tickets and taking young people to games, but so it goes.

In fact, yes, baseball is too slow for its own good — please, make the pitcher pitch! — and yes, baseball lacks the appealing lyric brutality of football, but its very deliberate, cerebral nature quite fascinates a significant enough population. All the back-and-forth games — football, soccer, basketball, hockey and so forth — are quick studies. Baseball takes more work to appreciate. And all right, yes, the sappy father-and-son baseball poetry has been beaten to death. Still, baseball is more family-style. Hey, it's the good old summertime. It's every day, not life-and-death. Baseball's simply more comfortable than other sports, and for a lot of people, that ain't so bad.

The larger point, I believe, is that by now all our popular team games are so deeply ingrained in our culture that they're here to stay for as far as the eye can see. Look at hockey. No matter how many times the owners call off the season, hockey fans come crawling back on their knees, smiles on their faces, more loyal than ever.

No, of course baseball isn't the national pastime anymore. King football is supersize national. It gets the gaudy weekly network television ratings, while baseball only gets the daily drippings of the various home-team channels, spread all around. Thus, while certainly nobody would ever call football any kind of a pastime, baseball is still the local pastime. So? Forbes magazine calculates that the average value of a major league team has increased substantially, to three-quarters of a billion dollars. That's not dead money.

But oh, those predictions. This year most of the experts are picking the Nationals and the Rays, which means that Washington, D.C., and Tampa Bay will definitely not be in the World Series.

Me, I like the Dodgers and Angels. You see, forget pitching and hitting. Rather, both Los Angeles teams are in sync with the times. The stock market is soaring; the economy is, in the favored expert expression, heating up; and the Dodgers and Angels are spending big time, overpaying for fancy free agents. Austerity is dead. It's obviously L.A.'s year.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, baseball is back, and well before the first pitch was thrown, predictions were being made who will win the divisions, the pennants and, of course, the World Series.

Our commentator Frank Deford predicts that one common prediction is wrong.

FRANK DEFORD: In every sport at the start of the season, the experts are bound and determined to make long-range predictions. And guaranteed, they are invariably wrong. In baseball, too, there is always one other long-term prediction, namely that baseball is dying. The non-baseball experts have been bleating this for years, because, they say, baseball is too slow and doesn't appeal to young people.

Of course, the young people it wasn't supposed to appeal to when baseball first allegedly started dying, are now old people buying tickets and taking young people to games - but, so it goes.

In fact, yes, baseball is too slow for its own good. Please, please, make the pitcher pitch. And yes, baseball lacks the appealing lyric brutality of football. But its very deliberate, cerebral nature quite fascinates a significant enough population. All the back-and-forth games football, soccer, basketball, hockey, and so forth, are quick studies. Baseball takes more work to appreciate.

And all right, yes, the sappy father-and-son baseball poetry has been beaten to death. Still, baseball is more family-style. Hey, it's the good old summertime. It's everyday, not life-and-death. Baseball is simply more comfortable than other sports, and for a lot of people, that ain't so bad.

The larger point, I believe, is that by now all our popular team games are so deeply ingrained in our culture, that they're here to stay for as far as the eye can see. Look at hockey. No matter how many times the owners call off the season, hockey fans come crawling back on their knees, smiles on their faces, more loyal than ever.

No, of course baseball isn't the national pastime anymore. King Football is supersize national. It gets the gaudy weekly network television ratings, while baseball only gets the daily drippings of the various home-team channels - spread all around. Thus, while certainly nobody would ever call football any kind of a pastime, baseball is still the local pastime.

So? Forbes magazine calculates that the average value of a Major League team has increased substantially, to three-quarters of a billion dollars. Now, that's not dead money.

But oh, those predictions. This year most of the experts are picking the Nationals and the Rays, which means that Washington and Tampa Bay will definitely not be in the World Series.

Me, I like the Dodgers and Angels. You see, forget pitching and hitting. Rather, both Los Angeles teams are in sync with the times. The stock market is soaring. The economy is, in the favored expert expression, heating up. And the Dodgers and Angels are spending big-time, over-paying for fancy free agents. In keeping with the new anti-austerity mood, it's obviously L.A.'s year.

INSKEEP: And that's the way it is or maybe the way it's going to be.

Commentator Frank Deford joins us every Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.