End of Season for ‘America’s Pastime’

By Ian Hardman and Isabelle Foley

Sentry Staff Editors

They call it the “American Classic” and the “American Pastime,” but is baseball truly as relevant in our American society as it was 100 years ago? In fact, for 30 years, baseball has fallen second to football as the most popular sport in America*; and according to ESPN, a regular series NFL game had higher ratings than the 2010 World Series.** In more recent years, basketball has also topped baseball in television ratings.*** It cannot be disputed that baseball has played a major part in our country’s history, and that its role as the national pastime cannot simply be measured by the size of its fanbase. However, the game’s place in our culture is becoming less and less important.

There are a lot of reasons not to go to a baseball game. It’s summer time, it’s blisteringly hot outside (especially here in the nation’s capital) and the air smells like hot dogs and nachos. If baseball were like most other sports, where games last around two hours, this would almost be bearable. But alas, to sit through an entire MLB game would mean three or four hours in the thick summer air. Now let’s focus on the game itself, because none of this would be so bad if there was something interesting to watch. Here is where baseball fails once again; fans aside, it’s impossible to pretend to be interested. Can someone explain where the action is in this sport? Granted, it’s not the least interesting thing to watch, but the ratio of people standing and watching to people actually exhibiting athleticism is not where it should be.

Another important claim to the American pastime title is the interest that tourists and foreigners exhibit towards baseball. First of all, baseball is most popular in the Northeast, but the stereotypical American homeland is the South and Midwest. There, football is the reigning sport. Here is another example: my cousin is coming to visit the States for the first time. I was trying to come up with things for us to do or important places to take him, and my friend suggested that I should take him to a baseball game, because it is, in her opinion, “the most important American experience.” I reluctantly suggested this to him, and he expressed no interest whatsoever. His real goal would be to see the Heat play the Pacers. You can chalk it up to personal preference, but if baseball were really a key part of the American experience, it would have been a bigger priority.

It is also important to discuss the downward spiral of the culture surrounding baseball in America. Bad press surrounding the sport, namely steroid scandals, is a contributing factor to this decline. Picture this: a man and his son playing catch in the yard, two young friends trading baseball cards, a couple of rascals skipping school to catch a minor league came in the city. How fantastically 1950s (or 1980s, if the rascals you imagined were Ferris and Cameron). Unfortunately for baseball fans, nowadays, the ‘ole pop-and-son playing catch in the yard is more realistic with a football in hand, not to mention that no one trades baseball cards anymore. There’s a reason why they’re rare. Now, let’s look at recent popular athletes. For me, the first people that come to mind are Lebron James and Peyton Manning. I would say Michael Jordan, but then you could throw Cal Ripken into the ring. As far as athletes who aren’t retired, there are less people famous for baseball than for football and basketball. Another major player in modern America is social media. Twitter users, for example, often take advantage of the short and quick updates to “live tweet” major events. Think back to the last tweet you read that said something like “bad call ref!” Football and basketball games are notorious for live tweet rampages. It may be because baseball season is still underway, but have you ever really seen a “bad call umpire!” tweet? Twitter is an accurate reflection of important or interesting events in popular culture, so this trend should be taken into account.

Baseball is also losing cultural importance in other ways. Consider high school nostalgia, for example. Fall season’s football games are always the highlight of the athletic year. This is not meant as a blow to our baseball team, you guys rock (softball too). But truthfully, most high school sports pale in comparison to the success of the football team. This is where another aspect of sports culture comes into play: athletic scholarships. Football and basketball have done a lot more to provide underprivileged kids with athletic scholarships and opportunities to attend acclaimed colleges. The top three sports with the most scholarship availabilities are football, basketball and baseball, respectively, according to scholarshipstats.com.

As Baseball’s acclaim has withered, other sports have grown tremendously in popularity and playability, offering more opportunities for athletes to rise to the next level. Lacrosse and ultimate frisbee, the fastest growing sports in America, are far more relevant in modern culture than baseball. Take a five minute stroll on any college campus and you’ll assuredly find numerous students tossing lacrosse balls to each other or diving for frisbees in the quad. Not often will you find them standing around with a ball and mitt playing catch like some father son duo from the mid-twentieth century. This is because, as established above, baseball is quite uneventful. Games like lacrosse and frisbee require jumping, dodging, diving and running. They have aspects that keep players engaged for the long term, unlike baseball’s split second moments of action. Americas are some of the most rushed people on earth, never stopping to smell the roses, so how can they be expected to stay focused on a game like baseball when more exciting, fast-paced opportunities are available. If a particular activity were to be named “America’s Pastime” it would certainly need to be something Americans actually take the time to participate in.

The late great Walt Whitman is supposed to have said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game.” If these words did indeed leave his mouth, they did so over a century ago. America has changed. Americans have changed. His “American Game” has certainly changed since then. What perhaps was once a game that brought together white and blue collar citizens, and joined players of different races and creeds, no longer holds the same glory it did in Whitman’s day. Cast into the shadows by more elite athletic pursuits, baseball no longer deserves to be called the “America’s Pastime.” As Americans, we spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do focusing on athletics. In fact, I would argue that “America’s Pastime” is no longer a feat of muscular ability, but moreover an endurance race to retweet, reblog, and re-watch highlights of activities that require more energy than most Americans have. Beneath the shadows of colossi like football or basketball, the sport that has been up to bat through most of our nation’s history has finally struck out.