With the global pandemic ending and the battered economy reviving there is hope in the air. Oh, certainly problems remain. Civil society is fraying and new means of communication are changing our perceptions. But for baseball all is well, and a Golden Age is about to dawn.
Of course I’m talking about 1921 not 2021.
Those were difficult times. Much of the idealism of Western civilization had bled to death in the trenches. “Spanish flu” to use the term then current, killed 50 million people out of a much smaller world population. The Great Experiment of Prohibition was creating the real Original Gangsters, and the disruptive new technology of radio was literally in the air.
And for baseball The Great Days lay ahead.
In 2021…not so much. Looking at MLB’s response to Covid, to societal unrest, and to universal digital communication you’d have to say it’s not going well. TV audiences are down. Attendance has been in decline for years, and Covid may simply be masking the real drop in interest. I hate to sound pessimistic but the business of baseball is in deep trouble.
As I expect to be challenged on this, I do want to say that the game of baseball remains a thing of beauty. It is still the near perfect balancing of worthy elements. Individual and team effort. Linear and circular geometry. Split second “bang – bang” plays and the drawn out, broad palate of a long season. It would be difficult to damage it beyond repair.
But the future of the game is in doubt. There is more competition from “the lesser sports” and from virtual entertainment. The average age of fans is rising. Attention spans are said to be too fleeting to appreciate the game.
And apparently the response of the Lords of Baseball is to dive into politics. This is a difference between 1921 and 2021. It looks to be at best a chancy effort to find a younger fan base. At worst it may lead to the destruction of baseball’s financial model altogether.
Consider this. People of good faith differ on the merits of Georgia’s new law. A worthwhile discussion could be had, especially among the few people who have actually read the darned thing. But MLB decided to yank the All Star Game over it. The results? Probably some damage to a local economy that has significant black participation. And in one month the favorability rating of MLB among Republicans dropped from 47% to 12%.
It’s cliché to say that baseball reflects our past, our heritage. And it is also true, but that is another way that baseball has always balanced things. Change with the times…but remember and respect the past.
Baseball as a business would be best served by a respectfully apolitical stance. They can ill afford to piss off their established fan base; keep in mind that polling suggests 75% of Americans support voter ID, and that the percentage among demographically older baseball fandom is at least that high. Hell, in the Rasmussen poll in question 69% of blacks supported voter ID. Of course baseball can’t, and I think won’t swing towards reaction. In the current unsettled era baseball venues are uniquely vulnerable to targeted unrest. And while the relative calm in Minnesota after recent events is great, we all know that there will be another tense situation coming along soon. And another. And another.
A love of baseball should unite people of differing political philosophies. And I think it can do so. MLB should have more faith in their fans and in the beauty of the game. Baseball should be in concert with change in our society, not in my opinion, a base coach for it. A cautious runner who camps stupidly on first is not helping his team. Neither is the clueless player who strays so far off the bag that the pitcher can send him back to the dugout with a lazy under hand lob.
With the trajectory MLB is now on it can only be a matter of time before somebody actually takes a hard look at Cooperstown. There are men enshrined there who are far more flawed than those whose names are being expunged and statues toppled in the new era. Alleged KKK member Rogers Hornsby’s could be the first plaque to meet the crowbar. Would it be the last?