Baseball: America Has Past Its Time

George LiederhausContributor IMay 8, 2009

Baseball, with apologies to Halo enthusiasts, may be the single greatest game ever created. The intricacies and nuances of a baseball game are endless. No matter how many games you see, there is always the possibility of seeing something truly unique. It is so complex in its simplicity that the late George Carlin admitted to having a difficult time finding the right words to describe it.

[Editor's note: For those of you that don't understand that last comment, you don't understand the genius of Carlin and should go back to watching Jay Leno]. 

With all of that said, baseball is dead. Unfortunately it just doesn't know it yet. 

In recent years, Major League Baseball has been supplanted by the NFL in overall popularity, and it really isn't close. Football has become America's Game. The NFL, under the guidance of Pete Rozell, understood the importance of making the game accessible to the blue collar fan, while creatively packaging it to the upscale entrepreneur/ businessman type.

They also realized the importance of each game. The NFL has a product where every regular season game means something. In fact, with the exception of college football, no other sport has as meaningful a regular season as the NFL. 

It may seem overly simplistic but that means something to the fans. Season ticket holders of the NFL, most of whom are everyday hard working middle class folks, get their money's worth every game. Unless, of course, you live in Detroit, in which case you get a sharp kick in the groin every Sunday. But I digress.

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Baseball used to be the standard barer for blue collar fandom. In fact, it had the market cornered. From "knot-whole gangs" to bleacher seating, fans had access to their beloved sport. Even "real" Yankee Stadium made it easy for fans to walk up and witness a game in the House that Ruth Built.

Today, substance has given way to vile in "Yank-Me Stadium," as executive suites, in what can only be considered poetic justice, have created a wind tunnel that turns on for the top of each inning.

Why the need for all of the kowtowing to white-collared blue bloods? Well, because it worked for the NBA, that's why.

The Association is another example of a sport that has passed baseball by. Pat Riley decided in the early 80's, that the best way to fill the stands was to market his Magician of a point guard to the Hollywood set. Showtime became the place to be seen in Los Angeles, and it didn't take David Stern long to make Riley's idea his own.

Stern hired his own team of Mad Men and packaged his league as the place to be. Think of those old "The NBA is FAN-tastic" commercials. They were a Who's who of celebrities and politicians.

Over the course of two decades, the NBA has added more stars to their ownership ranks than Scientology. You have a better chance seeing an A-list celebrity at a basketball game than you do watching a weeks worth of prime-time programming on NBC. 

Over that same time frame, baseball has gotten further and further removed from public relevance. Think about Albert Pujols. Statistically speaking, he is one of the best five hitters to ever play the game. EVER. If you took a picture of him and asked the next 10 people that you run into, how many of them would have any idea who he was? Be honest.

The answer is zero, unless in the cubicle next to you is the fantasy league commissioner. And don't tell me it's because he plays in the Midwest. So does LeBron.

Do you think you would have a tough time finding people to recognize him?

I haven't even gotten into the steroid/drug issues with baseball. I mean, if you think for one second that the NFL and NBA are littered with drug users of one kind or another you are crazy.

The difference is the NFL doesn't pander. You will never see Goodell begging for understanding, or patting himself on the back for suspending someone.

Think about Shawne Merriman. That guy was busted for steroids, sat out four games, played in the playoffs, went to the Pro Bowl, and then was named Defensive Player of the Year. And the outcry was barely a whimper. Yet ESPN can't go three weeks without talking about the impact of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens pharmaceutical tendencies. 

At every turn, baseball is getting beaten, and beaten badly. You can make a serious argument that NASCAR, golf and any number of events seen at the X-Games are healthier than Major League Baseball. And that is starting to have a long term effect on the game itself.

Something has to be done to correct the ineptitude of the last three decades. It's simple: Fire Bud Selig. Bring someone in that has a back bone before it's too late.

This sport needs to be course-corrected by someone with vision. If this trend continues, baseball will become something so irrelevant, so completely off the radar, it will be fodder for late night talk shows and the ratings for the World Series will be worse than re-runs of Blossom on USA. In other words, baseball will become hockey.

Of course, that's just my opinion...pass the Primanti's


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