Baseball no longer the American pastime

Dan Kotnik and Dan Kotnik

With the Fourth of July upon us, summer has reached its peak, the culmination of summer fun and relaxation in a celebration of our American heritage. And it seems the only thing more American than cooking out with family and blowing up fireworks is baseball: the American pastime.

Or at least it was. Recently over the past years, baseball seems to have fallen behind in popularity to other sports, most notably football. In a recent Harris Poll, 34 percent of Americans said football was their favorite sport while only 16 percent said baseball. Compare those numbers to 1985 when 24 percent said football and 23 percent said baseball. In 2012, the NFL dominated the television ratings the entire year. Their top regular season games received around a 15 percent rating while the MLB’s biggest event, the World Series, only garnered an 8.9. Even now during the summer, when baseball is the only major sport going on, news about football drafts and free agency seems to take precedent on the major sports networks. Baseball is slowly becoming the classic record on the shelf that gathers dust that people only talk about how great it was.

But why has the sport that came to be a symbol of our country losing its fan base and its standing among Americans? It’s very simple. Major League Baseball has failed to evolve and grow with the culture. Without any real competition from other leagues until about the 1980s, baseball has been able to rest on its image as the American pastime. It didn’t have to try to keep fans because it was all fans knew. But once the NFL’s popularity began to skyrocket, baseball, instead of changing to keep up, remained stuck in the past.

One key evolution Major League Baseball has failed to embrace is the idea of the salary cap. In other leagues, like the NFL and NBA, all teams have a set cap which their salary cannot go over. This helps create parody because teams cannot simply outspend for every All-Star player. Sure you can spend millions on one player, but it means less for all the others forcing teams to budget money against talent.

In the MLB, however, it’s quite another story. Teams with rich owners, like the Yankees, can outspend and outbid smaller, poorer teams for the best talent. It’s the whole premise behind the movie “Moneyball.” The rich keep winning and the poor keep losing. And fans are beginning to realize this.

The MLB also seems to be the only major company in the world that has not embraced the technological advances of our time. The NFL has included instant replay in all of its games since 1998. Granted, calls are still missed (see Week 3 Packers/Seahawks last year). Nonetheless the vast majority of correct calls are made through the use of instant replay.

Yet baseball continues to maintain its “tradition” of allowing the human error of umpires to run rampant, resulting in missed calls that anyone who watches SportsCenter can call correctly from their couch. Just ask Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga, whose perfect game was ruined on the last out of the game with a clearly blown call by umpire Jim Joyce two summers ago. While other sports are utilizing these tools to make their game better, baseball remains like the grandparent who refuses to go on the Internet or get a cell phone. The problem is that those grandparents are usually fun to visit but not to live with every day.

And it’s not just in the game itself [where] baseball has failed to keep with the times. New advances in technology like video distribution and the Internet have provided numerous opportunities for other companies and sports leagues. This last May, at the reveal of their new game system Xbox One, Microsoft announced a new partnership with the NFL. This partnership includes new interactive experiences through the Xbox One, such as live updates of fantasy football side-by-side with the live games on the same screen. Microsoft will also provide NFL teams with technology like Surface touch pads to review photos and make play calls.

The MLB however seems to be fighting these advances every step of the way. It spends thousands trying to keep any scrap of non-authorized use of its video of the Internet. Not only is this impractical, but it drives away potential fans. Fans like to share their experience with others through social media with video and pictures. I understand trying to protect copyright laws and serious infractions should be punished. However, trying to hold a monopoly on every second of media you produce in such a connected and social world only hurts you and your image.

I don’t want this to be taken wrong the way, though. I, including millions of fans around the world, still love and enjoy baseball. It’s a wonderful game that has entertained us for years. However, baseball needs to get with the times if it wants to avoid becoming more than an afterthought in American sports culture.