Sunday, July 5, 2015

A creeping separation

Once upon a time I could have looked at a list of likely All-Star players and known exactly who every one of them was.

I could have named the teams they played on even if those teams weren't listed. I could have identified them by position. I could have run down the list of pitchers, American and National, and told you who was a righty and who threw portside. I probably could have gone on to tell you who threw gas, who threw junk and who were the subversives (Paging Dan Quisenberry ... paging Kent Tekulve ...) who released the ball from beneath their beltlines.


Now I have the New York Times in front of me this a.m., and here is a list of the players, American and National, likely to be picked for the All-Star game a week hence. I recognize Andrew McCutchen, because he's a Pirate. Ditto Gerrit Cole. I recognize Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Brett Gardner, Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rizzo, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, a handful of others.

But Nolan Arenado? Todd Frazier? Joe Panik?

Francisco Cervelli? Yasmani Grandal? Stephen Vogt?

Sorry. Got nothin'.

Even the players I do know, I'm not sure what teams half of them play for. Of the 14 pitchers listed on the National League side, I can identify 10. Of the 13 on the American side, I recognize six.

Most of this is due my own waning attention to baseball, but my waning attention is a symptom of a larger issue. If the game has slipped away from me, it has slipped away from a lot of the country. Although the ballparks still draw, baseball's national presence has dwindled to the point where the World Series has become just a part of the landscape in October, and not a particularly significant part. A nothing NFL game between, say, Jacksonville and Buffalo clobbers it in the Nielsen's.

And it's not just because the small-market Royals played in the Series last fall. Even the game's heavyweights -- your Red Sox, your Cardinals -- get buried by the NFL.

The demographics tell us baseball is increasingly the province of an older, whiter, more male audience, not an encouraging marker in a society that is increasingly younger and more racially and culturally diverse. Kids still play the game, but American kids -- and particularly African-American kids -- do not. If you want proof, check out a single A roster sometime; a smattering of white American kids, the odd African-American, and a pile of guys from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and points south.

Baseball there is what it used to be in America, two generations ago.  Baseball here ...

Well.  There are other options now if you've got a child who loves games, and the other options are winning. Soccer. Basketball. Hockey. Even football, despite the queasiness engendered by the way the industry leader bungled the concussion thing.

Denying you've got a problem virtually ensures  the problem will explode in your face, sending ripples to places you never imagined -- like, say, youth football. That's what the NFL did, and that's the price it's paying.

As for baseball ,.. once upon a time, you couldn't turn on your TV without seeing some baseball star hawking something. Who could forget Mickey Mantle weeping over his Maypo, or Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine sulking in a Nike ad because Chicks Dig The Long Ball?

Now you turn on your TV, and it's all Peyton Manning, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and various faces from the NBA -- faces with whom we are so familiar, the ad sometimes doesn't even bother to identify them. Yes, that's LeBron, that's Steph Curry, that's Jabari Parker. Got it.

And baseball?

The other night, an ad popped up on my TV. It featured Adam Jones, the Baltimore Orioles' star outfielder. I knew that because Adam Jones was wearing his Orioles uniform.

And if he hadn't been?

I wouldn't have known him from, you know, Adam.




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