Thursday, April 26, 2012

Has the 'American Pastime’ Passed Its Time?

Baseball season has started, in case you haven’t noticed. Still called the “American pastime,” I wonder if it’s primary function these days is to serve as a space-filler between the end of “March Madness” and the beginning of college football season.

Has the American pastime become past tense?

Yankee Stadium, the original.
As a boy, baseball was my favorite sport. Growing up in New Jersey, I became an ardent Yankee fan. I idolized Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and anyone else that wore the fabled pinstripes. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio all came long before my time, but I revered them as well.

But that was a different time. Days of summer were still lazy, hazy, and crazy, idyllic times when friends played stickball in neighborhood streets from dawn well into dusk. TV had only a handful of channels. There were no cable TV, DVDs, computers, Internet or video games. No cell phones or texting to distract or alert us of something more urgent.

Then came the surge of football – college and pro – along with basketball and other faster-paced sports. Baseball became the tortoise to football’s hare, the slug to basketball’s water bug. As attention spans shortened, the fascination with ball cracking off bat dimmed, monotony replacing magnetism.

Recently, while celebrating the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut as a member of the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, civic leaders and sports commentators debated why black athletes have declined in pro baseball. As if MLB powers-that-be had decreed the sport should discourage African-American involvement.

How silly. A major reason black participation has waned is the same reason young people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds show less interest in baseball. It’s basically a 19th and early 20th century sport trying to succeed in the 21st century. Let me offer some “for instances”:

The official "time clock" of baseball.
·      1) Unlike all other major sports – football, basketball, hockey and soccer – baseball is the only one without a time clock. (Actually, I think it has one. Only it’s called a sundial.)
        2) Football and basketball, college and pro, make ample use of video replay. Baseball traditionalists have dug in their heels, resisting video reviews in most cases, afraid umpires will get their feelings hurt if proved wrong by technology.
        3) After a game, players in other sports show sportsmanship by shaking the hands of their opponents. Winning baseball teams also shake hands on the field – with their teammates.
        4) Unlike other major sports, when players are removed from a baseball game, they can’t be put back in.
        5) In pro football and basketball, aspiring stars can envision arriving at “the next level” almost immediately. In baseball, players typically toil a year or two, often longer, in minor leagues before even getting a sniff of a Major League ballpark. In an age ruled by instant gratification, baseball can’t compete.

Perhaps you can think of some other similar contrasts, but baseball’s fashion has grown old-fashioned in our era of low attentiveness, high activity levels and rapid-fire TV and video programming.

In 1 Chronicles 12:32, the Bible speaks of “the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what they should do.” Maybe what baseball needs today is to find some men of Issachar, and then listen to them.

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