America’s pastime, the tired sport. In recent years, baseball has become less comparable to the pop culture games (basketball, football and soccer), and more like golf, or even tennis “” at least in the eyes of the general public, abroad and at home. Consider: The average sports fan nowadays would have no problem rattling off a substantial amount of football or basketball players. Someone with no interest in sports will almost certainly able to recognize the face of LeBron or Peyton. On the other hand, even I (a former baseball fanatic who studied box scores like it was my job in middle school), would be hard pressed to name twenty current major leaguers. In fact, excluding Alex Rodriguez, I am not sure I’d instantly recognize a single one if they walked into Coates. Except for Bryce Harper.
Baseball is a changing game, but it has not been until Harper that there has been a defining face to the shifts the game is undergoing. Major League Baseball players, by law, can no longer chew dip in California. Several stadiums have also banned it. Proponents argue for an increase in the role modeling regulations the MLB places on its players, with chewing tobacco enthusiasts/dislikers of growing government opposing the development. Furthermore, pitchers and batters alike now have additional time limits on their between-pitch activities, with players being fined when they exceed said limit. This is in an interesting effort by the league to hasten the pace of the game, hoping to increase viewership in an effort to catch up to football and basketball (soccer as well internationally, but not quite yet in America).
It has, not surprisingly, received poor reviews from players, and fans seem not to care either way.
Tim Keown’s article on Harper a couple weeks ago made one thing clear. Harper, like the rest of baseball, understand at this point that the game is not nearly as popular relative to the NBA/NFL (in America) as it was towards the beginning of the millennium, much less in the years before then. Harper called the game tired, citing its lack of emotion as the cause. He believes that our generation can save its popularity with a wake-up call of unbridled emotion. To this idea, I would argue that the lack of emotion is not what has held baseball back, and the belief that lessening of the league’s hold on one’s ability to show off, taunt the opposition orargue with the umpire will somehow give baseball the surge it needs to once again dominate the sports world is simply not true. The flexibility NBA/NFL players have in disagreeing with the refs in a disrespectful manner, as well as taunting the opposition in a hilarious manner, is not indicative of the success of the businesses. Their insane popularity today is based on the ease with which one can develop applicable skills and accessibility. Consider soccer, the most famousàŸ sport internationally. Perhaps more importantly, both the NBA and the NFL are much more exciting on a game-by-game, play-by-play basis. There is more action, so it is more fun from a young age for players, and it is more fun to watch for casual sports fans.
My point is this: At this point, baseball has no chance in gaining on basketball and football in terms of sheer popularity among the masses. Harper will most likely never be as well-known across America, or internationally as Kevin Durant or Tom Brady. With more people then ever playing and watching sports, its no surprise that more are playing and watching the more entertaining, accessible games. Baseball, like tennis and golf, is destined to be enjoyed by a more select group of people, who, for whatever reason, fall in love with the game and never look back. Changing the game in this newest way, as Harper is suggesting, with more raw emotion and flamboyance being allowed by the umpires, may be the most unfortunate of the developments to the game- a middle finger to the players of old and the sense of decency and gentlemanly conduct the game carries with it. And it would most likely not allow for the increase in mainstream popularity some say it would.