Baseball’s in a pickle

BoredBaseball_Tim Shaffer_postDid you know there are fewer black Major League Baseball players than at any time since 1959?

Did you also know that Major League attendance is down three percent this season, and taking a double digit dip in such major markets as New York and Los Angeles? Or, that the Miami Marlins attract so few fans that the team has actually roped off the upper deck?

Talk about Sounds of Silence.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has appointed a commission to determine why the sport's percentage of black players is fading faster than the legendary Satchel Paige's curve ball. I have my hunches, but will wait for the official report before weighing in.

As for the attendance decline, I think it's been prompted by a combination of factors:

- Horrific Spring weather
- Obscene ticket prices
- The aftermath of the steroid scandal (a.k.a. 'A-Rod fatigue’)
- Outrageous player salaries
- The dearth of black role models

Then, too, there's the very real fact that baseball is, at times, an agonizingly slow sport. In a society's that constantly racing along at a 24×7 clip, it's becoming increasingly tough to wait for a pitcher to shake off a catcher's sign, wind-up and toss a ball that's then fouled off in the fourth inning of a meaningless game between two losing teams in mid-June.

I witnessed baseball's precipitous decline a few weeks back when I attended a Subway Series game at Yankees Stadium. The stands were only half-full. Sure, the Bombers fielded a team of no-names but c'mon, this was the Subway Series! I can remember scalpers fetching $500 per ticket when the cross-town series debuted in the mid-1990s. Now, you can't give away tickets.

This June also happens to mark the 125th anniversary of baseball's seminal poem, 'Casey at the Bat', by Ernest L. Thayer.

Written at a time when the national pastime was first flexing its muscles and becoming THE sport of THE up-and-coming nation, Casey has been told in countless formats and paintings, including books, theatre, movies, and yes, Virginia, even an opera!

I'm not sure the analogy holds true with the poem's Mudville Nine, but it seems to me that Major League Baseball is waiting for its Casey to step up to the plate and save the day.

Alas, there is no single solution to fan apathy, high ticket prices, overpaid and pampered players and a game that's slower than the pour on a Heinz's ketchup bottle.

As a long-suffering Mets fan who's yet to watch one game of the hapless franchise's season so far, I'm pulling for MLB to rally in the bottom of the ninth and fix what's broken. But, Bud Selig's certainly no Mighty Casey, and even the latter struck out when the chips were down.

7 thoughts on “Baseball’s in a pickle

  1. I think the reason for the drop in black players is because there has been an increase in Latino players. Baseball has grown internationally and I believe they plan to open next season with a game in Australia. More players are representing countries such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia.
    Player salaries have gotten out of hand that the small markets such as Kansas City, Milwaukee, Seattle, Pittsburgh cannot compete. Minor league baseball is thriving because it creates a family atmosphere that is affordable.
    The season is extremely long and the players really don’t care about the fans. Greed is the root of most of the problems.

  2. Greg: So you can’t have a team with Latino AND black players and there is only room for one ethnic group in baseball. Of course you have lots of white players, but the minorities have to take turns. So I assume once the Latinos are done then there will be room for the players with Asian backgrounds.

  3. I wouldn’t disagree that greed is the root cause of baseball’s problems, Greg. But, I do think there are larger, societal issues that are to cause for the amazingly low percentage of black players in the game. And, while I agree baseball has become more international, that doesn’t explain why there were more black players in the Big Leagues in 1960 than there are today.

  4. rep-
    i dont think there is any connection between black players and attendance but rather it is simply about the cost vs the product. why would anyone in their right mind spend a few hundred dollars for a family of 4 to go watch a game that is simply meaningless. there are so many games in a season that each one has so little value. and throw in the fact that there are so many “mets vs brewers” or “marlins vs cubs” games and you have thousands of “who cares games” throughout the season. not many people have hundreds of dollars to watch that. tickets should be 5 dollars to any game that isnt in september in a pennant race.

  5. MedGuy: As I noted in the blog, I’ll await Commissioner Selig’s findings before weighing in on the reasons why fewer blacks play ball today than at any time since 1959. I agree the sport has made attending a game too financially painful to contemplate. But, I do think the slow pace in an increasingly frenetic world is another vexing problem. Basketball and football are lightning quick.

  6. Insane ticket prices: Whatever happened to “America’s favorite pastime”? You have to be rich to enjoy any Major League sporting event these days. I thought these events were originally meant for “the common man,” with the rich folk patronizing the opera and ballet.

  7. The beautiful thing about the free enterprise system is that it works. Fans are voicing their displeasure with outrageous ticket prices by staying away in droves. But, owners are stuck between a rock and a hard place: how to field a competitive team that will attract fans AND still be able to afford the sky-high salary demands of the A-Rod types that abound in MLB.