Blame baseball, not younger people's short attention spans, for the decline of baseball
Dear everyone: Stop blaming distracted, short-attention-span, video-game-playing, soccer-loving "young people" for what ails baseball in the 2020s.
It’s overly convenient, it’s short-sighted and it’s wrong.
Baby Boomers are supposed to complain about millennials and Gen-Z types, but this Baby Boomer is here to complain about people complaining about them.
There is no point in naming names of media members guilty of this because it covers pretty much everyone who has spoken or written about the topic over the past 20 years.
But my most recent pet peeve trigger came from a long, interesting piece by ESPN on the Major League Baseball lockout that included this sentence almost in passing: "There is ample room for improvement to the sport itself, which has grown too plodding for a wide swath of young, would-be fans who regard it as slow and boring."
That is a narrow interpretation for a game in need of a complete overhaul. Hello! It has grown too plodding for a wide swath of old, would-be fans who regard it as slow and boring.
I recently became a 61-year-old man, further cementing my status as a baseball fan demographic sweet spot stereotype, complete with growing up in the New York area with the 1969 Mets as my earliest sports memory.
Long Beach’s own Billy Crystal once even named an HBO movie after me. Sort of.
Maybe the asterisk in "61*" was to note that as a sportswriter, I am not a typical sports fan. Fair enough. But I do know many normal 61-year-old sports fans and can speak for most of them when I say this:
Some sports are better than they were in the 20th century. Hockey is a far more entertaining game now. Some are just different. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of taste. Football and basketball fall into that category.
Baseball, indisputably, is an inferior product to what it was at any time in its first 150 years, an endless parade of strikeouts and walks interrupted by the occasional Aaron Judge or Pete Alonso dinger.
First rule change suggestion: Start Judge on a 3-and-2 count before every at-bat rather than wasting time as he inevitably gets there. (Actually, he has done so in 22.3% of his career plate appearances, the highest percentage of any of the 12 possible pitch counts. It only seems like 92.3%.)
Even when I was young, there were those who considered baseball too slow. But games from the 1970s seem like drag races compared to the 2020s version.
Mike Hargrove used to be known as "The Human Rain Delay" because of his elaborate between-pitches routine. Today every at-bat feels like a rain delay.
Sure, many people young and old still "follow" baseball via highlights, statistics, articles, betting opportunities and such, but who is sitting through entire games? I know these people exist, but I have not met them.
The default assumption is that they are older folks, and maybe that is so on a relative basis. But again: If baseball thinks the modern game is flawed only as it pertains to attracting young fans, it is misguided.
Of course, the lockout is more about economics than the mechanics of the game. Money matters must be settled before pitch clocks and banning shifts can be.
But the failure to settle the labor dispute before Opening Day was erased has led to broader discussions about what ails the sport. It all is tied together.
Most American sports fans are less upset about the lockout than baseball would like them to be, and part of that is because of a lack of interest in the game itself.
Blaming video games or youthful ennui or whatever people say is keeping sports fans under 61 away from the sport is a crutch.
Baseball’s decline is not the fault of young people. It is the fault of baseball.