I first heard about the death of baseball one night last December. A friend of mine, a syndicated sports columnist, called me after seven o’clock and broke the news. “Hey,” he said, “have you seen the crowds at the Jets’ games lately? Unbelievable! It’s exactly like the old days at Ebbets Field. Pro football is the thing, from now on. Baseball is ﬁnished in this country. Dead.” He sounded so sure of himself that I almost looked for the obituary in the Times the next morning. (“Pastime, National, 99; after a Lingering illness. Remains on View at Cooperstown, N.Y.”) Though somewhat exaggerated, my friend’s prediction proved to be a highly popular one. In the next three or four months, the negative prognosis was conﬁrmed by resident diagnosticians representing most of the daily press, the magazines, and the networks, and even by some foreign specialists from clinics like the New Republic and the Wall Street Journal. All visited the bedside and came away shaking their heads. Baseball was sinking. Even if the old gent made it through until April and the warmer weather, his expectations were minimal—lonely wheelchair afternoons on the back porch, gruel and antibiotics, and the sad little overexcitement of his one-hundredth birthday in July. I haven’t run into my dour friend at any ball games this summer, but I doubt whether the heavy crowds and noisy excitement of the current season, which is now well into its second half, would change his mind. The idea of the imminent demise of baseball has caught on, and those who cling to it (and they are numerous) seem to have their eyes on the runes instead of that leaping corpse. This new folk belief centers on the new folk word “image.” Baseball, the argument goes, has a bad image. The game is too slow and too private, and offers too little action for a society increasingly attached to violence, suddenness, and mass movement. Baseball is cerebral and unemotional; the other, growing professional sports, most notably pro football, are dense, quick, complex, dangerous, and perpetually stimulating. Statistics are then cited, pointing out the two-year decline in baseball attendance, as against the permanent hot-ticket status now enjoyed by football. (Last year, the National Football League played to 87 per cent of capacity in its regular season.) A recent Harris poll is quoted, which showed football supplanting baseball for the first time as the favorite American sport. The poll, which was taken last winter, indicated that football appeals most to high-income groups and to those between thirty-ﬁve and forty-nine years old, while baseball still comes first with old people, low-income groups, and Negroes. Bad, bad image.books.
The first pitch of the 2015 season is days away. The game's vital signs will be interpreted widely, by professionals, quacks, and the loud guy in the bar. Baseball will make a fist, get up, do just fine.