...a potent blend of Miss Manners and Batman

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Demise of Baseball

Last night one of my granddaughters asked me to explain an old photo. It featured me and her grandmother smiling next to a tall man in a uniform from the "California Angels," before that team became the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," which was a few decades before they became known as "that old base-ball team that used to play near San Angeles, CA." My grand-daughter had never heard of baseball.

"Gertrude," I asked, "Do you have a few minutes for a story?" She obliged by tapping her arm to turn off her i-Skin, but I waited until she had pressed her temples firmly to turn off her internal speakers. Then I began.

I asked if she knew that there were four major sports.

"Sure," she replied. "Football, basketball, soccer, and Nascar."

"Well," I told her, "it used to be baseball, football, basketball, and hockey."

"Hockey? You've got to be kidding," she said. "Wait, was this before basketball went co-ed?"

I explained how hockey had died a natural death after people no longer understood the concept of ice or winter. On her recent trip to the Albert Gore Presidential Museum, she had seen old 2-D photos of snow, so this part made sense to her. But explaining the death of baseball was another matter.

"Ok, it went like this, Gerty. You see, back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, a baseball player sued baseball for the right to be a free agent. That meant he could negotiate his own salary with whatever team wanted to pay him the most."

"Like school teachers," said Gertrude.

"Right. And the players had a union that fought for their rights," I explained.

"Like babysitters."

"Right. And the team owners got caught trying to keep the players' salaries low, and they had to pay the players for all the money they had been cheated out of. It was $280 million, which was a lot back then." Gertrude's raised eyebrow told me she had a hard time believing that. I continued:

"So the team owners had to give players bigger and bigger salaries to try to get the best players on their teams. This forced them to raise more money, and pretty soon they had to raise ticket prices so that only the rich could afford to go to a game. A family of five, like mine, might have to pay two or three hundred dollars to see a game. Maybe even $500, including parking, food, and a few toys."

"That's my allowance."

"Really? Well, that was a lot back then -- as much as some people earned in a week." Gertrude was speechless.

"To make matters worse, baseball started putting all of its most exciting games on only after kids had gone to bed."

"Why? Was it for mature audiences?" Gertrude had received an old DVD player for Solstice, and her parents, whose own parents were quite permissive, had shown her their favorite old South Park episodes.

"No, it was supposed to be for the whole family. But tv commercials...."

"I've heard of those. Go on."

I continued: "These commercials paid more when the games were on later. So baseball made a lot of money for a decade or two, but then the grown-ups got interested in other things, and the kids who had been asleep during those exciting games got caught up in other sports, like soccer and Nascar."

"I like those sports because women can play on the same teams."

"Yeah, baseball never found a way to include women, even as umpires. Even football made rules that 2 women had to be on the field at all times. It also didn't help that the average baseball game was three hours long."

"Well, that's not so long."

"This was before the water was adderalized. It was hard for most people to pay attention that long."


"So pretty soon, no one cared about baseball, and the sport just kind of died."

"I guess that's kind of sad, but they had it coming, didn't they?"

"Yes, they certainly did," I said. That Gerty is a pretty smart kid.

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