Baseball - Popularity and Cultural Impact

Popularity and Cultural Impact

Writing in 1919, philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen described baseball as America's national religion. In the words of sports columnist Jayson Stark, baseball has long been "a unique paragon of American culture"—a status he sees as devastated by the steroid abuse scandal. Baseball has an important place in other national cultures as well: Scholar Peter Bjarkman describes "how deeply the sport is ingrained in the history and culture of a nation such as Cuba, how thoroughly it was radically reshaped and nativized in Japan." Since the early 1980s, the Dominican Republic, in particular the city of San Pedro de Macorís, has been the major leagues' primary source of foreign talent. Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente remains one of the greatest national heroes in Puerto Rico's history. While baseball has long been the island's primary athletic pastime, its once well-attended professional winter league has declined in popularity since 1990, when young Puerto Rican players began to be included in the major leagues' annual first-year player draft. In the Western Hemisphere, baseball is also one of the leading sports in Canada, Colombia, Mexico, the Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela. In Asia, it is among the most popular sports in South Korea and Taiwan.

The major league game in the United States was originally targeted toward a middle-class, white-collar audience: relative to other spectator pastimes, the National League's set ticket price of 50 cents in 1876 was high, while the location of playing fields outside the inner city and the workweek daytime scheduling of games were also obstacles to a blue-collar audience. A century later, the situation was very different. With the rise in popularity of other team sports with much higher average ticket prices—football, basketball, and hockey—professional baseball had become among the most blue-collar-oriented of leading American spectator sports.

In the late 1900s and early 2000s, baseball's position compared to football in the United States moved in contradictory directions. In 2008, Major League Baseball set a revenue record of $6.5 billion, matching the NFL's revenue for the first time in decades. A new MLB revenue record of $6.6 billion was set in 2009. On the other hand, the percentage of American sports fans polled who named baseball as their favorite sport was 16%, compared to pro football at 31%. In 1985, the respective figures were pro football 24%, baseball 23%. Because there are so many more major league baseball games played, there is no comparison in overall attendance. In 2008, total attendance at major league games was the second-highest in history: 78.6 million, 0.7% off the record set the previous year. The following year, amid the U.S. recession, attendance fell by 6.6% to 73.4 million. Attendance at games held under the Minor League Baseball umbrella also set a record in 2007, with 42.8 million; this figure does not include attendance at games of the several independent minor leagues.

In Japan, where baseball is inarguably the leading spectator team sport, combined revenue for the twelve teams in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the body that oversees both the Central and Pacific leagues, was estimated at $1 billion in 2007. Total NPB attendance for the year was approximately 20 million. While in the preceding two decades, MLB attendance grew by 50 percent and revenue nearly tripled, the comparable NPB figures were stagnant. There are concerns that MLB's growing interest in acquiring star Japanese players will hurt the game in their home country. In Cuba, where baseball is by every reckoning the national sport, the national team overshadows the city and provincial teams that play in the top-level domestic leagues. Revenue figures are not released for the country's amateur system. Similarly, according to one official pronouncement, the sport's governing authority "has never taken into account attendance ... because its greatest interest has always been the development of athletes".

As of 2007, Little League Baseball oversees more than 7,000 children's baseball leagues with more than 2.2 million participants—2.1 million in the United States and 123,000 in other countries. Babe Ruth League teams have over 1 million participants. According to the president of the International Baseball Federation, between 300,000 and 500,000 women and girls play baseball around the world, including Little League and the introductory game of Tee Ball.

A varsity baseball team is an established part of physical education departments at most high schools and colleges in the United States. In 2008, nearly half a million high schoolers and over 35,000 collegians played on their schools' baseball teams. The number of Americans participating in baseball has declined since the late 1980s, falling well behind the number of soccer participants. By early in the 20th century, intercollegiate baseball was Japan's leading sport. Today, high school baseball in particular is immensely popular there. The final rounds of the two annual tournaments—the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament in the spring, and the even more important National High School Baseball Championship in the summer—are broadcast around the country. The tournaments are known, respectively, as Spring Koshien and Summer Koshien after the 55,000-capacity stadium where they are played. In Cuba, baseball is a mandatory part of the state system of physical education, which begins at age six. Talented children as young as seven are sent to special district schools for more intensive training—the first step on a ladder whose acme is the national baseball team.

Read more about this topic:  Baseball

Famous quotes containing the words popularity and, popularity, cultural and/or impact:

    A large part of the popularity and persuasiveness of psychology comes from its being a sublimated spiritualism: a secular, ostensibly scientific way of affirming the primacy of “spirit” over matter.
    Susan Sontag (b. 1933)

    A large part of the popularity and persuasiveness of psychology comes from its being a sublimated spiritualism: a secular, ostensibly scientific way of affirming the primacy of “spirit” over matter.
    Susan Sontag (b. 1933)

    The rumor of a great city goes out beyond its borders, to all the latitudes of the known earth. The city becomes an emblem in remote minds; apart from the tangible export of goods and men, it exerts its cultural instrumentality in a thousand phases.
    In New York City, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943)

    One can describe a landscape in many different words and sentences, but one would not normally cut up a picture of a landscape and rearrange it in different patterns in order to describe it in different ways. Because a photograph is not composed of discrete units strung out in a linear row of meaningful pieces, we do not understand it by looking at one element after another in a set sequence. The photograph is understood in one act of seeing; it is perceived in a gestalt.
    Joshua Meyrowitz, U.S. educator, media critic. “The Blurring of Public and Private Behaviors,” No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior, Oxford University Press (1985)