(Oct. 22) Major League Baseball is now into its World Series, but the recent string of deaths of baseball Hall of Famers reminds middle-aged fans that the game’s hold on the culture has diminished.

In six weeks beginning on Aug. 31, we saw the deaths of three of the 10 best pitchers of the 100-year live-ball era (Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and Whitey Ford) and that of the second-best (and single-most influential) base stealer ever, Lou Brock, along with Joe Morgan, who some top analysts consider the all-time greatest second baseman.

In their heydays, Seaver, Gibson, Ford, Brock, and Morgan enjoyed an exalted status in the broader culture that few of today’s superstars can match. Even today, Brock’s name is recognized by more people in the United States, 44%, than the best current player (statistically, at least), Mike Trout, who in his prime was recognized by just 42%. Seaver’s name is recognized by 58%.

Do any internet search of “baseball’s popularity,” and you’ll find dozens of stories, statistics, and polls attesting to its fall into a sort of second-class sports status, with only an occasional analysis insisting that a deeper dive into the numbers shows a smaller decline. As a “favorite” sport, indeed, baseball has sunk almost to the low level of soccer.

A year ago, the New York Times featured an interesting analysis of the situation, and one conclusion was particularly instructive. As televised baseball has become almost ubiquitous, its fan base has become ever more segmented and localized. If you’re in, say, Denver, and your Rockies are on the tube six days a week, you are much less likely to pay attention to Trout’s exploits for a weak Los Angeles Angels team….

[To read the rest of this column, which ran in the print edition of The Washington Examiner magazine, please follow this link.]


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