Whether we’re talking about LOS ANGELES ANGELS Center Fielder MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES DODGERS Pitcher CLAYTON KERSHAW, or, MIAMI MARLINS Right Fielder GIANCARLO STANTON, baseball’s pool of young talent just doesn’t captivate fans like the stars of football and basketball.
From a financial point of view, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (MLB) is doing just fine.
Overall ballpark attendance is up. According to Forbes, the average value of a major-league team jumped nearly 50 percent between 2014 and 2015, and last season the league’s annual overall revenue approached a record $9.5 billion.
As a sport, the cultural relevance of BASEBALL has been in a steady decline.
Doomsday prophets point to the N.F.L.’s dominant TV ratings, the advancing age of baseball’s core fans — the median age of baseball’s TV audience is 56; basketball’s is 41 — and the hordes of young acolytes who bury their heads in their phones to watch Vines of Steph Curry’s nimble acrobatics. Social-media metrics aren’t gospel, of course, but baseball measures up badly on virtually every online barometer, whether Twitter trends, Facebook activity or Instagram posts. Aside from some New York-related blips, World Series ratings have been steadily decreasing for the last 20 years.
In 1994, Buck Showalter, then the manager of the Yankees, complained about the way the Seattle Mariners’ star player, Ken Griffey Jr., wore his hat backward and his “shirttails” untucked.
BUCK SHOWALTER said that KEN GRIFFEY and his attire...
"showed a lack of respect for the game.”
KEN GRIFFEY Jr. (KGJ) said BUCK SHOWALTER was jealous:
“because he doesn’t have a 24-year-old who can carry my jock,"
The Griffey showdown was one in a long line of coded racial arguments, minor battles between two types: the “standard” white player and his nonwhite foil. The archetype of the white baseball player has always been a study in negative space. He does not flip his bat after home runs. He does not insult the hard-working fans with talk about politics. He never takes more than one day at a time. As a result, he cannot exist without a foil to embody all those “flashy” or “hotheaded” or “provocative” things he is not. The foils, of course, have generally been black. But as the demographics of the sport have changed, so, too, has this dynamic.
Last year, BLACK PLAYERS made up just over 8 percent of big-league rosters, down more than 50 percent from 1981.
Analysts have been searching for an explanation. Some argue that baseball’s retrograde culture and traditions no longer appeal to inner-city youth who have been mesmerized by the speed of basketball and football. Others focus, far more convincingly, on the rising expenses of youth baseball programs and the relative dearth of scholarships offered by college baseball programs: According to a report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, black players made up only 2.9 percent of Division I college baseball teams in 2014-2015.
The decline in black faces in the Major Leagues coincided with a surge in LATINO PLAYERS, who made up roughly 30 percent of rosters last year.
But rather than embrace and promote its Spanish-speaking stars, baseball’s media have mostly ignored them. Even the Latino players who were ultimately celebrated and enshrined in the Hall of Fame have had to go through humiliating acculturations to make them seem more American. For example, the press insisted on referring to Roberto Clemente as Bob or Bobby, something he hated. Vladimir Guerrero, the Clemente of the aughts, who hit and threw with a balletic violence, seemed to go through his entire career without a single memorable interview or profile.
This past October, José Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays emphatically flung his bat up the first base line after hitting a dramatic, late-inning home run in the playoffs, an outburst that shot into every corner of social media. Bautista almost seemed to be staking out new turf in what was considered acceptable — it was the most unapologetic bat flip I can recall seeing in the Major Leagues — and so, predictably, it generated controversy.
Nearly five months later, BASEBALL HALL Of FAME Pitcher RICHARD GOOSE GOSSAGE said, Bautista is a [expletive] disgrace to the game. He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him.”
In November, JOSE BAUTISTA published an article titled “Are You Flipping Kidding Me?” on the website The Players’ Tribune, in which he wrote about the bad faith of the media toward Latino players, the fact that their celebrating was seen as unsportsmanlike and how the pressure to play by “country club” rules chafed. “Baseball is a metaphor for America,” Bautista wrote. “It’s a giant melting pot made up of people from all over the world and all walks of life. How can you expect everybody to be exactly the same? Act exactly the same? More importantly, why would you want them to?”
NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE Journalist JAY CASPIAN KANG has the full 9 innings on the GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME and The UNBEARABLE WHITENESS Of BASEBALL.