**My opinions in this post concern the four American spectator sports of baseball, basketball, football and hockey**
Wow, the NYT lifted its paywall for this article. That must mean they desire maximum communal seepage. Undoubtedly what they wrote is of critical cultural importance. And a small bit of extreme kowtowing to the predominant social narrative.
Baseball, for all its storied past, no longer occupies a central role in the national consciousness, based on measures like game attendance in recent years and social media relevance. By now, the reasons are familiar: The game competes with myriad sports and entertainment options that did not exist decades ago, and the methodical pace of play alienates some potential fans.
But just as concerning for the game is that many young people believe it is not cool — that it is the exclusive domain of nostalgic old men and data geeks. And a big reason is its tenuous relationship with the audience that, for generations, has helped define what cool is.
Students of American culture know that since the early Jazz Age much of what has been considered “cool” and “hip” — including those very words — traced back to Black creators and tastemakers in fashion, literature and music, including jazz, soul and hip-hop.
Jazz musicians of the 1940s and ’50s adored baseball. Today’s hip-hop stars tend to prefer basketball and football.
“The idea that Black is cool, right up through hip-hop culture and fashion, is such an integral part of our American culture, and what is cool to youth culture,” said Matthew Briones, an associate professor of American history at the University of Chicago who specializes in African American culture and baseball history. “It’s a problem if you are not able to get a more diverse and younger audience.”
That is important to M.L.B. because baseball has steadily lost its appeal to many Black Americans, who do not see as many Black players on the field as they did years ago.
A lot of words to say what I wrote recently:
The dearth of American blacks in baseball is an artifact of that culture’s social mores and priorities. Baseball has lost its luster with American black culture which has simultaneously embraced glorification and kinship with American ghetto culture.
The NBA and NFL, redolent with urban misfit mentality, are to the go-to romanticized vehicles of athletic thuggery. The MLB, not so much, but MLB easily finds other groups of color to fill the void.
The Times is fooling itself, as are many involved, if they choose to wield this narrative as something to be remedied.
Baseball’s inherent nature is not cool. It never has been. It is not flashy, doesn’t have the potential to be flashy, especially in today’s real-time environment which has been turbocharged by technology. Instant results and instant action are the cultural motifs which sway our expectations. Baseball, no matter how many time-clocks and updated rules are instituted, is innately a slow, tedious, mindful sport. Required is a “special viewer” for it to be fully appreciated and today’s culture does not abound in those. The special viewers have been neutralized by social media and instant celebrity-zation of the stupid and facile. Baseball has never been cool and that is one reason for my adoration of the game. It is slow, methodical and thoughtful whereas other sports are impulsive and superficial. Basketball and football were the jock sports for intellectually and emotionally bankrupt classmates when I was growing up.
Baseball’s looming irrelevance in the cyber era is not a function of race, but the instant gratification paradigm in today’s environment is a function of America. It’s a function of class. And a function of mind. American Black culture is the parakeet in the coal mine of our social structure, and it is the most susceptible to the evolving cultural dynamic initiated by the preponderance of instant social media and its immediacy of digital rewards. The baseball fans of today are the special viewers who buck the common narrative of digital modernity. Not mired in impatience or the artifice of instant gratification, the baseball fan of 2021 is an archaic legacy of a pre-digital world that moved at a slower pace and was suffused with humbler expectations of society’s feedback loop.
In order to “fix” baseball’s putative race problem, the sport needs to address its greatest problem of all: a schism with the collective mentality and affect of modern society. A sport which is laid out in a multidimensional array of incongruous playing field markers is the antithesis, physically and spiritually, to playing fields arranged in boxy rectangular shapes demarcated by 2-dimensional end points. Such a rudimentary dimensional layout creates a rapid-fire flow of reactive binary action that sates the most impatient of modern minds. Baseball demands the most mental interaction, something which places it at odds with mainstream society which demands it least.
The rectangular sports require the least investment for visceral payout; they are groomed to succeed in a world where humanity seeks seamless sensory dividends while devoting less intellectually or cognitively.
The word “ghetto” as I used it is not a racial description as many of the sensitariat would whine. “Ghetto” is a state of reduced mind requiring minimal levels of mindfulness and involvement – all our world offers us in abundance. If baseball shrunk its playing field to 2 bases and 1 field (Right, Center or Left, but not all 3) and did away with the archaic diamond concept, it might find a niche in the mind of the modern spectator. In other words, baseball needs to cease being baseball in order to cultivate the “cool” vibe that is so valuable to our economy of consumption and accessibility.
To be anti-cool is to be anti-modern and pro-tradition; essentially the tension between popularity and obscurity.