McDonnell: What’s the future of America’s pastime?

From Jason Hollander at New York University on October 27, 2015, with SABR member Wayne McDonnell Jr.:

They called the old Yankee Stadium a “cathedral.” The titular character in Casey at the Bat is one of America’s enduring poetic figures. Films such as The Natural and Field of Dreams imply that magic thrives within the diamond. And even NYU President John Sexton wrote a book called Baseball as a Road to God.

It’s a lot of pressure for a sport that has been, frankly, limping a bit over the past decade. Between TV ratings in decline (the World Series attracted 36.3 million viewers in 1986 compared to 13.8 million in 2014) and fending off competition from the likes of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, English Premier League, and even NBC’s American Ninja Warrior—baseball finds itself a “pastime” among upstarts. Factor in the rise of online gaming, LeBron James, Inc., March Madness, and the dominance of “America’s Game,” otherwise known as the NFL, and baseball could be excused for feeling like a quiet bistro trying to attract customers along the Las Vegas Strip.

But it’s the unapologetically deliberate, slow-cook nature of the game that still lures fans willing to let drama unfold on its own terms (unlike those thirsting for the instant gratification of a 16-second Ronda Rousey fight). There’s a sense of timelessness induced by an afternoon spent staring at fresh-mown grass and debating the strike zone. And as one of the few sports without a ticking clock, baseball almost forces fans to sit back, settle in, and be transported—to childhood memories, perhaps, or even just those lazy days when there was no Twitter feed to tend to.

On the occasion of the New York Mets in hot pursuit of their first World Series title in nearly three decades, we asked resident expert Wayne McDonnell—academic chair of the Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media, and Business, who played and coached at Iona Prep, was co-owner and manager of the semi-pro New Rochelle Rockies, and now writes about the business of baseball for Forbes —to assess the state of this game, first played just a few miles west, in Hoboken, back in 1846.

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Originally published: November 3, 2015. Last Updated: November 3, 2015.