Hot! Commentary: Despite Revitalization, Baseball Lags Behind the NFL in Our Hearts

This articled was originally posted on Oct. 26, 2012

It is Monday evening on the first day of October, a month traditionally dominated by baseball, and I am watching the Yankees pummel the Red Sox, 9-1. CC Sabathia is cruising, the Bombers just bashed four home runs in one inning, and New York is tied with the Orioles in the final stretch of an exciting race for the division crown. In other words, this is about as good as it gets for regular season baseball. So, I should be glued to the game, right? Not quite.

Earlier that afternoon, as my father was getting ready to leave the house to go to Yankee Stadium, I decided to tell him about this strange feeling I had recently begun to develop. I admit to him that my interest in baseball has greatly diminished in the past year, probably due to the fact that I just can’t get enough of the National Football League.

In my home, such an admission is not quite sacrilege, but it’s close. My family has had season tickets to The Stadium since 1999. Catania’s by default are huge Yankee fans. This year was special for my dad because with him in attendance in the Bronx, the team’s record was 18-1 (a whopping .947 winning percentage). Moreover, he is a baseball traditionalist — heck, I probably would be too if I had grown up on Mantle, Ford and Berra — so my honesty does not amuse him. As he walks out the door, he responds, in classic angry-father tone, “I raised you to be a Yankee fan, you had better be interested in them!”

– – –

This particular Monday night served as a perfect microcosm of my shifting fan-scape. I start to watch the Yankee game, but I cannot stop myself from flipping to Monday Night Football. The Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys are currently locked in a scoreless matchup of two NFL teams in which I have no rooting interest, no fantasy starters, and no good reason to watch. But I watch anyway. Not even a home run derby-like effort by my beloved Yankees can pull me away for long. Like a Patrick Willis tackle, it hits me. I am head over heels for the NFL, a sport of big hits, big scores and, mercifully, a set amount of time between plays.

Baseball, on the other hand, is losing me. And I would bet it is losing you, too. It is too often a snooze-fest, bogged down by pitchers taking too long between pitches, batters stepping out six times per at-bat, too many coaching visits and pitching changes. There is a seventh-inning stretch for Pete’s sake! Scratch it already, would you? Just get me out of here already.

While I am relieved to see the game has recovered from the steroid era, I fear that the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction. Batting averages are way down. Pitchers are throwing no-hitters at record pace. Some base-runners have even begun doing this thing where they wait for the pitcher to start his delivery to the plate before they sprint to the next bag. I think it’s called — and I hope I’m spelling this correctly — a “stolen base.” Never saw Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa do one of those.

It also strikes me that my growing disinterest with baseball is not without its irony. A prolonged examination of the big picture of sports has clued me in on something I had not really noticed before. Baseball has undergone a tremendous revitalization over the last few seasons. After two decades of incredible highs and lows, Major League Baseball has righted the ship and is now the most stable sport in America. Thanks to a little acceptance of modernity and some commendable adaptation, the sport is more popular than ever by the numbers. It has garnered lucrative television contracts (team-based cable channels in some cases) and ticket sales are through the roof. The league and the players union have come a long way in cleaning up the sport after the steroid era. Home runs and hitting have come back down to earth after more than a decade of stratospheric numbers. The new testing system, which includes a test for HGH, is working. The commissioner’s office has even approved the adoption of some replay technology to finally bring umpiring out of the stone age and not a moment to soon. There is peace between the players and owners, as “the negotiating path to baseball’s new labor deal might have been the smoothest ever.” It may even be in a new golden age.

It just can be hard to see sometimes. Under close scrutiny, it becomes obvious that baseball has been rejuvenated. But has it yet earned mainstream acknowledgement? I think the answer to that question is a clear no. In this 24/7 digital go-go age that we live in, where SportsCenter highlights now include athletes’ tweets (don’t worry, I’ll get to that in a minute), it can be difficult to step back and see the big picture because the new episode of Honey Boo Boo or some other completely vapid parcel of popular culture is on. Or, like me, the media and fans have refused to notice because they are also distracted by Brian Urlacher completely blowing up some poor Cowboys running back. Football is so popular, it is getting in the way of some recognition for baseball.

– – –

LeBron James, meanwhile, just complimented the Cowboys on Twitter, praising them for scoring before the half. I only know this because there is a break in the action on the field and MNF announcers Mike Tirico and John Gruden are not only showing James’ tweet to a national audience, they are analyzing his analysis. In a truly wretched piece of eye-roll worthy coverage, SportsCenter the next day ran an entire highlight of the football game (which, oh by the way, Chicago won, 34-18) featuring the competing tweets of James and his Heat teammate and Chicago native, Dwyane Wade. Seriously, ESPN? If you think that is newsworthy, than at least compensate us with this as consolation.

Regardless, the mere fact that LeBron James, the reigning king of American sports, is commenting publicly about Monday Night Football helps support my claim. He is not watching baseball and the Yankees, instead his attention is firmly devoted to the football game. A naysayer might argue that James is a Cowboys fan. That is true. But he is also a high-profile Yankees fan. He must have made at least one reference to the Bronx Bombers, right? In the end, James posted a grand total of eight tweets about the football game and zero relating to baseball. That measure is as good a barometer of my point as any.

Rookie outfielder Melky Mesa just hit a lazy line drive up the middle for his first big-league hit, putting the Yanks up, 10-2 in the baseball game. Simultaneously, in the football game, Dez Bryant missed the hot read on a Bears blitz causing Tony Romo’s pass to be intercepted and returned for a defensive touchdown. Which of those sentences was more interesting to you? Which play would you rather watch? If your answer is the baseball one, you might want to check your pulse.

During baseball’s faux-cendency, the NFL has diverted our attention by offering a frenzy of interesting narratives. These range from the rise of the super-quarterback to another unlikely Giants Superbowl victory over the Patriots. Even now, we are all buzzing over last Sunday’s last minute comeback victory nearly delivered by Robert Griffin III, then — in finality — by Eli Manning.

Baseball, compared to the NFL, has no attitude and little sex appeal. Suddenly, I think I am starting to understand why women tend to go for the dangerous bad boy with the mean streak instead of the nerdy gentleman and his 401k.

And I know I’m not alone. Several of my friends have confided in me that baseball bores them too. Usually, such an admission is closely followed by some guilt and a conversation about football. If there was a poll of American sports fans, I have no doubt that many of them would agree with the statement that baseball is unable to hold their attention for long and that football is the most entertaining sport in the United States.

I will not go so far as to say that baseball is boring, but despite expansion of the playoffs, the only true labor peace in sports, parity of competition and the return of purity to the game, Major League Baseball just does not hold a candle to the National Football League’s lofty position in the 21st century American zeitgeist.

I know that as a New York Yankees fan I really shouldn’t complain. I recognize that I have been spoiled rotten with a great Yankee diet of Jeter, Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and five championships. But, unlike my father, I am no traditionalist. Other than the pair of games I attended this summer, I did not sit through and watch an entire baseball game this season. This was the best thing I saw any Yankee do all year. In 2009, I watched through at least one-third of the Yankee’s games, culminating with the dramatic World Series victory over Philadelphia. I now wonder just how deep my love of baseball goes. I fear that the results of my own personal Richter Scale would show that baseball’s time at the epicenter of my fandom is in decline. It is being drowned out by the pounding excitement of football.

An NFL critic might say that football is not so great, that it is recovering from its laughable decision to replace its referees with overwhelmed amateurs through the first three weeks of the season. Be that as it may, the people still watched in record numbers. Yes, the relationship between the NFL’s owners and players is at an all-time low, but fans love a good battle, so they’ll tune in. Commissioner Roger Goodell has too much power, sure, but he’s younger and more powerful than his befuddling MLB counterpart, the appropriately named, “Bud” Selig.

Heck, even football’s acronym is cooler and more authoritative than baseball’s: THE NFL vs. MLB. I can do this all day.

Certainly, some things in football’s universe are far from hunky-dory. The level of violence in the sport is alarming at times. The Saint’s bounty scandal and the revelations of life-shortening brain damage from years of head trauma has indeed placed a dark cloud over the sport. These are real tragedies that deserve our attention and should be remembered moving forward. But for now, America remains devoted to its national bloodsport. Violence be damned, we just can’t get enough football. I firmly believe that it has become highly representative of the modern American story.

From Real Housewives to politics, our culture is now defined by obstinance and confrontation, making it only natural for us to love a good goal-line stand.

Baseball, meanwhile, is an afterthought. Football, like LeBron, is king. Or the prettiest girl at the dance. Never mind…shhh! Brandon Marshall just broke a tackle…

4 Comments

  1. youre talking about in terms of watchin on tv, but wouldnt u say that sitting in the stands is where baseball really can differentiate itself? Granted ive attended hardly any football games, but being at a baseball field has a certain unique magic to it. The possibility of catching a foul ball, the sound of a bat on ball, the chants, the proximity to the field. Baseball is koo bro.

  2. Creo que todas tenemos "nuestra basura preferida", yo lo que siempre guardo pensando que algun dia lo ocuparé son las botellas de vidrio de jugos del valle,las etiquetas de la ropa que al igual que algunas de ustedes nunca las eh utilizadoo jaja, estaba empezando a guardar las cartones de leche jaja pero hasta que un dia me preguntee. En verdad las vas a ocupar? Jajaja y mejor decidi tirarlas 😀 jaja BUEN POST!!!!!

  3. Have the bike back together–had a few more pieces chromed–heard from John about a ride–whats up with the rest of you–no one rides–drop a line or give me a call–my # is on the contact page–King Rat

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