4/21: More Than One-Third Believes Decline in African American Baseball Players is a Concern… Race Factors into Perceptions of Baseball
More than one in three Americans considers the decline in African American players in Major League Baseball to be a problem. This includes about one in eight who thinks the decline to be a major issue.
Looking at Americans’ perceptions of baseball, only about one in seven thinks of it as the most popular sport for children to play. Football, 35%, and soccer, 28%, exceed baseball. Racial differences exist. White Americans, 15%, are more than twice as likely as African Americans, 6%, to say baseball is the leading sport in which children participate. Still, baseball places third among whites, in terms of popularity, and fourth among African Americans.
Why aren’t children playing baseball? Finances are a factor. More than six in ten Americans, 63%, say the cost of playing in top travel leagues is, at least, part of the reason. Additionally, 47% say the equipment is too expensive, and that is, at least, a partial explanation.
Americans wax nostalgic about the sport. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, including a majority of African Americans played baseball as a child. And, baseball, 33%, also ranks first as the sport Americans would like to play with their son. However, while the sport tops the list for white Americans, it comes in fourth among African Americans.
Americans view baseball positively. Most, 83%, consider it a sport which is rich in tradition and not too old-fashioned. Nearly three in four Americans, 74%, call baseball “cool” as opposed to “not cool.” And, nearly six in ten, 59%, say the sport is changing with the times and is not stuck in the past. However, residents divide about baseball’s level of excitement.
Despite Americans’ mostly favorable impressions of the sport, baseball isn’t a major topic around the watercooler. Only 31% say people talk about or follow the sport a lot during baseball season. African Americans are the least likely to keep up with the sport.
This HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll has been conducted in conjunction with the Marist College Center for Sports Communication
“These results help explain what we all suspect — that baseball lags behind other sporting pastimes for American youth, particularly for African-Americans,” says Keith Strudler, Director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication. “What could be most problematic for baseball officials is that changing the nature of the game may not alter this trend, since the larger impediment is cost, something that will be more difficult to drastically change.”
- 35% of Americans, including 12% who say it is a major problem, think the decline in the number of African American and black, non-Latino Major League Baseball players is troublesome. 65% believe it is not a problem at all.
- Age matters. Americans under 45, 41%, think the proportion of African American and black baseball players is a problem. 31% of those who are older agree.
- 49% of African Americans compared with 34% of whites report the decline is a problem.
Few Americans Think Baseball is Popular Sport among Children
- 15% of Americans consider baseball to be the most popular team sport for children to play followed closely by basketball, 14%. Football, 35%, and soccer, 28%, surpass baseball on the list.
- Racial differences exist. Among whites, 37%, and Latinos, 34%, football is the sport most children play. Soccer comes in second among whites, 32%, and Latinos, 31%. Among African Americans, 41% say children in their community play basketball, and 33% cite football.
- A plurality of men, 39%, considers football to be the most popular sport played by children. Among women, 32% choose football, and a similar proportion, 30%, select soccer.
- Cost factors into perceptions of why some children do not play baseball. More than six in ten residents, 63%, think, at least, part of the reason is because it costs too much to play in top travel leagues. Close to one in five, 18%, say it is the main reason. 37% report it is not a reason at all.
- While a majority of Americans, 53%, reports the cost of equipment is not a factor at all, 47% think children are not stepping up to the plate, partially, because of the expense. A majority of non-white parents, 55%, reports the cost of baseball equipment has, at least, something to do with why some children don’t play the sport, while a majority of white parents, 45%, says it’s not a reason at all.
- There is a perception by 40% of residents that, at least in part, children are not taking up America’s pastime because too many children are needed to play the game. 60% say it is no reason at all.
- 40% believe the length of the game has something to do with why children don’t gravitate toward the game of baseball. Nearly half of African Americans, 47%, say the same.
- About one-third of residents, 33%, thinks baseball takes too much skill, and that factors into why some children do not play the game.
- 32% of Americans believe lack of a nearby ball field is, at least, part of the reason children are not playing baseball. 68% report it is no reason at all. African Americans, 47%, are more likely than Latinos, 36%, and whites, 28%, to think not having a place nearby to play is a reason children don’t play baseball. In fact, close to one in five African American residents, 18%, thinks this is the main reason.
- 31% say not knowing the rules is, at least, part of the reason why some children do not play baseball. 69% report this is not a reason at all. 41% of African Americans, including one in ten who report it is the main reason, attribute not understanding the game as a factor in why some children do not play the sport.
- 31% of adults nationally believe, at least, part of the reason some children don’t play baseball is because the sport is not fun.
Baseball Considered Top Father-Son Sport
- 33% of Americans report baseball is the sport they would like to most play with their son. Basketball is a distant second, 21%. 19% choose soccer, and 18% pick football.
- Again, race enters into the equation. 39% of white Americans would like to take their son to the baseball field while a plurality of African Americans, 34%, would visit a football field with their son. Among Latinos, baseball, 26%, basketball, 25%, and soccer, 25%, receive comparable interest.
- Americans 45 and older, 40%, are more likely than younger residents, 25%, to pick baseball as the sport they would share with their child. Among those under 45, there is little consensus.
- Close to two-thirds of adults nationally, 64%, say they played baseball as a child. This includes 68% of white Americans, 60% of Latinos, and 57% of African Americans.
- Nearly six in ten Americans, 57%, say they are baseball fans.
Baseball Mostly Conjures Positive Associations, But…
- Most Americans, 83%, consider baseball a sport rich in tradition, and only 14% say it is too old-fashioned.
- African Americans, 30%, non-white parents, 28%, and those under 30 years old, 22%, are most likely to refer to baseball as too old-fashioned.
- Baseball is also considered “cool” by 74% of Americans. 22% think it is not.
- Nearly six in ten residents, 59%, think baseball is changing with the times while 33% believe it is stuck in the past.
- 59% report baseball is a sport children play in the city. 35% disagree. African Americans divide. 49% think it is not a game played in the city. 47% say it is.
- Americans are torn about baseball’s excitement level. 50% consider baseball “exciting.” 47% say it is “boring.”
- Only 31% of residents say baseball is a large part of what people talk about or follow during Major League Baseball’s season. An additional 42% report the subject is sometimes part of the conversation. Close to one in four, 23%, says baseball is not part of the watercooler discussion.
- African Americans, 35%, and non-white parents, 32%, are most likely to say baseball is not followed or discussed during the season.
Major League Baseball is in full swing, but has last season’s player suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs rubbed fans the wrong way? 68% of baseball fans nationally think the MLB has taken the right steps. In fact, one in five — 20% — believes the league hasn’t gone far enough. Only 8% say their actions have gone too far. Four percent are unsure.
More Fans Expected to Head to the Ballpark
While half of baseball fans — 50% — say they did not attend any MLB games last year and don’t plan to do so this season either, there has been an increase in the proportion of fans who think they will go to more games this year. Nearly one in five — 19% — expects to go to more baseball games this season. 27% say they will attend about the same amount of games they did last year, and only 4% plan to go to fewer.
When Marist last reported this question in March 2013, 54% of fans said they wouldn’t be making a trip to the stadium. 13% reported they would be attending more games than in the past year while 28% said they would be attending about the same number of baseball games. Six percent, at that time, believed they would be making fewer outings to the ballpark.
- Fans younger than 45 are the key. 32% of fans in this age group think they will be attending more baseball games this season. This is up from 19% last year. Among those 45 or older, 12% expect to make more trips to the stadium this year compared with 9% previously.
- While fans who earn $50,000 or more annually — 22% — are slightly more likely than those who make less — 17% — to increase their ballgame attendance, there has been a bump in the proportion of fans in both income groups who expect to do so. Last year, 15% of fans who earn $50,000 or more said they would be going to more games. 12% who made less said the same.
Although nearly half of fans — 49% — do not think the cost of a ticket to a major league game is a good value for the money, 41% believe it is a good bang for their buck. 10% are unsure. These findings suggest more fans find value in going to a game this season than last spring. At that time, 52% of fans said the price of a ticket was not a good value. 37% thought it was, and 11% were unsure.
How many Americans are baseball fans? 45% of residents follow professional baseball a great deal — 9%, a good amount — 8%, or a little — 28%. However, a majority — 55% — does not watch baseball at all.
7/23: More Than Six in Ten Fans Believe Connection to Biogenesis Steroid Clinic Too Little to Justify MLB Suspensions
An investigation by Major League Baseball is underway to determine whether or not to suspend players associated with the Miami-based clinic, Biogenesis, that provided performance enhancing drugs to other players. But, a majority of baseball fans nationally do not think that an association with the clinic is enough to warrant disciplinary action. 61% of fans say it is not right for the MLB to suspend players who did not test positive for performance-enhancing drugs but are connected to the Biogenesis clinic. 28% think it is right for the players to be suspended, and 11% are unsure.
“Sports fans are very loyal to their favorite athletes, and for most, it would take true hard evidence to change their perceptions of these athletes,” says Dr. Keith Strudler, Director of The Marist College Center for Sports Communication. “Circumstantial evidence, no matter how strong, probably isn’t going to convince most fans.”
The poll was conducted prior to the suspension of Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun yesterday. At this point, few fans know a lot about the scandal. Just 24% say they have heard either a great deal — 13% — or a good amount — 11% — about MLB players and the Biogenesis clinic. 26%, have heard a little and 50% know nothing at all about it.
This Marist Poll has been done in conjunction with The Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
The Great Hall of Fame Steroid Debate
More than three in four baseball fans — 78% — think players who have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs should not be eligible for the Hall of Fame. 18% think these players should be, and 4% are unsure.
“When it’s proven that an athlete cheated, most sports fans aren’t just upset, they often feel betrayed,” says Dr. Keith Strudler, Director of The Marist College Center for Sports Communication. “They seem to show unusual disdain towards their former heroes, refusing them the ultimate reward of entering the Hall of Fame.”
Time has not healed all wounds. When Marist last reported this question in April 2009, 70% of baseball fans thought players who used steroids should not be admitted to the Hall of Fame. 24% believed they should be given this honor, and 6%, at the time, were unsure.
There are age differences. Fans under 45 years old are more forgiving than those who are older. 24% of younger fans think steroid use should not keep players from the Hall of Fame. 13% of those 45 and older share this view.
About Keith Strudler, Ph.D.
Keith Strudler, Ph.D., is the director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication. Dr. Strudler founded Marist’s popular concentration in sports communication in 2002, now one of the nation’s largest in the discipline. He studies and teaches in the areas of sports media, sports and society, and sports reporting and information. Dr. Strudler also writes weekly sports commentary for WAMC, an NPR radio station in Albany, NY.
Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is almost here, but baseball fans nationally may not be flocking to the field. According to this Marist Poll, 54% of fans did not attend any games last year and do not plan to attend any games this year. 28% say they will venture out to the ballpark about the same amount as they did last year while 13% believe they will attend more games than last season. Six percent report they will go to fewer games than last season.
Little has changed on this question since last year. At that time, 53% of baseball fans said they were not planning to attend to any MLB games nor did they attend any games the season before. 31% reported they would go to the same amount of games as they had previously while one in ten — 10% — thought they would go to more baseball games. Six percent believed they would attend fewer games.
Of note regionally, on the heels of the San Francisco Giants’ World Series victory and off-season acquisitions by other Pacific Coast teams, a majority of baseball fans in the West — 53% — plan to attend at least the same number of games they did last year. Included here, are 20% who say they will take more trips to the ballpark and 33% who think their attendance will be about the same as last season.
Ticket prices could play a role. 52% of fans nationally do not think the cost of an MLB ticket is a good value for the money. 37% believe the experience is a good value for the price, and 11% are unsure. Last year, 56% of fans did not think they got a good bang for their ticket buck while 34% reported admission prices were a good value. 10% were unsure.
While fans in the Northeast remain the most dissatisfied with ticket prices, fewer have this opinion. More than six in ten baseball fans in this region — 63% — do not think the price of an MLB ticket is a good value. This compares with 73% who had this view last year. In the Midwest, a majority of fans — 55% — say the experience is not worth the cost of a ticket. 47% of fans in the South and 45% of those in the West share this view. Last year, 55% of Midwest fans, 52% of those in the South, and 47% of fans in the West did not think the ticket price for a Major League Baseball game was a good value for the money.
But, there is some good news for America’s pastime, there has been a bump in the proportion of baseball fans nationwide. 56% of adults watch professional baseball, at least, a little. This includes 9% who watch a great deal of the sport, 10% who follow a good amount of it, and 37% who watch a little baseball. 45% do not watch any of the game. When Marist last reported this question, half of adults — 50% — reported they were baseball fans.
Major League Baseball’s Opening Night is tonight! As teams gear up to take the field, a majority of baseball fans nationally say they, once again, are not planning to attend any games this season. 53% report they did not attend any baseball games last season and do not plan to venture out to the stadium this season. 31% of baseball fans think they will go to about the same number of games as last year, 10% are planning to attend more, and 6% report they will be present for fewer games. Results were similar when the Marist Poll last reported this question in April 2010.
Ticket prices are likely a factor here. Nearly 6 in 10 national baseball fans — 56% — report the cost of a ticket for a major league baseball game is not a good value for the money. 34% disagree and say they get a good bang for their buck. 10% are unsure. These proportions are unchanged from two years ago.
Looking at region, those in the Northeast are most likely to balk about the value received for the cost of a ticket to the game. Nearly three-quarters — 73% — do not think they are getting their money’s worth. Majorities in the Midwest — 55% — and South — 52% — share this view. Baseball fans in the West divide. 47% say the cost of a ticket to a game is not a good value for the money while 46% state it is.
Root, Root, Root for the Home Team?
Who do national baseball fans root for on the diamond? 16% cheer for the New York Yankees, 7% root for the Boston Red Sox, 6% say they support the Atlanta Braves, and the same proportion — 6% — is in the Chicago Cubs’ corner. Five percent are on the side of the St. Louis Cardinals while a majority of baseball fans — 53% — pick another team for which to root. Seven percent are unsure.
Region is a factor. 38% and 24% of fans living in the Northeast, respectively, say they cheer for the Yankees and Red Sox. In the Midwest, 21% are Cubs fans. Those in the South divide with 18% pulling for the Braves and 16% cheering for the Bronx Bombers.
Pre-Season Picks…Yankees are Early Favorite to Win World Series
Baseball fans nationally — 21% –choose the Yankees as the early favorite to take home the title of World Series Champions. Coming in a distant second are the Red Sox — 7% — followed by the Philadelphia Phillies — 7%. Rounding out the top five are the LA Angels of Anaheim — 5% — and the Texas Rangers with the same proportion — 5%. Nearly three in ten fans — 29% — think another team will win it all, and a notable 27% are unsure.
When the Marist Poll reported this question at the beginning of last year’s post-season in September 2011, the New York Yankees — 22% –were at the top of the heap as baseball fans’ favorite. At that time, only 2% picked the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals to win it all.
Half of adults nationally — 50% — report they follow Major League Baseball at least a little. This includes 10% who watch a great deal of the sport, 10% who take in a good amount, and 30% who watch what happens on the diamond a little. 50% do not follow baseball at all.
These proportions are similar to when Marist last reported this question. 47% of adults in September followed baseball at least a little, while 53% said they didn’t watch at all.
Everyone has their bucket list. And mine has typical things like skydiving and visiting where my dad was born in Italy. However, numero uno on my list is to attend a game at every Major League Baseball stadium. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love baseball. I, like 16% of national adults, am a Yankee fan. I have been since I was a kid. But, it wasn’t until a once-in-a-lifetime undergraduate internship at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 that I became a true fan of the game. Sure, I liked baseball, but it was truly a pinstripe-centric affair. I liked going to games (Yankee games), and I liked watching games on TV (Yankee games).
However, in a short 3 months surrounded by interns from across the country and a great Hall staff, I learned to appreciate what the game of baseball has to offer, not just the Yankees. Through my own research for projects, information that was taught by Hall of Fame staff, and an opportunity to interact with baseball greats, I started to realize that baseball was about so much more than cheering for one team. Baseball is one of the greatest history books one can “read.” So much of history is mirrored on the diamond and is a testimony to American life. From Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers which broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier to the emergence of social media and its impact, baseball reflects the times in which we live.
After my internship at the Hall, I was not only a Yankee fan but a true baseball fan! In fact, that summer I attended my first Major League game in which the Yankees were not one of the competing teams! And, so my quest for 30 began!
I have been to the following ball parks:
- Yankee Stadium (both old and new) (Yankees)
- Shea Stadium/Citi Field (Mets)
- Veterans Stadium (old Phillies stadium)
- Jacob’s Field (Indians and now called Progressive Field)
- Ballpark at Arlington (Rangers; At one called AmeriQuest Park and now called Rangers Ballpark in Arlington)
- Tropicana Field (Rays)
- Pro-Player (old Marlins stadium; Still home of the Miami Dolphins)
- Camden Yards (Orioles)
- Wrigley (Cubs)
- Nationals Park (Nationals)
- Roger’s Centre (Blue Jays)
- Safeco Field (Mariners)
I try to plan vacations to places that have baseball stadiums I have yet to see. And when a business trip comes up, if there’s a baseball team nearby, my first stop is to their website in hopes they will be home when I am visiting. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but I always try!
So, now here I am in 2012. I’m still plugging away trying to take in a game at all the parks, but this is my dilemma……
I plead to all MLB teams….please, stop building new ballparks!!! Two of the stadiums on my list are no longer the home of a baseball team. In 2004, the Phillies opened Citizen’s Bank Ballpark and this season the Marlins will call Marlins Park home. I’m sure the Trop won’t make it much longer either. So, with each stadium I cross off, I fear that before I get to all 30 parks, I will have no choice but to start again!
Sure, one could argue, “just go by the team and not the stadium.” But, that’s not gonna cut it! If I had unlimited time and resources, I would take in all 30 in one season. But, until I hit the lotto, my quest will continue. And as new baseball stadiums are built, I will just have to find a way to visit again! As they say in A Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.”
With Major League Baseball’s opening day less than a month away, the countdown to the regular season has begun. What can baseball fans make of the change in the playoff system? And, who has the best chances of winning this year? Sports journalist and Marist Poll Contributor Len Berman offered his insight when he spoke with the Marist Poll’s John Sparks.
Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.
Len, what do you think about Major League Baseball expanding the playoffs for this season?
I think it’s a good move. I think adding a wild card and diminishing the chances for the wild card to advance, I think that’s all positive. I mean it’s going to create some more excitement down the stretch in September, keep some more teams alive, and those two one game play-ins should be very exciting, so I don’t really have a problem. I mean it makes it look more difficult for them to advance. It certainly puts a better premium on winning the division, something the Yankees didn’t really try to do a couple years ago despite what Joe Girardi claims, so I think generally it’s positive.
So then, it puts more value on getting hot at the end rather than persevering over the long haul?
Well, you know, I think that’s always the case in post season, and that’s always the case in playoffs no matter what the team. Look at football, too. I mean, look at what the Giants have done. No, I don’t think that’s a prob… I mean, yeah, the hot team, my goodness, I mean the St. Louis Cardinals were certainly not picked by anybody last year and certainly didn’t have a wonderful regular season. They got hot at the end, and they carried it through and won the championship, so I don’t think this change in the playoff system alters that philosophy at all.
Let’s take a look at the upcoming season, what do you think about the Yankees for this year?
Well, they’re always a team to be reckoned with because of their resources. I mean, I think the team they put on the field is strong. Things can fall apart. They’ve never had that problem over the years, but, for example, they lost a good relief pitcher in Dave Robertson because he fell down some stairs. Now he might not be ready opening day. I mean, if that’s the beginning of a series of issues that even great teams can fall in the abyss. But, with their resources, if something isn’t working, and they do have the injuries, they have the deep pockets to go out and buy replacements midseason, so you never count out the Yankees ever.
I’m curious, A-Rod bounces back this year and what about Derek Jeter at the tail end of the ride?
Well, those are issues. I mean, these guys are older. I mean Mariano Rivera. I mean, I have a feeling this is his last season. What if he doesn’t have it? Hey, there’s always question marks, which is great. I mean I think people are just penciling in the Yankees for one of those playoff spots. What if they don’t make it? Look at how that opens things up for a lot of other teams. So, yeah, those are valid questions. A-Rod’s age, Jeter’s age, sure, that’s not a real young team. What you find with the teams like the Cardinals, a team that has some young players, all of sudden exceed expectations, and you hope that works out. You like to see that, so maybe there’s a team out there that no one’s considering.
Let’s go over to Queens and talk about the Mets, what do you see for the Mets this year?
Well, it’s just sad that their mantra is: We’re not as bad as people think we are. I mean, that’s a hell of a sales slogan. They’ve got problems, and they’ve got financial problems. And until those financial problems get resolved, things are going to continue the way they are. Having said that, these are Major League players. I mean, Ike Davis is a Major League first baseman. David Wright’s a Major League third baseman. You’ve got some players there. What’s to say that they aren’t this year’s St. Louis Cardinals? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
Let’s go around the League and the divisions real quickly. I’m just wondering, American League West. Will Pujols bring Los Angeles a division, and what about the Rangers and Yu Darvish?
Yeah, well I think those are both great questions and I think that’s — it used to be the American League East that was spocked[sic]. Then all of a sudden, you’ve got Texas, which has been in two straight WorldSeries, and they had heartbreaking loss in last year’s Fall Classic, and you’ve got the Angels with Pujols. You know, you always lean on the side of pitching, so maybe Texas by getting Darvish is the bigger get. Certainly possible.
Thinking about pitching, let’s move over to American League Central. Justin Verlander and the Tigers, can anybody beat them?
You know, they look awfully solid. They’re certainly the strong favorites going in, and they’ve certainly become a franchise with deep pockets there, so for anyone to pick against the Tigers, that would be a long shot.
Okay. We talked about the Yankees, but let’s talk about the American League East. Can Bobby Valentine bring the Red Sox back, and what about Tampa Bay or maybe even a long shot for Toronto?
Yeah, I mean I love the East. I’m a huge Bobby Valentine fan. I wish all it took was a manager. I think he’s a great step in the right direction, and he’s going to shake up that clubhouse, and he’s certainly going to make all the games with the Yankees a lot more interesting. He’s just one of the great baseball characters. Do the Red Sox have enough? It doesn’t look like it. Tampa Bay is a solid club. I hope a Toronto or even a Baltimore come out of nowhere. I mean, it’ll be nice, but I think you’re looking at the traditional powers for another year.
Okay, National League East, Phillies again, they picked up Jonathan Pabelbon. Are they best team in baseball really?
Well, if they are, their fans are going to get a little upset that they don’t win it all. After being to the World Series a couple years, they haven’t for a couple years, so I think they’re a hell of a team so… are they the best team in baseball? You could make a case, sure.
National League Central, St. Louis without Pujols. What does that mean for the division?
You know what, I still like St. Louis. I really do. I mean I don’t know where the… Obviously Cincinnati, you always have to look out. Milwaukee, Ryan Braun’s going to have a chip on his shoulder, so that could be a fun — that could be a real fun division. Look for those three teams to mix it up. I don’t… Certainly when you lose Pujols’ bat, it’s going to affect you, but historically teams that have lost a major free agent, it’s for some reason the other players who’ve stepped up, so I’m not going to count them out just yet. But I don’t look for them to repeat, that’s for sure.
You mentioned Braun, what do you think about the steroid thing with him? Did he or didn’t he?
Well, obviously it’s only he and his urine sample know for sure. I mean the odds are that it’s awfully far-fetched to think that a tester tampered with sample A and sample B, so… In 99.999% of the cases, if it’s in their system, it’s in their system. It’s not some kind of fluke. So, if you put a gun to my head, he dodged that bullet for sure.
Moving out West for the National League, the Giants are pretty tough, but what about Don Mattingly and the Dodgers? What do you think is going to happen there?
I don’t know. I mean, I’d love to see — I hope that he doesn’t become a… They still have an ownership situation that’s up in the air. I hope he doesn’t become the odd man out because of that. I love… I’m a big personal fan of Don Mattingly. I don’t know if his team has enough, but the Giants still have some of that pitching. I always look at the pitching as being the strength.
Anything else as we look at the 2012 baseball season?
You know, I think the one story you didn’t bring up is the Miami Marlins. New Name, new stadium, they’ve spent a load, and you want to see if the fans come out. I mean, that’s been a market that still you don’t know about that. They’ve won two World Championships, yet that can’t draw fans. If they can’t do it with this new stadium and Ozzie Guillen and Jose Reyes and the rest of the people down there, then they never will. So I think that’s a big story that you got to a — that I think is going to be one of the big baseball stories of 2012, the Miami Marlins.
Appreciate your time, Len. What’s going on in your life these days?
Well, I’ve got a lot of different things going on. I’m still doing The Today Show once a month with Spanning the World. I’ve started this relationship with Channel 5 in New York where once a week I do my Top Five on Channel 5 which is a spinoff of my daily email which people get at thatssports.com, and I’m very excited about my newest book coming out in the fall for kids. It’s going to be Greatest Moments in Sports, Upsets and Underdogs, and it’s more than a sports book. It’s really going to be empowering for young people to see how anyone can succeed no matter where you come from or what your background is, you have a chance to become a champion, and I think it’s going to open a few eyes. As I very modestly say, “Every young people… Every young person needs to read that book.”
Well, I’m looking forward to reading it also. It’s always a pleasure, Len.
In the wake of one of the strangest nights in my life as a Red Sox fan, I have to ask, “Why?”
It’s easy to come up with quick answer. Injuries, poor conditioning, bad free agent signings, and lack of clubhouse leadership are all popular explanations. Many will propose a combination of causes.
And it is also likely that some people will throw up their hands and declare that the reason cannot be found, because baseball defies reason. Such is the greatness of baseball, they might say. I am not one of those people. In a few weeks, though, once I have entered the acceptance phase, perhaps I will be able to appreciate that perspective.
In the FiveThirtyEight Blog at the New York Times, Nate Silver crunched the numbers to determine the likelihood of the Red Sox missing the playoffs in such agonizing style. In a calculation that was not “mathematically rigorous,” he determined “a probability of about one chance in 278 million.”
With odds like those, Silver speculates that some other factors may be involved in the latest Sox meltdown. I would have to agree. In this age of advanced statistics, when sabermetricians are ensconced in baseball’s front offices and celebrated in films like “Moneyball,” we should be able to empirically investigate why one team manages to defy all expectations.
I know where to start: stress. Though it’s not an original explanation, the idea that pressure could be the root of the Red Sox’ woes jibes with their playing environment, where the weight of sports history, regional angst, and the local media can be overwhelming. It also might explain player underperformance — see the Yerkes-Dodson law — and the large number of broken-down bodies.
How to measure stress? Blood pressure and cortisol levels come to mind. Players could also fill out questionnaires assessing anxiety. Of course, the players’ union may not approve such measures, given how drug testing has been so fiercely contested. Also, athletes may be loath to dignify the notion that stress affects their job performance. Nonetheless, I still think it would be interesting to compare the subjective experience of playing in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium as opposed to say, St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, where the Rays might benefit from the breezy Florida vibe.
My point is not to invite pity for the Red Sox, a collection of millionaires, nor to excuse their futility. The results would be just as interesting if there’s no demonstrable difference in stress. Maybe there’s some other reason. Either way, I can’t believe the answer lies in dumb luck or the resurfacing of a curse. I can only hope that cold, hard facts might alleviate my own stress over the cruelty of the baseball gods.
Major League Baseball’s post-season begins this week. So, who do baseball fans nationally favor to win the World Series? More than one in five — 22% — think the New York Yankees will round the bases into their 28th World Series Championship, 16% say the Philadelphia Phillies will take the win, and only 6% believe the Boston Red Sox will slide into victory. Last year’s World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants, are favored to repeat by just 3% of baseball fans. The same proportion — 3% — thinks the Texas Rangers, the Atlanta Braves, or the Detroit Tigers will steal the title. 17% believe another team entirely will take the title, and 26% are unsure.
While more baseball fans sit behind the Yankees dugout, their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox, have fallen from grace in the eyes of baseball fans. When Marist last reported this question in July, 17% favored the Bronx Bombers while 15% boasted the Red Sox. 10% touted the Phillies while 4% cheered on the Giants. Now out of the top five, 4% thought the St. Louis Cardinals would go all the way. 23%, then, said another team would be crowned the champions of baseball while 27% were unsure.
Die-hard baseball fans are few and far between. In fact, a majority of adults nationally — 53% — do not watch baseball at all while 30% tune in a little. Only 8% catch America’s pastime a good amount while 9% follow baseball a great deal.
Little has changed on this question since Marist’s July survey. At that time, 52% didn’t follow baseball at all, 30% had a little interest in the game, and 9% said they followed the sport a good amount. One in ten — 10% — proclaimed they were avid followers.
Has baseball lost its place as America’s pastime? CBS Sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist, who admits he’s lost enthusiasm for baseball, talks to the Marist Poll’s John Sparks about why and shares his thoughts, both, on the proposed realignment of the American and National Leagues and this year’s pennant races.
Listen to or read the transcript of the interview below.
Verne, we just passed the halfway mark for the baseball season, and I do want to talk about this year’s pennant races, but first I’d like to talk a little bit about the fans. For the second year in a row, a majority of Americans say they are not baseball fans. In fact, 52% tell the Marist Poll they won’t watch a single game at all this year. So, I’m wondering is baseball no longer the national pastime?
Listen to Part 1:
I don’t think it is, John. I think they yielded that title to the NFL and not recently. I think football in general, but specifically the National Football League, became America’s pastime, favorite pastime, oh my gosh, maybe 10, 12 years ago. I think that baseball kind of lost its way, and they’re having difficulty getting people back and caring about it.
I’m curious about the reasons for the decline, time zones, perhaps, after expansion?
Well, I understand that if you’re… listen, I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. So I live in the time zone that the country forgot. We always get irritated, if I can use that word, about the television networks for whom one of which — for whom I work. That’s grammatically incorrect, but you get my drift. It’s always 9:00 Eastern and Pacific and 8:00 Central, and we sit here with our mountain goats and our mountains and say, “What about us?” But, I do think that the West Coast teams, you know, it’s tough for East Coast fans to get truly involved in what’s going on. You could even make the case, I guess, in Texas with Houston and the Astros and up through the middle part of the country, but especially with the teams beginning with the Colorado Rockies, and I don’t think that there’s a fan base that really is evident back East for teams from here in Colorado on out to the West Coast with L.A. and San Francisco and Seattle and San Diego.
You know, I always thought of baseball as a blue collar sport, but I’m wondering, it seems that today’s players are more part of an elite class that I’m wondering if fans can just no longer identify with.
Well, I think economically they certainly are, and you know, it’s tough to be sympathetic to owners who keep paying these astronomical salaries. I don’t remember what the figure is now, but I got tickled in the divorce, the publication of the Frank McCourt divorce papers, when they sought legal help that I think the Dodgers owed, I’m going to say this, and I’ll be within 5 or 6 million, they owed Manny Ramírez $21-million in guaranteed salary, and there was a footnote to the whole thing that somewhere along the line, they owed Vin Scully $165,000. Well, that tells me something about the relative merits that they place on one of the great broadcasters ever in this pay-for-play guy that was there you know, for a couple of years. But that’s true. You know, John, that’s true not only in baseball. The salaries are — and let’s face it, you know, the television networks and the cable networks keep paying these astronomical rights fees, and the salaries are just out of sight — baseball, basketball, and football — in my view.
Is there any way that the waning interest in baseball might be turned around?
Listen to Part 2:
I don’t know. I’m pausing a long time because I would count myself in all candor as one of those people who’s lost interest. I lost interest in the game because I just found — I found the game not… I mean if you talk to a passionate baseball fan, and I know hundreds of them who just absolutely live and die with their teams, most of them involve the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Mets, as you can imagine, because my work environment is primarily centered around the East Coast, but they — I mean they can do sermons on the benefits of being a baseball fan. The whole sport has kind of turned me off for a long time. I find it way too slow paced. I find it difficult… The season is forever, and the single… I get all the arguments about how it’s a whole 162 game season, but I don’t… How do you instill a sense of excitement back into the game? Well, they did one thing, didn’t they, in the ’90s? They allowed steroid use, and the sport I think suffered for that and is suffering for that, and the ownership kind of looked the other way, and in my view most of the baseball fans, the hard core fans, looked the other way during the steroid era. They were much more excited by the Sammy Sosas and the Mark McGwires and the battle to surpass, you know Barry Bonds. It was just you know forget what you’re putting in your body, it’s the end result. So, fans bear some responsibility for that too.
You know, one recent remedy has been suggested. It’s a new proposal for realignment. They talk about doing away with divisions and balancing the league so that the American and National League would each have 15 teams, and then the top four teams in each league would be eligible for playoffs, but they would also do away with interleague play. I wonder what your thoughts are around that.
Well. I don’t think… and again, this is from a guy who does not pay fervent attention to the regular season. I just don’t.. But I… again, this is just a personal expression, I don’t think people have ever gotten all that excited about interleague play. I suppose they have in Chicago, and I’m sure they have in New York to a lesser degree probably because everything sports-related in California seems to be less emotional for the fans than it is in other parts of the country. I suppose where you’ve got San Francisco, Oakland, or you’ve got the Dodgers and the Angels, there’s a certain amount of interest generated by interleague play. But I think on a whole, it’s not a bell ringer with most folks, and I’d… The idea of the wildcard, I love the idea of going to the four best teams qualify, and let’s go from there. And then after they do that, they can do away with the designated hitter and everything’s going to be perfect.
Let’s talk briefly about the pennant races. I’d like to talk about the American League first. The Yankees and Red Sox are on top in the Eastern Division. In fact, those two teams were the ones that fans that were polled by the Marist Institute mentioned most as being contenders for this year’s World Series. In the American League Central, surprise, the Cleveland Indians all of sudden have come from nowhere, and they’re in a two-way race with the Tigers. And then, of course, in the West, the Rangers having come off of a Cinderella season last season are battling with the Angels, but still, Verne, the leaders in the West and the Central as far as their percentage goes is way below that of the Yankees and the Red Sox. Do you think that in the end it’ll be Yankees and Red Sox again?
Listen to Part 3:
That would be my guess. Boston has kind of owned New York this year, and the country — I think the country cares about those two teams to a much higher degree than they do most others. I don’t want to make that a patent statement. I think you would agree with me that ESPN would have no Sunday night program if the Red Sox and the Yankees didn’t play each other because that is a staple of what they do, but you know, they’ve excelled over the last several years, and my guess is that they will again. And, I agree with you about the Rangers’ Cinderella season. I just… as a person who lived in Dallas and Fort Worth for a long time, of course, that is where I have a still live rooting interest, and I’d love to see them come back and do what they did last year.
Very briefly, the National League, the Phillies have become a powerhouse…
…in the East; and in the Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates for crying out loud are kind of like the Indians; they’re back after a number of lean years, and of course, you’ve got the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Giants appear to be repeaters in the West. Any thoughts about how the National League might turn out?
Well, I’ve noticed the Lance Berkman contribution to the Cardinals and you know with Pujols hobbled, that’s really good to see. I’m surprised like you are at Cleveland. I think Philadelphia is the best team in the National League, and all they’ve done is in the off season they added Cliff Lee with a wonderfully adept starting pitching rotation. I think that over the long haul, I would be shocked if they were not back in — if they weren’t in the World Series when it was over. They’ve got to be the overwhelming favorites I think. Yes, I know San Francisco makes a lusty claim, but — and as one, as I mentioned, I live in Colorado, you can only imagine how excited people in Denver got at the start of the season, and now they’ve kind of settled down, and they’re mediocre. But the whole… The Giants are the best team in the West, and the Phillies are the best team in the East and let’s — as they say, let’s watch them play in the middle of the country.
Well, it’ll be interesting to watch and also to see as we approach the end of July, which is the trading deadline, to see if what kind of fine tuning some of these ball clubs do. Verne, it’s always pleasure to talk with you. I know you’ve been on vacation for the last month or so and out of the country. I’m just curious, back to work with CBS and what might be on the horizon for you professionally.
Well, we have enjoyed this time off, and I got in touch with my roots. Nancy and I spent a month in Norway. We touched in Denmark and Sweden, but mostly in Norway, and we just had a wonderful time, and it was really invigorating. I’m up next with the PGA Championship in Atlanta the second week in August and then a little bit of a hiatus, and then we go, Gary Danielson and I are back doing the SEC. We open with what has become an annual right of autumn for us, Tennessee and Florida, and the game this year will be in Gainesville. And just one more little plug, John, since you’ve given me a chance to do this, our prime time game, we only get to do one in prime time each year, but we’re doing Alabama at Florida the first Saturday night in October, and I think that could be a doozy.
We’ll look forward to seeing that as well as the other games with you. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you, John.