Friday, April 24, 2015

The Soul of the Game

How much should a sport change in order to attract new audiences?  I ask this after watching Chris Rock talk about why African-Americans have turned their backs on baseball in this month's episode of HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel:

I've broached this subject in the past--when much was being made about Mo'ne Davis being the first African-American girl to pitch in the Little League World Series--and in the success of the Jackie Robinson West team out of Chicago that won the US Championship (only to have that title stripped when it was discovered that the team had recruited players from other leagues outside of its district and the Championship was awarded to an all-white Las Vegas team amid charges of racism.)  But that was about efforts baseball makes to bring the game to inner city minorities.  What Chris Rock is talking about is turning baseball into a Hip Hop sideshow--where the game itself is of secondary importance.

If you've tuned into an NBA game recently you may have noticed the almost-constant stream of music, beats, high energy dancers, flashing lights and public address announcers yelling at the top of their lungs.  The Bucks took ten minutes to introduce their starting lineups last night--amid a video presentation and pyrotechnics on the floor.  It was like the game was a letdown after that much hype in the pre-game.  There are 162 regular season games in baseball.  Do you expect people to get that excited every day for six months?

And isn't Chris Rock making the kind of generalities that we (whites) are warned not to make about African-Americans?  That they can't pay attention to something for more than a few minutes at a time?  That they need to have music blasting all the time?  That they need to be loud and demonstrative all the time?  All time baseball greats like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith all played with a flair that made them standout--without self-aggrandizement every time they caught a routine fly ball, struck out a batter or doubled down the line.

Everything is life is cyclical, and it will be just a matter of time before everyone--including African-Americans--come back to baseball--if for no other reason to than to enjoy two and a half hours of peace and quiet so they can focus on a game.

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