Skip to main content

Is baseball on its way out?

By Mike Downey
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1954 GMT (0354 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Downey: Attendance at Major League Baseball games is way down for many teams
  • He says All-Star Game Tuesday held against backdrop of waning interest, dearth of big stars
  • He says players of prowess come along, but with fewer viewers, they don't get famous
  • Downey: Players like Derek Jeter don't come along. We need more of them

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a frequent contributor to CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN) -- So, where'd everybody go?

Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies' attendance is down 8,290 per home game from a year ago. Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers, each down more than 4,000. Minnesota Twins, more than 3,000. Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, 2,000-plus.

Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays .... down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down.

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

Like they say, come on out, good seats still available!

As baseball's yearly All-Star Game gets under way Tuesday night in Minneapolis, we will be bombarded with a lot of talk about what a great young star this guy is, or that guy is. "You'll be hearing a lot about this guy." "This kid's going to be around a long, long time." "He's got 'future Hall of Famer' written all over him."

Of course we will. Of course he does.

Never mind all the one-season wonders. The flashes in the pans. The golden boys who turned to rust. The All-Stars who were barely seen or heard from again. It's a frat party and everybody's up for it. Major League Baseball has never been better -- at least that's what somebody will tell you and sell you.

Except it's untrue. Seventeen of the game's 30 teams have poorer attendance than a year ago at this time. World Series television ratings get more disappointing year after year. Household-name players -- I mean popular and scandal-free ones like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter -- have come to the ends of their careers, with no clear heir-apparents.

Is there a star player of today you'd go out of your way to see?

"Hey, Felix Hernandez is in town!" "You wanna go to the ballpark tonight and see Adam Wainwright?"

Those are your All-Star starting pitchers. Would you recognize either one if you saw him coming toward you on the street?

Baseball is losing its luster. As ticket prices get higher, interest goes lower. As options on television expand, baseball's grip on the American public gets ever more slippery.

TV's audience for Game 1 of the 2004 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals came to approximately 25.4 million viewers. When the same two teams met in the World Series last October, Game 1's viewership was pegged at around 15 million.

One year earlier a series between the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers attracted the worst TV ratings of any World Series in the past 30 years.

Will Jeter go from Captain to Boss?
Hank Aaron on breaking barriers at bat

Players of great prowess and promise do still come along. Miguel Cabrera. Andrew McCutchen. Robinson Cano. Clayton Kershaw. A kid can capture imaginations in the blink of an eye. Mike Trout. Jose Abreu. Yu Darvish. Yasiel Puig.

They also can vanish from the radar just as quickly. Albert Pujols now seems two-thirds the superstar he used to be. Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard ... not exactly the game's hottest names anymore. Stephen Strasburg .... wasn't he the pitcher we were all waiting for? We're still waiting.

Derek Jeters do not come along every day.

Oh, he isn't nearly as famous nationwide as New Yorkers think he is. You could go months in California or Texas or Ohio without meeting a soul who cares that this is Jeter's last season, let alone anyone who could tell you who "the Captain" is. Yet he is a rarity in baseball indeed, particularly in this era -- a standout from beginning to end, as well as a guy who never gave us cause to question what kind of guy he secretly must be. He's been about as controversial as a Muppet.

Baseball could use more like him. They had better show themselves soon, too, because fewer and fewer people are watching. You'll hear somebody tonight call it the national pastime, but let me assure you of something: This nation can find other ways to pass the time.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT