I must confess, I missed the great exodus of baseball fans. I must have mistaken as an illusion all those heads I see buried every single night during the summer, scouring scores, firing up the MLB package to watch games on their cell phones that aren’t being shown on the saloon TV.
I must have missed all those empty seats at the ballpa …
Wait, what’s that you say? There were seven major league teams that drew more than 3 million fans in 2016? There were 15 others that drew better than 2 million? There were two teams — the Phillies and the Twins — that drew more than 1.9 million fans despite losing a combined 194 games?
And even trouble-spot wastelands like Tampa Bay, Oakland and Miami drew 1.3, 1.5 and 1.7 million? Are you sure about that?
That can’t be. Not when there is such momentum for revolution. Not when the very man in charge of all of this, commissioner Rob Manfred, elicits visions of pitchfork-toting mobs storming MLB’s Manhattan offices unless serious change comes to the game. He already got rid of the intentional walk. He has made it plain that he’s no fan of long extra-inning games, and God help us all if he gets hell-bent on planting a runner on second base in the near future.
Surely things are bad.
Surely things are dire.
Surely, we all yearn for the golden era of baseball, the 1950s and ’60s, when men were men, when players got their uniforms dirty and every starter went nine innings (and sometimes 10, and sometimes 13), and you could get in and out of a ballpark in two hours, and there was never any traffic, and it never rained, and …
Wait, what’s that you say?
In 1956, there was one team — one team? — that drew 2 million fans: the Milwaukee Braves. Seven of the 16 teams drew fewer than 1 million. The Washington Senators drew 431,647 fans for the year, an average of 5,606 per date. In New York City, 1956 was the Last Great Year of a 10-year stretch in which at least one local played in nine World Series, when all three won championships.
That year the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants drew 3,334,525 fans between the three of them — or just 271,120 more than the Yankees drew by themselves in 2016, a year in which it was treated like the sky was falling for all the people allegedly staying away from The Bronx to stay away from a dull, aging team that was supposedly driving fans to soccer and box lacrosse games.
Is the game perfect?
Of course it’s not perfect. Of course it can be tweaked. The sun came up the morning after Manfred made the intentional walk disappear, but then it also rose the morning after the sport lowered the mound in 1969, after it instituted the DH in 1973, after free agency descended upon its coffers in 1976.
But baseball knows how to survive. It has made it to the other side of strikes and lockouts. The average baseball salary in 2017 is close to $5 million; in the year before free agency hit, it was $44,676. In 2017 dollars, that 1975 wage is $203,054.91 — a fine living, but not the inexplicable wealth even utility infielders command.
If so much is wrong with the game, you would expect attendance to be down. And it is: an average of 186 people per game. Fair is fair. Down is down. Maybe it’s right to invite radical revolution to satisfy the 186 people who aren’t coming to the games this year. As opposed to the 29,731 who, on average, still are.
Or maybe, just maybe, if it ain’t broke …