Why Baseball is Always Dying

Josh Levin notes that all the talk of steroids and the inequity that allows the Yankees to continue outbidding everyone else is but the latest example of the erstwhile national pastime’s imminent demise.

Loving baseball is hating what it has become, then falling in love all over again. No other American sport or institution is caught in such a cycle of death and rebirth.


So, how does baseball manage to keep performing its Lazarus act? The courts save it, a charismatic player saves it, our willful ignorance saves it, an unquenchable need for our men in uniform saves it.


While baseball dies a new death every time it shows human frailty—money-grubbing, drug-taking, lying, cheating—moralizing partisans show their human sides too, perpetually forgiving America’s prodigal game for its latest transgression. The columnists and fans who finally had their illusions crushed by this winter’s scandal will be back in their seats by Opening Day, just in time to be crushed by the next one. Since there’s no Babe Ruth—not even a Babe Ruth on steroids—to save the game this year, perhaps we should look to Steve Howe as our baseball totem. Howe is the former Dodgers and Yankees reliever who was suspended for drug use seven times before finally being banned for life in 1992. A few months later, he was reinstated. An arbitrator said the penalty was too harsh.

Lewin is right: Baseball is pretty much always in trouble but always seems to resurrect itself in the nick of time. I don’t think the game will ever be number one again. Indeed, the very concept of a pasttime is rather quaint nowadays. But the game has too much history and is inherently compelling enough that it will always be able to survive as a major enterprise.

My guess is the Players’ Association will figure out that the steroid cloud will ultimately hurt their revenue and they’ll back down on this one sooner rather than later. I’m not so sure that there will be a real salary cap and true revenue sharing–both of which are desperately needed–anytime soon. But the silver lining to having the Yankees as the presumptive favorite each and every year is that it will keep casual fans interested. And Alex Rodriguez going to the Bronx Bombers this year will certainly help as well.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.