Not any more

Halladay’s gem just what baseball ordered – The Globe and Mail

In Canada on October 7, 2010 at 21:19

Roy

Halladay’s historic no-hitter was just the Doctor that baseball ordered. Certainly the sport needed the jumper cables of Halladay’s gem after another season of declining youth interest. TV ratings are stagnant, baseball’s stars don’t transcend the TMZ culture, and the taint of performance-enhancing drugs has left its image tarnished. Fairly or not, baseball has become yesterday’s game.

Halladay’s gem in a Philadelphia uniform is, in many ways, a metaphor for the demise of Canadian baseball, which peaked with Toronto’s World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.

In this nation, baseball has been reduced to a rump of one MLB club and a scattering of homegrown stars such as Joey Votto and Justin Morneau. Its postseason is largely relegated to cable TV.

It’s a big comedown for a sport that defined the United States

and Canada of the 1970s to ’90s. Baseball was a trendsetter that grabbed a generation of fans, popularizing fantasy sports via rotisserie baseball. Revolutionary thinkers such as Bill James were precursors to the blogosphere of today. The advent of free agency in baseball freed the stars of all sports to pursue bigger markets. And filmmakers like Ken Burns and Ron Shelton mythologized the sport through films like Bull Durham, and TV documentaries like Burns’s Baseball and music.

To a generation of baby boomers, baseball was hipper than thou.

But as the postseason started in 2010, MLB seems a shopworn commodity. While its website is respected, MLB’s media profile lags behind the NFL, NCAA and NBA in stickiness with the celebrity generation. Televised baseball has produced no media stars since Bob Costas and Pete Gammons. Even Burns is kicking the body, blistering the sport over its steroid scandal in a new documentary.

Baseball’s failure to connect is often attributed to the steroid culture that soiled its reputation. In reality, the malaise can better be traced to other causes. Principally, baseball has lost the African-American community. Only 9 per cent of MLB players now are black. Even more crucially, baseball has been passed over by the NBA, NFL and NCAA in the African-American community, a crucial driver of the larger American youth culture. LeBron James’s move to the NBA’s Miami Heat epitomized that void, dominating headlines in the heart of the MLB season.

As well, baseball’s video games are not as sticky with younger generations as those of other pro leagues, which introduce sports to the video/Internet generation.

There’s more in the generation gap. The length of baseball games – often pushing four hours – turns off kids who crave the NBA’s accelerated experience. Late TV starts on the Eastern seaboard mean postmidnight finishes. Soccer has replaced baseball as parents’ preferred sport for their kids in many communities. And the relentless Yankees/Red Sox obsession gets a bit old. Which is the best way to describe MLB’s following. Without new stars to transcend the culture, baseball is seen as your father’s game, a sport of yesterday.

Halladay On Ice

Phone-ins on Toronto sports media were buzzing about Halladay’s gem Thursday. Some callers were wistful, others furious, others understanding of financial pressures. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances, but in the end the Blue Jays had the best pitcher in baseball for a decade and did not surround him with the players necessary to win consistently. This was not Mats Sundin or Chris Bosh. This was the best pitcher in the world. Period. Halladay’s departure speaks to an acute organizational failure.

Goodnight Punjabi

The demise of the Punjabi version of Hockey Night in Canada is a bit of a head-scratcher. The telecast – a remnant of CBC attempts to reach other communities – was always a curiosity. So what changed?

CBC vice-president Scott Moore tells Usual Suspects that the people attracted to the show “quickly migrated over to the English broadcast.  I would say its greatest success was exposing the game and the broadcast to a new community.” So it recruited a new audience to the main channel and it’s cancelled? Apparently the CBC’s budget challenges are that tight.

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