“Why Baseball Matters” by Susan Jacoby
Baseball, Mets, history, society, politics
March 20, 2018
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
The state of baseball today is either excellent, since revenues in the sport are at an all-time high, or on life support, since many feel the games are too long and it is losing its appeal to young people. Both arguments have their merits and this book by best-selling author Susan Jacoby offers several explanations for the latter beliefs.
The basic premise of the book is that Jacoby, a woman who fell in love with the game as a child in Chicago going to White Sox games with her father, believes the sport has to realize that thanks to digital advances, the attention span of fans is shorter than ever. Baseball has to find ways to attract younger fans who have grown up in this age. She both criticizes and praises the game in the attempts to do so.
This sounds contradictory, but a reader will realize how Jacoby does this. First she explains how “baseball is a game in which one must wait, pay attention, and wait again for startling, defining moments of action.” Thus, the distractions that younger fans have in today’s digital world (beautifully explained by a young female fan) will mean that the “defining” moments will have to be powerful to keep the attention of these fans.
This doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with baseball’s response. Indeed, she is critical of the attempts by Commissioner Rob Manfred to speed up the game and believes that is misguided as the length of the games is not the true source of the lack of younger, female and African-American fans. She also pointed to readers of the New York Times who wrote to the newspaper who believed that baseball’s woes could be addressed not by speeding up the game but instead to make it more like football. Needless to say, she wasn’t totally on board with this idea either.
She also believes that the game doesn’t make much effort to attract fans of color and female fans. Since the game doesn’t have the same transition from generation to generation as it did in the middle of the 20th century, she shows that other sports, especially football, are gaining these fans and baseball needs to step up its efforts to appeal to these fans.
This makes it sound like the book is negative and critical of the game, but that is not the case. Jacoby shares many wonderful stories about the game and her adopted team, the New York Mets. She sounds off about the designated hitter (hates it), baseball movies (doesn’t like “Field of Dreams” or Robert Redford cast as Roy Hobbs in “The Natural”) and why fans love the game the way they do (“…we love it precisely because it is not like life.”) Her stories, along with her suggestions for making the game better for all fans, are compelling reading that every person interested in the game of baseball will enjoy.
A quick and easy read that will make the reader think, “Why Baseball Matters” is the type of book that not only makes a critical examination of the game, it offers wonderful opportunities to not only attract new fans, but also illustrate why fans of the game love it the way they do with a passion not easily seen in other sports.
I wish to thank Yale University Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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